Economist Theodore Schultz invented the term “human capital” in the 1960s to posit the value of our human capacities. His premise was that human capital was like any other type of capital; it could be invested in through education, training and enhanced benefits that would lead to an improvement in the quality and level of production of any nation.
Put simply, the theory of “human capital” acknowledges the fact that the quality of employees can be improved by investing in them since the education, experience and abilities of an employee has an economic value.
The “shape” of the African workforce changes dramatically as it gets younger. According to the UN’s World Population Prospects, 60% of Africa’s population is less than 25 years old. Only 5% of Africa’s population falls within the age range of 60 to 80 years old. This change in the make-up of the African workforce is not something that is about to happen, it is already happening.
The consequences of the continent’s under-investment in it workforce, or “human capital” cannot be over-emphasised, and could lead to many outcomes. An under-skilled workforce will result in higher costs of labour due to the need to import skills, which will in turn have a negative effect of the continent’s private and public sectors as well as society in general.
Although it gives the continent a clear competitive advantage, Africa’s youthful population also poses a formidable challenge. So it is considered imperative to devise a robust plan to integrate this emerging workforce and provide all the necessary resources to optimise its potential.
A lesson learned during the Arab uprising was the negative consequences of under-investment in youth. So Africa is at a crossroads: one way leads to a prosperous continent via an empowered youth, or we can ignore the lessons of North Africa and ignore youth employment and face civil disobedience and revolution.
The question all discerning minds should ask at this stage is, what can Africa can do in order to utilise its young and energetic human resource, and who should be at the forefront of this effort?
Indeed, nurturing human capital for growth will be the central discussion at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation Forum, to be held in Dakar, Senegal between 9 and 11 November.
It is also the question we at Africa 2.0 are seeking to answer, and we intend to fully participate in the Dakar Forum. Africa 2.0 is a Pan-African civil society organisation that consists of over 300 young and emerging leaders from Africa and the diaspora who share a collective vision for Africa and a commitment to finding and implementing sustainable solutions capable of leapfrogging the development of the African continent.
The creation of a knowledge-based Africa is at the forefront of the vision of Africa 2.0. As such, Africa 2.0 assigns a critical role to the private and public sector, as well as civil society in nurturing the continent’s human capital. Through workshops, conferences and through our network of chapters in individual countries, we aim to marshal leaders, thinkers and stakeholders across the continent. It is a commitment towards establishing a social contract around capacity building in order transform the Africa continent.
For example, the workshop we are holding on the sidelines of the Dakar Forum promises to be inspiring as it will be a departure from most formats. It is less talk, talk – more walk, walk. A concrete plan of action will be adopted which we will manage through a monitoring team.
What the youth advocates
We believe strongly that on education, the private sector in Africa is lagging behind the public sector. Africa’s public sector investment in education compares favourably with global standards. In many emerging and developing countries such as China, South Korea and Guatemala, private sector investment in education accounts for 66% of the country’s annual national expenditure on this sector.
Being the biggest beneficiary of the continent’s skilled workforce, Africa’s private sector investment currently stands at 5–8%, but that needs to be drastically increased.
A stronger involvement and a coherent intervention by the private sector in nurturing human capital is urgently required. Such an intervention needs to be concerted, strategic and focused on key areas that can produce the greatest impact.
Creating a social contract between the private sector, government and civil society, serving to move Africa towards a knowledge-based economy, is clearly a step in the right direction.
When Africa 2.0 designed its manifesto, which was largely a youth-driven initiative, we identified and put together a number of action plans to develop and retain Africa’s human capital. For example, we advocated not the simple creation of institutes of higher learning but rather centres of excellence and vocational training in strategic sectors to enable Africa to gain a competitive advantage and comparative expertise in Africa’s key economic sectors, such as the extractive industries (oil and gas, mining, engineering and geology) and in the agri-business value chain.
There are other initiatives which can quickly be put in place such as mobilising the private sector to commit 70% of its corporate social responsibility budgets to focus on capacity and skills building. Setting up bridges with the private sector would reinforce capacity and skills in the public sector.
And there are successful models which can be replicated continent-wide, such as Le Bureau National d’Etudes Techniques et de Développement’s (the national office of technical and development studies) model in Cote d’Ivoire. A knowledge- based society needs to be at the core of all economic policy and that is why we were pleased to see that education was at the top of the agenda of the recently passed Nigerian budget.
There are also other well-documented problems which need to be addressed at the public sector level such as the quality of teaching and an update of curricula, to address the immediate needs of the private sector.
The public sector has a critical role and needs to enable a knowledge-based environment to create the right incentives for the private sector to take a greater role. There is no reason why we cannot leapfrog in this regard in much the same way as we did with mobile phones across the continent, by leveraging e-learning and distance learning and investing in skills upgrades for the benefit of the nation.
A recent study in Ethiopia showed the role technology can play in terms of e-learning. Two researchers dropped iPads pre-loaded with educational apps in two extremely remote villages where the population was completely illiterate, leaving no instructions other than telling the elders that these devices were designed for children aged four to 11 years.
They then left the village to their own devices, making random visits to monitor progress. The results, which are not completely assembled yet, are nevertheless quite astounding. After a couple of months, some of the children were singing the alphabet song and recognising letters. And all this without proper teaching or adult supervision. This demonstrates the potential of technology, if we can link it with appropriate teaching mechanisms.
We hope that our seminar during the Dakar Forum, co-devised with the help of the Africa Capacity Building Foundation, is a step in the right direction. We also hope that by engaging more with all who have Africa’s wellbeing at heart to join Africa 2.0, we will further the mammoth task of developing Africa.
Mamadou Toure is the founder of Africa 2.0. It was launched in 2010 with the goal of creating a forum for Africa’s emerging leaders to articulate a shared vision for the development of the continent and to promote the implementation of that vision. www.africa2point0.org