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Remarks by Zia Khan at the Africa Forum on Inclusive Economies

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen:

It is my great honour and pleasure to be here and address you today. I would also like to pass along a heartfelt welcome from our Foundation President, Dr. Judith Rodin, who with much regret could not be here today due to other foundation commitments. It is also my great honor to welcome so many special guests:

  • H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta, Chief guest
  • Henry Rotich, Cabinet secretary for Treasury
  • Members of Government present,
  • Dr. Geraldine Frazer-Moloketi, Special Envoy for Gender, The African Development Bank
  • Dr. Takyiwaa (pronounced Tashiwa) Manuh, Diirector Social Development Division, Economic Commission for Africa
  • Dr. Gabriel Negatu, Regional Director Eastern Africa, the African Development Bank
  • Dr. Ebrima Sall, Executive Secretary CODESRIA
  • Grantees, Partners from all sectors represented here
  • Members of the media, esteemed guests
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Let me start by sharing with you a brief history of who we are, and what we do. The Rockefeller Foundation was founded in 1913. For more than 100 years, our mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Today, we are pursuing this mission through two overarching goals: to advance inclusive economies that expand opportunities for more broadly shared prosperity; and to build resilience by helping people, communities and institutions prepare for, withstand, and emerge stronger from acute shocks and chronic stresses.

To achieve these goals, we work at the intersection of four focus areas—advance health, revalue ecosystems, secure livelihoods, and transform cities—to address the root causes of emerging challenges and create systemic and sustainable change.

Together with partners and grantees such as many of you here today, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Throughout our history, the Foundation has seen innovation and impact grow when we bring together actors and partners from different sectors and geographies to learn, debate, and innovate to help find solutions to complex challenges. The power of partnerships and dialogue cannot be over-emphasized, and as a Foundation, we strongly believe in the possibility to build on each other’s ideas, each other’s successes, and each other’s failures to—as our founder John D. Rockefeller said 100 years ago—promote the well-being of humanity around the world.

We come together today, with top thought leaders, decision makers and influencers from the public, private, academia and development sectors to tackle the challenge of how to ensure inclusivity in a time of rapid and exciting growth in Africa. I can think of no better time or more urgent discussion for us to be having.

Inclusive Economies is one of The Rockefeller Foundation’s over-arching goals, informed by trends and challenges that we see globally. The same global forces that increase risk, volatility, and vulnerability also create unprecedented opportunity. Greater connectedness and information enables increased access to global markets that can expand productive potential and new options for broadly shared prosperity.

Fortunately, innovations that were once previously unimagined—such as mobile health care and banking, access to data, carbon-efficient technology, and remote learning—are creating opportunities for people previously left out of the mainstream economy. At the same time, new business models and broader economic growth continue to lift millions out of poverty, but at the same time—left unchecked—they can create unintended consequences such as accelerated inequality, social dislocation and environmental degradation.

Conventional wisdom presents these as tradeoffs: the rate of growth vs. the level of inclusion. We reject this “either/or” premise, and believe these objectives can be realized through new paradigms. Inclusion does not need to slow down growth, and in fact a focus on inclusion can create new growth opportunities. This requires redefining how we measure economic progress, development and human well-being in an unequal and resource-constrained world.

Whatever pathway we use to foster development, they must respond to the varying needs of humanity, from the poor or most vulnerable in emerging economies to the stagnating middle-class in many developed countries to the youth bulge in many rapidly growing countries—a challenge that is especially acute in Africa, where the number of youth aged 15-24 will double to 400 million by 2045. Statistics show that by 2050, Africa will have a larger working age population than India or China, and Africa’s youth under the age of 25 represent 62 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s unemployed population, and nearly three-fourths live on less than two dollars per day. It is clear that there is no shortage of challenges that we need to tackle—especially in Africa—but we believe that an inclusive approach will not only address lack of opportunity, but will aim to tackle problems at their root cause.

Through our goal of Inclusive Economies, we hope to expand economic opportunities for more people, enable better accounting of progress, ensure society’s assets and resources create access to opportunities and improve outcomes in living standards and economic security for poor and vulnerable people.

Cultural and social norms, political institutions, and economic strata are the structures underpinning inequality and reinforcing marginalization of the poor and vulnerable. Government policies—monetary and fiscal policies, rights, trade rules, minimum wage laws and social service provisions, for example—are key determinants of greater shared prosperity within economies. Business practices including salary compression, leave policies, business location decisions are also critical.

The Rockefeller Foundation seeks to inform and influence such policies and practices and break down the barriers to building inclusive economies.

While harnessing growth for more shared prosperity, we recognize that pursuing conventional, GDP-targeted development is inadequate as a sole paradigm for future progress. We must improve the incomes and living standards of those at the base of the pyramid, while we transition to less resource-intensive lifestyles for all. Inclusive economies imply the need for new development models and an economic paradigm for the human pursuit of improved well-being and the imperative of sustainable growth in the 21st century.

Ladies and gentlemen, this brings me to the unique opportunity offered by this forum

The overall goal of this forum is to develop a common understanding on Inclusive Economies within the African context. We hope to spend the next two days engaging in influential dialogue and action towards greater impact around inclusivity on the continent of Africa. With that in mind, let me pose three questions that I hope will help channel, and perhaps challenge your own thinking and drive greater dialogue around this critical topic:

  • How can the poor and vulnerable benefit from an Africa that is on the rise, and how do we measure this inclusivity?
  • What are the implications and risks of Africa promoting growth that is not inclusive?
  • What factors are critical for the private sector to embed an inclusive approach in current and future business practices and for governments to provide and enabling environment to accelerate the adoption of inclusive policies?

The Foundation is looking forward to hearing your new ideas and innovations for advancing a more inclusive economy in Africa. On behalf of myself, the Foundation’s President Judith Rodin, and all of my colleagues at the Foundation, I welcome you to this exciting conference and declare this forum open. I hope to leave here tomorrow afternoon with a greater sense of how we can all work together to harness the incredible growth in Africa and channel it to create limitless opportunity for all.

Thank you.