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The case for stronger action on sustainability

Globally, governments, academics, civil society organisations, and businesses are committing to play their role in realizing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Plans, strategies, roadmaps, and action plans are being formulated. Seminars are being held; lectures are being staged and SDG content added to courses. Researchers are researching, planners are planning, and teachers are teaching, all mindful and responsive to the science and knowledge end of the sustainability agenda.

The world however needs to remain true to the intended transformative nature of this agenda. The value of the SDGs and their targets lie in their actual achievement, and success will only be attained with action.

And it is in the action, that Absa believes business can play an important role.  By shifting the emphasis from a focus on profit and promises of a brighter future, to actively demonstrating and partaking in how that future is achieved today.

The children’s continent: Investing in Africa’s youth 

There’s a popular Chinese proverb that says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

This wisdom also applies when it comes to nurturing future African leaders and investing in the continent’s youth and improving their prospects of employability and entrepreneurship.

Younger populations are usually considered an economic gift for countries. When the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) is larger than the non-working-age share, there is usually a boost in economic productivity, known as a demographic dividend.

This has unfortunately not been the case in Africa with rising unemployment, limited access to quality education and a gross mismatch between industry needs and the skills being developed. It is more of a state of emergency needing all sectors of society to act.

Africa’s youth dividend continues to grow at an accelerating pace surpassing Europe and the United States. The average age of an African is 19 years and rapidly getting younger. According to the World Economic Forum, our continent is growing so quickly that by 2050, two in every five children in the world will be born here.

This is going to present a unique challenge. African stateswoman Graça Machel has expressed concern that Africa could become the continent of a billion “angry, underfed, under-educated and under-employed” young people by 2050, unless African governments act to invest in their children.

“Even though our youth have the potential to transform Africa, if neglected, they could exacerbate poverty and inequality while threatening peace, security and prosperity,” said Machel, who also chairs the international board of trustees of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF).

A future reimagined

While our young and growing population face some of the most complex economic, political, and social challenges in the world, vast resources and largely untapped markets could provide the foundations for a continent-wide renewal.

The SDGs established that young people are a driving force for the required development – but only if they are provided with the skills and opportunities needed to reach their potential, support development and contribute to peace and security.

With a future reimagined, Africa’s youth have the ability to future proof the continent and leapfrog post the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Young African leaders have a key role to play, as they have the most to lose if solutions are not enacted.

As we take hands to unlock this dividend, we should be inspired and guided by the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

It is however up to the current generation governments, private sector businesses and international organisations to ensure that resources are channeled and investment in Africa’s youth is geared at unlocking the demographic dividend.

What is required from the public sector and state actors is to equip the youth to not only get quality education but to tap into this youth dividend. Translating Africa’s increased development potential from the demographic transition into real dividends will require effective and accountable leadership at all levels of society.

It is with this in mind that we have made a very clear commitment to play our role in developing a new generation of accountable, courageous and entrepreneurial young leaders on our continent.

We believe in unlocking possibility, and the top priority for our business is to play a shaping role in society by putting the basic building blocks in place to ensure that Africans, and more precisely young Africans, have the opportunity to reimagine their futures and bring their possibilities to life.

Developing tomorrow’s leaders today

As a proudly African bank with an extensive footprint in 12 African countries and a rich heritage across the continent dating back more than 100 years, Absa believes that we have a critical role to play in developing tomorrow’s leaders today.

One of the most important things that will move this continent forward, is leadership. We have established robust partnerships with several like-minded institutions like the African Leadership University (ALU) and other networks to equip a new generation of African leaders, as it is in the hands of these leaders that Africa will grow and thrive.

But our young people need more than education, they also require critical work, life, business and thinking skills to help them adapt in this rapidly changing world. Following an in-depth analysis of the African operating landscape, we have refocused our education and skills development initiatives and the focal point now rests on preparing young people for the workplace of the future through collaborative partnerships.

