Inspiring a Generation of Curious Youth in Africa

In a few days, I will join leaders in Davos for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, an unparalleled platform for leaders to develop insights and share best practices on some of the world’s most pressing issues. Paramount in those discussions will be the “new global context” we are operating in, one fraught with political, social, and technological transformations.

During the Forum, I will be leading the discussions in two sessions, “Designing Out Poverty” and “Reimagining Africa’s Future.” I am looking forward to contributing to both sessions, as both topics are so dear to my core and so key to our work at Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF).

For over 15 years, our goal at YTF has been to create a generation of curious doers — young people who through their inquisitiveness are able to answer their own questions and want to own the solutions. We believe youth living in developing countries are not the problem but rather part of the solution and should be involved in the design from the onset. We believe youth are future inventors and should be equipped with the tools that will allow them to tinker, create, and imagine the future they want.

Africa is generating jobs, but not enough for youth. While 73 million new jobs were created across the continent between 2000 and 2008, only 22 percent of these went to people 24 years and younger (Dalberg, Rockefeller Foundation, Digital Jobs, 2014). National unemployment rates are as high as 42 percent in rural areas and 49 percent in urban areas. Nigeria’s formal job market is not growing fast enough to absorb the number of new workforce entrants, and for those jobs that are being created, employers are finding it difficult to fill those positions. Services alone will never create enough jobs to absorb the millions of unemployed youth in Africa’s growing urban areas.

Creating more job opportunities for youth is critical to the transformative growth of Africa. The digital economy holds significant potential for youth to engage as employers themselves or employees.

The “leapfrog revolution” in Africa opened up a whole new world of information access and stimulated entrepreneurship and innovation. Disruptive technologies have the potential to be economically disruptive and can transform African society, solving the education-to-employment conundrum. Disruptive technologies have broad applicabilities and significant economic value and impact, and they could potentially change an industry structure and the way people work. Finally, these technologies typically demonstrate a rapid rate of change in capabilities in terms of price and performance relative to substitutes and alternative approaches. Examples of such include mobile , advanced robotics, energy storage, the Internet of Things, and 3D printing.

With 3D printing, an idea can go directly from a 3D design file to a finished part or product, potentially skipping many traditional manufacturing steps. 3D printing is expected to generate $550 billion a year worldwide by 2025 (McKinsey Global Institute). 3D printing technologies have the ability to provide local communities with access to facilities they need to produce and market their own products. These technologies enable the much-needed manufacturing industry to be personalized and democratized.

At YTF, we build human capacity through strategic investments in technology-related education and training. In our work, we support the creation of hands-on educational activities that equip developing country inventors with critical tools, including:

  • the capacity to think critically and identify real-world problems and possible solutions in the user’s context through questioning, empathy, idea generation, and design process thinking;
  • a strong base of knowledge in skills necessary to invent, including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), with a particular emphasis on the female child;
  • the ability to learn to turn ideas into solutions through creating designs, fabricating prototypes, and incorporating entrepreneurial thinking.

YTF just launched an Indiegogo campaign for 3D Africa, a prototyping/engineering space in Nigeria. I invite you to learn more about the campaign, make a donation, and help us spread the word.

I am looking forward to sharing concrete solutions with CEOs, political leaders, civil society, heads of international organizations, and other delegates at the Annual Meeting to discuss how design-driven innovations can help put an end to extreme poverty. Together we can involve and inspire the entrepreneurial ecosystem for Africa — one that is led by youth and women as designers, scientists, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

Njideka U. Harry is the President and CEO of Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), an innovativenon-profit organization focused on using the power of technology to transform the lives of youth and women in developing countries. YTF’s strength lies in its ability to access market demands, design developmental programs and administer customized ICT and entrepreneurship training programs that uplift youth and women from poverty.

Mrs. Harry serves as advisor to several social enterprises, for-profit businesses with a social mission and international agencies on matters related to technology for development, youth entrepreneurship, gender/impact investing and corporate social responsibility.

Mrs. Harry earned her BBA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She completed her post-graduate studies at Stanford University. Mrs. Harry is an Ashoka Fellow and in 2013 was awarded ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’ by the Schwab Foundation and the World Economic Forum.

The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2015 will take place from 21–24 January in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, under the theme “The New Global Context.” You can find out more about the meeting here.