By Mabingue Ngom, Regional Director West Africa, UNFPA
For years too many of us striving to improve the lives of fellow Africans have picked their focus – education or health, babies or mothers – and channeled their efforts in one direction. But in 2015, politicians and development partners came together and agreed it’s time for a new approach.
Our work going forward will be holistic, cooperative and collaborative and will require the input of everyone – from religious leaders to corporate directors. Crucially, it will also have a sharp new focus: ensuring no one is left behind especially young people who we need to put first. It is time to look at development with different eyes and remove the many filters and outdated assumptions that have guided efforts to improve Africa for decades.
Africa’s population is expected to peak at 1.6 billion in 2030 from 1.0 billion in 2010, which would represent 19% of the world’s population. The bulk of African countries have a very young population, with an average of 60% of the population under the age of 24, and an adolescent fertility rate of 100 per 1000 women aged 15-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa. These dynamics are often associated with high levels of unemployment and political instability, as is currently the case in the Sahel region.
A rapid transformation of the age structure and a subsequent decline in dependency ratios, would bring about the potential for real economic growth and human development – known as the demographic dividend – spurred by increased labor income and savings. The IMF reports that for every 1 percentage point change in working age population, real per capita GDP grows by 0.5% point.
Africa’s demographics have and continue to change. It is today a continent of young people –but despite some determined efforts, we are failing them.
Large families with fertility rates of about 5.5 children per women in West and Central Africa, poor health and lack of education and jobs are driving away this potential. If we fail our young boys and girls, they will fail us. But they could be our saviours – if we give them the chance. If Africa is to realize its demographic dividend, they must be at the center of our decision making going forward.
Our girls and boys must be able to go to school, get a decent job, be entrepreneurs and choose when to start a family if they are to realize their potential. But providing these opportunities is not easy and will require the commitment of everyone – politicians, voters, religious leaders, grassroots organizations and, critically, the private sector. For without the financial and human resources the private sector can provide, this work cannot be done.
At UNFPA, we already have a strategic plan which puts partnerships at its center.
Encouraged by the African Union’s call to focus investments on youth in 2017, we have spent this year encouraging others to join us on this collective journey. Africa has already benefited from steady economic growth. Private investments have risen fast; thousands of small and medium enterprises have emerged. However this impressive growth has not benefitted the most vulnerable. The demographic dividend is not about creating a middle class or more supermarkets – it is about creating a better functioning economy for all.
UNFPA has already played a central role in building the momentum on demographic dividend with the African Union, the NEPAD and the African Development Bank by helping to draw up the AU’s 2017 roadmap on ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through investments in youth’.
There are many private partners supporting and complementing our work, including GBCHealth. We share a common understanding that partnerships must promote smart solutions, leverage competencies and put innovations to work in support of better integration.
There must be coordinated investments from telecoms, banking, consumer goods and key growth sectors. Beyond resources, business must also contribute by providing expertise to build value chains and create marketing campaigns that lead to positive behavior change. While we have a strong commitment to addressing unmet needs for family planning and maternal and child health, there must be an integrated and commensurate focus on education and skills development, entrepreneurship and employment for the future drivers of our global economy, the youth.
UNFPA is also engaging the African Green Revolution, Climate Smart Agriculture, Resilience, Food Security to refocus skills, jobs and investment in rural areas. This new nexus is based on innovation and modernization. It is clear that this will contribute powerfully to addressing migration and urban growth.
This past year also saw us work with hotel chain Radisson Blu in Congo, helping us to raise funds and awareness around obstetric fistula. We also collaborated with telecommunications giants TIGO and CISCO to reinforce stakeholder commitment to transforming the lives of young people. There are so many ways in which the private sector can – and must – contribute to the work ahead.
Strategic and operational partnerships at both the country and regional levels with a broad range of business partners could provide a wider variety of skills and products. It is in our shared interest. Investing in the youth will benefit us all. Smart investments have the power to provide alternatives to violence and extremism and stop our most talented young people from seeking employment outside the continent.
If Africa is to continue to develop economically over the next fifty years, investments in youth must be made by us all – today. The private sector and other development actors need to play their part as the continent works to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and realize “The Africa We Want” in which no one is left behind.
Mabingue Ngom was appointed UNFPA Regional Director for the West Africa region and Central (WCARO) based in Dakar, Senegal, in January 2015. In exercising his duties, he will provide leadership and strategic direction for the 23 countries covered by the Regional Office.
Mr. Ngom joined UNFPA in 2008 as Director of Program Division based at UNFPA headquarters in New York. As a strategic leader, he led the development of the 2014-2017 Strategic Plan, which introduced important organizational reforms to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the United Nations Population Fund.
From 2003 to 2008, Mr. Ngom worked for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) as portfolio manager for Africa, then as Team Leader for West and Centrale Africa in Geneva (Switzerland). In the late 1990s, he also held the position of Program Advisor at the “International Planned Parenthood Federation” in Nairobi (Kenya). Previously, Mr. Ngom was involved in the development of his country, where he held various management positions, including Advisor of the Minister of Economy and Finance in Senegal.