This is done with a demand-led approach, and our initiatives support the development of technical, vocational, social and digital skills in line with the requirements of Africa’s key growth sectors.

We offer a curated Absa Fellowship Programme,  focused on developing a cadre of authentic, accountable and ethical future leaders with the potential to play a shaping role in their respective communities on the African continent.

Rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other emerging technologies are happening in ever-shorter cycles, changing the very nature of the jobs that need to be done and the skills needed to do them.

The Absa Fellowship Progamme, therefore, focuses on supporting students studying towards an undergraduate degree in the study fields of science, technology, engineering, creative arts, humanities, mathematics and digital design/data (STEAHM_D) – all considered critical skills for the growth of a digital economy.

An Absa Fellow is offered a full scholarship, recognising their unique leadership capabilities and competencies. Above all, they also benefit from exposure to a specially curated Leadership Development Programme as well as being mentored by Absa leadership and other industry experts.

Skills to make young people job-ready and employable

We also introduced young people across Africa to our Absa ReadytoWork (R2W) initiative, a flagship programme equipping young people with crucial life skills to improve their employability and self-employment prospects when moving from life at school to entering a new phase of life at work.

We have also just proudly launched the Absa ReadytoWork app, which provides a free training curriculum that covers work, money, people and entrepreneurial skills to help young people transition from the world of education into the world of work. The app also provides a job search functionality and connects young people with each other.

Through the app, young people can:

  • Complete the four modules that cover essential money, work, people and entrepreneurial skills.
  • Use the CV template to create a CV that will put them head and shoulders above their competition.
  • Search for their dream job by connecting with recruiters via the job’s portal.
  • Connect with like-minded individuals on the chat feature.
  • Watch insightful webinars by various experts and leaders.

The 548 100 young people, in the African markets where we have a presence, who have completed the Absa R2W programme from 2016 to date, have hugely benefitted from employability skills, work exposure, internships and job placement opportunities.

Also worth noting is Absa’s involvement in assisting the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector to develop mid-level skills and preparing youth for employment, self-employment, and further study.

A skilled workforce, often trained through vocational education, will enhance Africa’s ability to deliver quality goods and services. The sector has the flexibility to offer demand-driven and tailormade occupational programmes (upskilling/reskilling/cross skilling) designed and delivered in partnership with employers.

However, the capacity of the TVET sector to deliver quality programmes responsive to the labour market vary across various markets and our efforts seek to enhance the responsiveness of the sector to accelerate youth transitions into the labour market.

One such initiative is WeThinkCode, whereby unemployed youth is trained for entry jobs as software developers to help them play a meaningful role in the Digital Economy. With a future-forward approach to learning, this programme uses a peer-to-peer style of skills transfer, project-based and blended learning and workplace-based experience.

Another is the general repairer initiative where unemployed youth are trained for entry jobs as general repairers. This is done in collaboration with the property sector; the public TVET college sector; and government. The initiative unlocks demand in the property sector and provides work-readiness training and structured workplace-based learning.

In addition, we are contributing to improving schooling outcomes by supporting the development of an innovative school-based teacher development model.

The model comprises distance learning and ongoing classroom practice support by experienced teachers and psycho-social support by professional mentors. The model is designed to inform the development of an alternative and scalable teacher development model recognized by the Department of Basic Education.

We are here for the ready

Absa has made a very clear commitment to our continent and its youth. We are here for those who are ready to learn, ready to lead, ready to work, grow, change and partner.

Because it’s only when we make sure that “those who are ready” have what they need to start and flourish, do we ensure Africa’s growth and sustainability for the long term. And we need to use our collective bravery, passion and readiness to find creative, ingenious, audacious ways to make all of this possible.

That’s how Africa, its people and Absa will grow, sustainably. OBP/DM


This article was written by Sazini Mojapelo, Absa Group Head: Citizenship & Community Investments



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