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Global Youth Economic Opportunities

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video even better, so I’m going to show you a brief video clip about The Rockefeller Foundation’s Digital Jobs Africa initiative.

I want to share with you a bit more background about why we launched this Digital Jobs Africa initiative.

I have to admit that we can’t call The Rockefeller Foundation a youthful organization—we’re celebrating our 100th anniversary. But we do think of ourselves as innovative, and innovation has been a constant through our history. We are also increasingly compelled by the importance of supporting youth, and employment for young people—so this year’s conference focus on the power of technology, and opportunities for rural youth, are on our minds.

Youth are the greatest force for positive change in the world. But when youth lack work opportunities, they set out in life at a great disadvantage.

In recent years the Rockefeller Foundation has reaffirmed our commitment to expanding employment opportunities, and youth in particular.

Digital Jobs Africa

In May we launched the major new seven-year Initiative featured in the video, called Digital Jobs Africa, toward which we are putting about $100 million. Through Digital Jobs Africa, we aim to improve the lives of at least 1 million people across six countries in Africa.

We and our grantees and partners will deliver impact at two levels—through improving the well-being of workers themselves, their families, and communities; and by influencing the broader adoption of inclusive business practices that lead to job creation for youth at scale in ICT-enabled sectors.

“These youth will acquire skills that will prepare them with a ladder of opportunity for the rest of their lives.”

We are supporting and collaborating with NGOs, educational institutions, governments, and businesses to make this happen.

These youth will acquire skills and generate economic opportunities for themselves, and their communities, and this will prepare them with a ladder of opportunity for the rest of their lives.

This work originated from the need to address the dual challenges of high employment in Africa; and a widening gap between rich and poor. Even where there is high growth in Africa, it doesn’t necessarily translate into more jobs for more people, especially those already disadvantaged.

This Initiative is led by our office in Nairobi. Our planning and in some cases pilot efforts are underway in five countries – Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Morocco—and we are considering a sixth country, Egypt.

Digital jobs help young women and men build a transferable skill set that makes them resilient in their economies, by strengthening their future employment opportunities, and enhancing their adaptability to the changing nature of the workplace.

For example, gaining and refining communication skills through an entry-level call center role can eventually allow a young person to progress and qualify for a mid-level customer service role in financial services. Digitizing documents can lead to coding and data entry for young people within a matter of months. And digital jobs have a unique capacity to provide employment to individuals who face barriers to employment—education level, poverty, gender, lack of prior experience, or shortage of employment options in their communities.

There are 3 pillars to this effort:

First, engaging with employers—businesses and government – to stimulate job creation. An important part of this is called impact sourcing—business process outsourcing that provides good quality jobs with sustainable income generation. Second, working with training organizations that design and deliver demand-led training. And third, creating the enabling environment for digital jobs to take off in a way that helps disadvantaged youth, coordinating with governments, businesses, and nonprofits so that inclusive business practices are adopted globally—so that in future philanthropy works itself out of this role.

The potential for impact on people is enormous. And so is the impact on the economies of Africa that are in huge need of these skills:

  •  Health care requires digitized information
  •  Banking, insurance and telecoms companies are generating new types of work each year.
  •  Traceability of global supply chains will require new scales of data entry and management.
  •  And the growing demand of businesses in the Arab Gulf across all of these will grow.

Most important is that we have to train for the world of work of tomorrow, not just today.

Many of you in this room already work in this field, and we look forward to continuing to innovate, to accelerate and to scale solutions with you.

Rural Employment

I want to use some of my remaining time sharing a sample of the important work we are doing on rural employment.

This year we conducted a competition for ideas to attract young people to farming as part of our centennial celebrations. We gave $100,000 grants to the top ideas to enable the innovators to develop them further. Two examples:

One is on Peer-to-peer learning on agriculture. In Kenya, a dynamic Facebook page set up and marketed by one of our award winners has attracted more than 15,000 followers—all young people learning from each other about farming. They share challenges and successes and encourage each other.

The second is training young people as farmer-entrepreneurs. Approaching farming as a business makes it more attractive to young people. Our awardee in Nigeria has a training program with about 150 young people that teaches them the latest farming techniques, as well as business skills—how to manage money, save, invest, and provide for a family.

“Agriculture may very well offer the best opportunities for youth, but only if leaders now make the right policy and investment decisions.”

At our large centennial summit in Nigeria in July, farming as a business that could attract youth was a big topic. Our grantee Oxfam noted there: “In Africa and in other parts of the world, agriculture has an image problem: it is regarded as back-breaking work, with low returns, and something you do as a last resort, when you have no options. Youth also face practical challenges accessing land and finance without collateral. Agriculture may very well offer the best opportunities for youth, but only if leaders now make the right policy and investment decisions so that it can deliver the desired living standards that African youth want.” Our summit concluded that policy-makers, businesses and civil society have to change their language and ways of working to respond to what speaks to young people.

Linking together these two types of work in one developing region, Africa, I want to underscore that to support rural youth, we need to focus attention on two things—how to ensure a there is a growing number of decent employment opportunities in rural areas, and how to prepare youth best in the event that they migrate to urban areas.

Youth and Employment in the U.S.

I want to take a final minute to summarize our youth and employment work in the U.S., which my colleague John Irons will be talking about in a session tomorrow afternoon. We’re road-testing a new Initiative on this now. Why?

  •  Because more than one-third of all 16-24 year olds in the U.S. are experiencing employment challenges.
  • Because the number of young people out of school and out of work surged by nearly one million during the recent “Great Recession.”
  • Because underemployment of youth in the U.S. has more than doubled in the last decade.
  • And because there is mal-employment—young people increasingly settling for any position that can pay the bills, regardless of whether it uses their educational background and skills.

A major problem driving youth unemployment is a lack of connection to the demand side of the economy. To respond to these challenges, The Rockefeller Foundation’s Initiative on Youth and Skills in the U.S. aims to help:

“Driving U.S. youth unemployment is a lack of connection to the demand side of the economy.”

Identify regional employers most likely to employ youth, and show them more effectively how young people can meet their requirements. Restructure work and education to support one another, rather than oppose one another. And translate youth’s descriptions of their own talents and potential to what employers know they need.

Not easy, but working together we think it’s possible to make a difference.


This post is based on remarks given by Vice President Heather Grady at the Making Cents International’s 2013 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference in Washington D.C. 

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