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Forum on the Future of Nigeria

Thank you, Shawn [Donnan], and thank you to the Financial Times for hosting this important forum on the future of Nigeria, and by clear extension, the future of Africa.

I am privileged to share this podium tonight with Mutui Sunmonu. I look forward to his comments on the important work Shell is doing in Nigeria.

A century ago, when Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller founded the Rockefeller Foundation I imagine it might have been quite awkward for a representative from one of his organizations to share the stage with a representative from Standard Oil’s rival, Shell. But bringing leaders across business, media, philanthropy and academia to discuss the future of a single country thousands of miles away is exactly what I believe John D. Rockefeller had in mind when he established the Rockefeller Foundation with the mission to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world in 1913. Indeed, we are celebrating our centennial in 2013—100 years of innovation.

Among our Centennial events in regions throughout the world, we’ll be marking this milestone in July with a summit of top-level financial and agricultural leaders from government, the private sector and civil society in Abuja, to discuss the innovations that will strengthen African agricultural markets, especially through improved value chains. For real progress, African agriculture needs to move from a development problem to an opportunity for robust livelihoods and increased productivity.

It is a particularly high priority for Nigeria, under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathon and his government, with whom we share close ties. Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture Akin Adesina worked for me at the Rockefeller Foundation as our Associate Director of Food Security and as a Vice President at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, which we founded with the Gates Foundation. And we are honored that the Minister of Finance and coordinating Minister for the economy, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, serves on the Rockefeller Foundation board.

We chose Abuja for this Centennial gathering also because of the special history we’ve with Nigeria shared since 1920. Our relationship was formalized in 1920, when the Rockefeller Foundation established the first West Africa Yellow Fever Commission to determine if the mysterious disease outbreak reported in Africa was the same infection as the yellow fever epidemic ravaging the Western Hemisphere. It was in this laboratory that Rockefeller Foundation scientists established the first successful line of infection in a host animal suitable for lab testing—a rhesus monkey. This advancement, along with the brave work of field officers who collected blood samples from infected patients in villages across the countryside, would be a turning point to develop the very vaccine we administer still today.

But many of those scientists and field officers would not live to see it—taken by the very disease they dedicated their lives to cure. Fortunately, not all of our history in Nigeria is straight out of the pages of a Greek tragedy.

In the early 1960s, a newly independent Nigeria was part of the Foundation’s University Development Program in Africa, which would train more than 500 fellows in the areas of agriculture, public health, medicine, and the social sciences across the continent. And in the late 1960s, the Rockefeller Foundation helped to found the Institute of Tropical Agriculture, which has conducted trailblazing research on crop and soil over the last five decades. All in all, over the last 40 years, we’ve made more than 500 grants benefiting Nigeria.

Today, our work in Nigeria largely focuses on our 21st century goals to achieve more equitable growth, and to build resilience against the shocks and disruptions of our dynamic and rapidly changing world. In particular, we are working closely with Nigeria to help the country fulfill its commitment to moving toward universal health coverage for all its citizens. We’re also working to develop climate resilience for smallholder farmers, and we are building up the impact investing sector for investors seeking both financial and social returns in Nigeria, working closely with the Central Bank.

But it’s on our work to connect African youth with employment opportunities that I would like to focus on for the remainder of my remarks. I truly believe that no conversation about the future of Africa is complete without the discussion of youth employment. Africa has the fastest growing youth population in the world. In Nigeria alone, 5 million young people come of age into the workforce each year. But despite recent economic gains, job creation has not nearly kept pace with demand. This poses challenges not only to the ability of individuals to pull themselves and their families from poverty—it has implications for the peace and stability of the region.

But we also see tremendous opportunities to harness the energy and the ingenuity of these young people in ways that help them take control of their economic destiny. 2.5 quintillion opportunities… to be exact. That is how many bytes of data exist in the world today. And 90 percent of that data was created in the last 2 years.

The explosion in data and technology worldwide is creating new opportunities for digital jobs. This is good news for Nigeria, which has the largest domestic information and communications technology market in Africa, with over $12 billion of investments. At the same time, Nigeria’s services sector is experiencing tremendous growth at the average rate of 12.5 percent per year.

The Rockefeller Foundation is working to ensure that vulnerable—and talented—youth living in the slums in some of Africa’s major cities, including Lagos, are able to access these opportunities. We call this “impact sourcing”—connecting economically disadvantaged populations with training and employment opportunities located in low-income areas.

In Kenya, for example, we’ve already seen good success connecting local enterprises with contracts from Fortune 1000 companies, local governments and multinationals with local presence through a Rockefeller grantee, Samasource. Through an online platform, Samasource, which is based in San Francisco, assigns individual projects to centers, in countries such as Haiti, Kenya, and Pakistan. These centers then assign specific tasks to young workers who have been trained via virtual platforms, tasks as varied as transcribing and digitizing receipts and business cards to tagging audio and video files.

Businesses increasingly see this as a win-win proposition, as they are able to reduce their costs by up to 40 percent. But most importantly, workers have seen their incomes shoot up more than 200 percent—allowing talented young people to enter the formal economy and help pull their families from poverty. Over the next several years, we’ll be working in six African countries, including Nigeria, to impact 1 million lives through digital jobs and skills for disadvantaged youth.

We’re focused on three specific interventions:

First, we’re working with organizations on the ground to provide youth with training in digital skills demanded by the private sector, from soft skills such as communications and problem solving to technical skills.

Secondly, we are continuing to work to bring the impact sourcing sector to scale—encouraging broad adoption of these practices across the private sector.

Finally, we are exploring future opportunities to leverage the boom in information and communications technologies to employ youth at scale. For example, the mobile money transfer platform in Kenya, mPesa, has more than 15 million registered users, allowing the company to employ 50,000 people. There are more innovations just waiting for investment and cultivation.

Ultimately, we believe the private sector, government and civil society will be able to coordinate the market for digital jobs without further involvement and capital from philanthropy. But right now, it is up to us to take those risks that other sectors cannot—and demonstrate that digital jobs in Africa are a viable solution for business needs and for the challenges of youth unemployment. This is just one component of what must be a larger partnership among business, philanthropy, and government in Africa to create a more resilient, more equitable future.

We invite you to join us as the Rockefeller Foundation embarks on a new, exciting chapter of our work with Nigeria—and I am delighted to join you in what I know will be a rich and productive conversation.

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Judith Rodin

Judith Rodin

Judith Rodin is a pioneer, innovator, change-maker and global thought-leader. Read Full Bio

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