Africa, the land of opportunity
Over the past four to five years, living in and travelling to Uganda, I’ve noticed some really cool things happening on the African continent. There’s a vibrancy in the air, and you can feel the sense of opportunity that is permeating everyday life.
Africa’s population is now more than 1.3 billion people (and has the youngest average age in the world), and the continent’s middle class is continuing to grow, expected to reach half a billion people by 2030, (Deloitte). Amid all the excitement is a wave of young idealistic, social entrepreneurs, coming back or completing their education and remaining in Africa, determined to help shape the future.
Sweet Honey and the Rock has a great song with the refrain – “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” And this is exactly what these young, educated Africans are saying as they complete their university education, and dig into the work of investing in their home countries with a strong sense of optimism and responsibility. They’re smart, practical, innovative and technologically savvy. And armed with world-class degrees, they are also determined to create the lasting positive growth and change that has often eluded the continent.
Many of these young social entrepreneurs are starting their own businesses or joining established organizations with an eye on expanding infrastructure, developing facilities for manufacturing or food distribution, and creating jobs, while leapfrogging technology and the old ways of doing things to create better systems that can stand the test of time. They are Africa’s future, taking lessons learned from the west and working to build a new vision of Africa.
One such person is Joachim Ewechu, a guy who could have gone anywhere, but chose to co-found Shona, an organization dedicated to building a thriving East African private sector, driven by defining and nurturing an economy based on “good business”. The organization nurtures high potential entrepreneurs and existing businesses, helping them create and expand organizations that positively benefit society by creating and balancing value for all stakeholders. These good businesses fulfill an important need for their customers. But they go beyond that. They create revenue and jobs in local communities. They provide work for suppliers and other value chain partners. They nurture a tax base, creating government accountability to the business sector. And, because they are based locally, everyone benefits from the additional income spent on goods and services. For profit? Definitely. But NOT “for profit at all costs.” Joachim is a visionary, and also happens to be a proud member of Street Business School’s Board of Directors.
Another example is Maria Omare, SBS Advisory Board member. She went to University in Kenya, receiving her MS, and then attended prestigious executive leadership and non-profit programs in Canada and the U.S. She stayed in Africa, to work as Executive Director and Founder of The Action Foundation (TAF), a Kenya-based, community-driven organization. This NGO works in Kibera slum, providing holistic development opportunities to children and young people with disabilities. Maria has grown the organization into a grassroots movement transforming disability-inclusive development in Kenya. She also led the creation of Somesha, a TAF flagship project that is reaching hundreds of teachers and parents through immersion workshops and virtual peer learning. Seeing huge gaps in early intervention services in her community, Maria has also built a support network of caregivers for holistic early childhood development for young children with disabilities in 3 informal settlements in Nairobi.
And then there’s my old neighbor, Douglas Sendagire. He received his MBA from the University of Texas and instead of staying in the U.S., decided to return home to Uganda and start a successful accounting firm, growing it into a large organization. He creates jobs, hires local employees and vendors and is contributing to the development and prosperity of his own community.
While this generation of Africans are on their way to helping reverse the continent’s brain drain, there’s a lot more to it. They see the potential that exists and understand that many international corporations see it too. Whether they start their own businesses, work for an international corporation or NGO organization, they have an agenda that includes a desire to be the generation that transforms Africa. With a belief that prosperity is possible, they’re determined to make sure that their jobs and way of life aligns with a strong moral compass. And that compass is pointed directly at Africa.