Setting Africa’s Youth on a Pathway to Prosperity

Contributor: Ellington Arnold, Youth Advisor

Today young people are approximately three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. Nowhere is this more true than in Sub-Saharan Africa where the youth bracket is approximately 200 million people and will at least double in the next 30 years. By 2050, the populations of 28 African countries are projected to more than double.


As we observe World Youth Skills Day this Saturday, we must not only acknowledge this problem, but take steps to leverage the Africa’s largest growing asset: its youth. Africa’s youthful population can be the engine for sustained accelerated economic growth and innovation if properly utilized.


But how can we achieve this?


There’s not an easy answer, but what I do know is that each day I work with the future problem solvers and leaders of tomorrow. As an Advisor on Youth Entrepreneurship at the U.S. African Development Foundation, I facilitate enterprise expansion and creation across the continent and by doing so directly address poverty alleviation by empowering those who have the most at stake.


Since 2014, USADF has invested $3 million in 150 social enterprises in over 30 countries. By pairing seed capital with technical assistance, USADF provides young entrepreneurs with the tools needed to invest in their own communities.


Take Brenda for example, an entrepreneur in Uganda who had a dream to make eye care more affordable and accessible to underprivileged children in Uganda and founded Wazi Vision. Conventional business wisdom would dictate that this is a ‘market’ she cannot enter. However, Brenda knows that addressing social challenges require more than conventional thinking. This barrier to entry forced her to think outside of the box, and to be innovative, imaginative, and unflinching in her optimism.

Her solution: to manufacture eye-glasses from recycled plastics, thus reducing the cost of eye care by over 80 percent. With many children in slums or rural areas suffering from chronic eye conditions such as myopia, Brenda also operates mobile eye clinics using an app to conducting screenings and compile data. Over the past year, she has progressed from successfully creating her prototype eye-glasses, to visiting 12 schools, screening over 2,200 children and providing 350 pairs of eye-glasses. Additionally, she employs female artisans who are trained to design and mold the plastic frames, creating jobs locally in a sector that previously didn’t exist.


A recent survey showed that Al-Shabab has recruited young men for as little as $50 a month and a mobile phone. In Somalia, where nearly 70% of youth are unemployed, we are filling the skills shortage by providing vocational training to over 5,000 Somali youth, to young women like Shadia. USADF provides funding to local Somalia NGOs to train unemployed youth and assist them to obtain employment and earn income.  The local Somalia NGOs, in turn work with local businesses to set up five-month training and apprenticeship programs for the youth.  Youth participating in the program reported their income jumped from $50 a month to $300 a month, translating in direct benefits for themselves and their families. The USADF program provides a far better alternative to youth who earn a higher income graduating from the USADF Somalia program.


If we want to invest in the future of Africa, we must focus on those who will be most impacted. By supporting and empowering innovative entrepreneurs like Brenda and Shadia, we allow the future of Africa to be placed in the hands of those most capable, impassioned, and motivated to create a better tomorrow.



Ellington Arnold is a Program Analyst on Nigeria and Adviser on Youth Entrepreneurship. Previously, he worked as a development consultant for a NGO in Kenya, focusing on economic diversification on a community level. Ellington served in the Peace Corps in Senegal working in preventative health. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a BA in Foreign Affairs, concentrating on Africa.


Empowering People, Developing Nations

2017 World Population Day

Contributor: Michelle McKenzie

Economic development and nation building require many things, but empowering women and youth are paramount. In my work with youth groups in Niger as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I worked with young people to help them analyze the effects of population growth on family life, society and their country’s development. With one of the highest fertility rates in the world, Niger faces many development challenges, including scarcity of water, environmental stresses and religious extremism. A rising population adds to these factors, however young people must be involved in the discussion of family and the implications of population on the development prospects in that country. This is not an easy task—cultural norms in Niger tend to result in higher birth rates, over 7 children per female. In my approach to population education, I used a multi-disciplinary and innovative curriculum to help young people critically analyze the consequences of higher birth rates, the decision-making power of women when it comes to growing families, and alternatives to cultural norms.

The future of development is rooted in youth and women — we must empower them when it comes to rising populations.

The youth population in Niger is staggering with nearly 50% under the age of 15.  With such a youthful population in Niger and in much of Africa, youth is where a critical mass of change can occur if resources and support are effectively leveraged to target this population. Young people Africa are malleable and willing to learn, grow and adopt and develop new innovations that can move Africa and the world forward.

The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) supports young people are who starting or expanding social enterprises, creating new jobs and local economic opportunities. Many have already made significant strides to grow their businesses and create impact in their communities.  In the first round of youth-led enterprises funded in 2014, 68.4% attracted follow-on investments. USADF empowers people to be the drivers of their own development, using small catalytic capital to transform youth enterprises and helping strengthen the role of youth in the process of developing nations.

The future of development is rooted in youth and women. Empowering these two demographics should be a priority in every development strategy. Data on poverty dynamics in Bangladesh demonstrate that women's empowerment is a powerful predictor of whether a household escapes poverty and remains out of poverty versus remaining or falling back into poverty[i]. Since women play such a significant role in a family’s resilience and poverty alleviation, it is important they have decision-making power. Impactful and transformational development cannot occur if youth and women are not fully integrated and empowered as change agents in the development process.

Empowering underserved populations as change agents in their lives and communities is at the core of USADF development practice. As we celebrate World Population Day, we must keep at the forefront of our minds the actions necessary to leverage the youth boom and make them the drivers of their own development.


Michelle McKenzie served in Niger as a Community and Youth Education Volunteer from 2007-2009 where she worked with the Secondary School Inspection in Zinder.  Michelle has 12 years of development experience and has done work on Africa for the past 10 years.  Michelle worked for 5 years in Programs at the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) and managed projects in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, Nigeria and Botswana. She now works in the Knowledge, Learning and Development division at USADF, where she is responsible for driving actions that enhance program effectiveness and promote better knowledge management and organizational learning. Michelle is a McNair Scholar and David L. Boren Fellow and has a Master’s Degree in International Development from American University.


[i] IFPRI 2016