Leading the charge: Young Africans creating bold new future

By 2030, an estimated 42 per cent of the world’s youth will call Africa home. Today, 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa is under 30. These young people are expected to lead in the future, and many are already as they drive rapid growth across the continent.

These young leaders have achieved success across a diverse range of activities: sparking a revolution in the tech ecosystem; constructing the foundations of smart agriculture; building a healthier population; and revitalizing an entertainment industry that competes globally. African youth play a vital role in their continent’s economic growth, innovation, peace, integration, and security.

Examples abound In Namibia, Rosalia Nghitalesheni Joseph, 28, is the first woman entomologist in the country. As the Regional Coordinator for Women in Vector Control (WIVC), Central and Southern Africa, she has instigated sweeping policy changes in malaria control in Namibia and the validation of medicinal plants. Listed by Forbes Africa on its 30 Under 30 Class of 2023: Tomorrow’s Titans, her findings resulted in a 2019 adoption of alternative insecticides and a 2021 adoption of bed nets for malaria prevention in Namibia.

According to UNICEF, Africa still has more than 400 million people lacking basic drinking water. In Rwanda, Yvette Ishimwe, 25, is working hard to reduce this number. As the Founder and CEO of Iriba Water Group, she leads a team providing innovative and sustainable water solutions for communities, schools and organisations currently serving more than 30,000 people.

In Nigeria, Flutterwave, a payments infrastructure fintech company, is widely considered a role model for the possibilities within the fintech sector in Africa.

Led by CEO Olugbenga Agboola, 38, the startup made history in 2021 by raising a USD170 million Series C funding round, the largest amount ever secured by an African tech startup at the time, and is currently operating in more than 10 countries.

While these young leaders’ achievements bolster Africa’s present and future, and encourage more youth participation in critical growth areas, most young founders lack mentors due to the nascent stage of the region’s economies.

Fortunately, a group of high-impact pan-Africa and international organisations have stepped in to provide the critical mentorship that African founders need to transform lives and economies.

Developing the next generation of business leaders Strategic organizations and communities play a key role in equipping young leaders with the right tools to make smarter decisions, build better brands and businesses, impact policy, and contribute to economic and societal transformation.

On the international front, young African business leaders are also benefiting from strategic and hugely transformative organisations. One of these is YPO – a global leadership community of chief executives driven by the shared belief that the world needs better leaders. YPO connects more than 34,000 extraordinary leaders who have achieved significant success at a young age together to share knowledge and change the world through their work.

The organisation, which has members across more than 150 countries, provides young African founders a community where they can foster strong relationships with other founders, grow as leaders, gain resources to build their businesses and find routes to funding, and make a difference in their lives and their communities.

From events to various knowledge-sharing initiatives, YPO has equipped young leaders with the tools to make smarter business decisions and elevate their brands. The Boardroom Africa is considered the continent’s most vibrant private community of women executives. The organisation promotes gender equality and the power of diversity to improve business performance talent connections.

Members receive guidance on navigating their strategic presence within boardrooms, leading to an increase in women appointments. According to the organisation, more than 2,500 women have signed up across 70 countries, with more than 100 of them placed in boards within its seven years of existence.

Another critical platform is Africa CEO Forum, which supports African business leaders through events, reports, and expert insights. Founded in 2012, the organisation expanded from an annual event to a permanent platform offering decision-makers opportunities to network with international investors focused on Africa.

The group’s annual summits bring 2,000 business leaders, investors, and policy makers from Africa and around the world to focus on the private sector’s role in the development of the continent. Reimagining economic growth As more young African business leaders take advantage of these opportunities, we will see an unprecedented economic growth and positive societal changes.

One of the sectors we’re already seeing this is the tech industry. As of Q2 2023, Africa is home to four unicorns, according to data from Statista: Andela, Interswitch, Flutterwave, and Chinese-backed but Africa-focused OPay. (A company is qualified as a unicorn if it is a privately owned startup that has achieved a valuation of USD1 billion.) All four were either founded by young people or have management teams with young people in critical growth positions.

Several tech companies on the continent such as Chipper Cash, Wave and MNT- Halan are close to unicorn status. In fintech, the impact on economic transformation has been huge. It is estimated that Africa will have the highest growth for digital payments (total transaction value) of any region globally at a compound annual growth rate of 16.1 per cent from 2023 to 2027. Total transaction value is put at USD146 billion, representing a 1.5 per cent share of global transaction value in 2023. Cash is still widely used in most transactions in Africa, and this creates a vast market for fintechs that are payments-focused.

The ripple effect of this global attention is that other sectors are garnering more interest as investors, buoyed by the market potential of the continent, are beginning to seek diversification. Agriculture, healthcare services, consumer goods, and trade are some of the areas that discerning investors are beginning to focus on in a bid to
solve some of the continent’s challenges while unlocking markets.

Aside from economic growth, young leaders are taking up positions in key areas, supporting critical societal changes such as gender equality and youth empowerment. In Nigeria, for instance, Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes, one of the youngest women fund managers in Africa, has leveraged her YPO membership to gain best practices and advice from other members to help raise capital for her growth equity and impact investment firm, Aruwa Capital Management.

This, in turn, has helped her close financing gaps for women businesses and champion gender equality.

The impact that young people are having on Africa’s economy now will continue to bring more interest, capital, and talent to the continent, benefiting all Africans and enabling us to play a bigger role in making the world a better place.

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