Although Africa has highs and lows economically and politically, the long-term trend is upwards. Whilst there is volatility, the underlying drivers are upwards and strong.
In the next few decades we believe hundreds of millions of Africans will be lifted out of poverty. There are now fewer rogue leaders, fewer conflicts and more democratic governments. Africa is now the world’s youngest continent with 70% of the population under the age of 25.
When looking at the youth, it is important not to confuse education with intelligence. Previously, if you were educated, people thought you were intelligent and vice versa. Of course this is not true. Many Africans, highly intelligent Africans, were systematically deprived of education. We now have to put that right and build our continent’s capability, knowing that intelligence has little to do with education.
There is a wealth of intelligence already in Africa that needs to be harnessed. People with education are our future. People educated with energy and drive, using innovative skills and mentorship.
This intelligence is evident in Henley’s local students’ most recent exam results who produced better results than the UK, German and Asian students with 70% of Henley’s local students black and 40% women.
There’s no better time to be an African. However, the continent’s leadership has to allow its people and the continent to thrive and grow. Whereas Africa is growing, many Africans are not, we need more inclusive growth.
In the 1960’s Kenya had the same GDP as South Korea. Now South Korea’s GDP is twenty times greater and has a strong economy based on its investment in education, electronics and the automotive manufacturing industries. Africa has had 204 presidents since 1960, and it’s hard for us to name a handful of ethical leaders that would be emulated by the future generation of leaders.
Education needs to meet Africa’s changing needs. For example, Uganda’s youth unemployment is about 80%. Even at its best, the economy can only absorb 20% of the young people entering the workforce. In Kenya, for each graduate requiring a job, there are 700 applications. The current education systems in Africa therefore need to produce job creators rather than job seekers.
Things won’t change without interventions that involve skills development and entrepreneurial thinking and teaching. Africa needs to teach entrepreneurship as a mindset, even in schools. We need entrepreneurial thinkers across all our sectors, from business, civil society and government. The potential exists, it now needs to be harnessed.
According to a World Economic Forum report, creativity will move from being in 10th position in the top 10 skills in 2015 to third in 2020. This is not surprising.
The world around us screams “new”, “meaning”, “purpose”, “passion”, “spirit” and everything that the education system is not constructed upon. Neither organisations, governments, institutions or societies are built on this crucial foundation. Yet, the world yearns for it.
The question is how do we rethink industries, redefine work, rebuild confidence, recover and reignite the innate creativity we all possess? And more importantly, how do we utilise this creativity to inspire people.
This is especially true for entrepreneurs. Creativity is in essence the origination of all entrepreneurial ideas. It encourages new businesses, new decisions, new actions and inspires people to believe they can achieve beyond the restrictions of their environment.
Jon Foster-Pedley is the Dean of Henley Business School Africa.