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Africa’s Talent Challenges in a Changing World

This week, GBSN and Ecobank Academy launched the Talent for Africa Virtual Forum — the first of many partnership projects.  The first session, entitled, “Africa’s Talent Challenges in a Changing World” launched the series by covering thought-provoking topics such as talent challenges, the growth of the informal economy, and what type of education is truly needed to expand Africa’s Agenda 2063.  GBSN’s own Rob Vember, was joined by an elite panel of leaders: Caren Wakoli, Founder and Executive Director of Emerging Leaders Foundation Africa, Amadou Diallo, CEO Middle East and Africa DHL Global Forwarding, and Patrick Awuah Jr., Founder and President of Ashesi University. 

The discussion kicked off with a macro level question from Rob, as he asked about the trajectory of Africa as conversations have shifted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  From his corporate perspective, Amadou Diallo spoke on the importance of talents that have formed from the informal sector of the continent’s economy.  The embrace of entrepreneurship displays both a dynamic response to economic challenges, as well as the innovative solutions developed by a youthful generation.  Despite the hardships caused by the global pandemic, there is a massive opportunity for change.   

“Covid-19 has caused significant disruption on education across the continent, especially in the private sector.  Schooling has essentially stopped for a year, because there is not a strong infrastructure to go online.”  – Patrick Awuah Jr.

To echo Amadou Diallo, Patrick Awuah Jr. reminded listeners that Africa is a resilient continent, and solutions are being developed daily to support its youth, as their motivations and outlooks are changing.  Caren Wakoli noted, the African youth (under 35) composes 72% of the continent’s population and as the economic environment changes, they have become flexible, innovative, and ambitious.  This is widely reflected in the growth of the informal sector.

Discussing the growth of the informal sector, the question was asked, how can Africa make this sector more formalized and how can its youth be provided necessary support so they have the desire to grow the continent’s economy?  Caren contended that in her field she has witnessed this sector as cross-cultural.  Despite youth receiving formal education and certifications, the real value is in the development of vocational skills and hands on skills that meet the needs of this entrepreneurial generation.  The issue she notes is that often these universities are not cultivating relevant skills and delivering relevant education needed to thrive in the changing workforce.  In agreement, Patrick offers perspective on where universities are lacking in response to industry needs and how Ashesi University has responded by providing multidisciplinary education that simulates creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, and hands-on learning.  Students experience both the actual handiwork and the underlying business skills that are required to lead and guide the informal sector.  At the corporate level, Amadou Diallo discussed the continued struggle with retaining talent within Africa, as students continue to seek for quality education abroad.

As the conversation neared its close, the important reminder of leadership quality was addressed. How do Africans improve infrastructure, how can they provide quality tertiary education whilst providing relevant skills, and how can the informal sector be expanded upon for more job opportunities?  These are all questions that become relevant to finding quality leadership. 

“Entrepreneurship has grown by necessity, not by design because there is an obvious lack of ethical leadership.” – Amadou Diallo

Caren Wakoli called upon the need for ethical and value-based guidance.  Africa uses billions of dollars every year for corruption.  “Can’t we have leaders who are proud to be Africans with service in their hearts and who are pro people?” she asked.  There needs to be more educational opportunities like that of Ashesi and other private universities, who are nurturing relevant skills, while also challenging minds to solve real-world problems.

In the final question of the first session of the Talent for Africa Forum, speakers were asked to answer the following: where is the biggest area for opportunity that the continent should focus on?  As a leader in the academic space, Patrick provoked listeners to imagine if every university and school on the continent made it their mission to nurture a generation of ethical leaders and entrepreneurs, who will challenge the status quo and implement new solutions.  From the corporate perspective, Amadou reminded us that perhaps the greatest strength Africa has is it’s women and the importance of empowering young African women to be powerful leaders. 

“We must promote the development of ethical leaders who will think through problems and implement solutions to make a better Africa.” – Caren Wakoli

The Talent for Africa Virtual Forum will continue with its second session on Wednesday, February 3rd with a discussion on Transformative Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Innovation and entrepreneurship not only increase productivity in existing industries and create jobs, they can transform economies and societies. This session will focus on developing talent for transformative leadership, the kind that can build a more inclusive and sustainable Africa. It will explore the role of business and business schools as catalysts and enablers of innovation and entrepreneurship. Discussions will explore opportunities to strengthen collaboration across disciplines, borders, and sectors to enable Africa to leap ahead in efforts to achieve Agenda 2063. We hope you can join us.

Watch the full session recording below.

Maddie Handler is the Program Coordinator at the Global Business School Network.