Africa has the power to harness winds of change

The emergence of the Digital Economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution are radically transforming the way the world works.

Governments and institutions are rapidly converting their public services to digital platforms and entrepreneurs can now access larger markets and capitalize on skills and services from larger networks.

This transformation is enabling many new jobs and generating a great demand for digital skills.

By 2050, 525 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa will be under the age of 24.  With 11 million youth entering the labor force each year, Sub-Saharan Africa has an enormous opportunity to take advantage of the incredible potential of the digital economy.

And to do so, young people in the region must have digital skills, socioemotional skills, and soft skills—precisely those which cannot be automated.

The young people of Africa represent a wealth of talent that is just waiting to be harnessed. Examples can be found everywhere.

Venuste Kubwimana, from Gihinga village in Rwanda, created a “water kiosk at school project” which provides clean water for students through a tap water station, re-usable water bottles, and a hand-wash facility made up of an automated drip tap.

Henri Nyakarundi, a Rwandan entrepreneur, is now the CEO of a company which developed a business-in-a-box solar kiosk that offers customers phone charging and airtime top-up services, wifi, an intranet with free digital content, and a Bluetooth printer.

Or the remarkable William Kamkwamba from Malawi, author of the New York Times bestseller “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” who used his wits, some old scrap metal, and the power of books to provide electricity and running water for his village to help them grow crops and end a devastating famine.

To tap into this great potential, Africa needs to prioritize investments in connectivity, digital infrastructure, and more importantly, its young people. Currently, only a fourth of Africans have access to the internet, and the number of technology innovations, even if growing, is small compared to the size of the African population.

On May 20, the 5th PASET Forum will kick off in Kigali, Rwanda under the theme “Destination Digital Africa: Preparing our Youth for the Future.” Since its launch in 2013, PASET (Partnership for Skills in Applied Science, Engineering and Technology) has become a transformative human capital investment initiative that has attracted the attention of businesses, non-profits, and governments from around the world.

PASET focuses on increasing the capacity of universities, research centres, and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) centres to generate knowledge and create skilled workforces, researchers, and innovators most relevant to Africa’s development challenges.

PASET aims at developing skilled professionals in applied sciences, engineering, and technology fields to increase the numbers of qualified faculty in African universities and to train young innovators.

The Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF), a pan-African Science Fund and one of the initiatives incubated by PASET, is pooling funds from African governments, development partners, and the private sector.  The fund provides scholarships for young Africans to study at competitively selected African universities and to study abroad at foreign universities.

At the same time the fund allows African institutions to host PhD students from top universities. The first cohort of PhD candidates is getting ready to study for one to two years in international partner universities as part of the high-quality PhD exchange.

Importantly, about 40 percent of the fund’s beneficiaries are expected to be women. Women like Sandra Musujusu from Sierra Leone who, in 2017, came up with a research idea on possible alternative breast cancer treatment while studying at the African University of Science and Technology, Abuja.

Her research was sponsored by the Pan African Materials Institute at the African University of Science and Technology, one of the PASET RSIF-partner universities. She is now continuing her research in hopes of developing that treatment.

The 5th PASET Forum provides a platform for policy makers, private sector and technical experts to share experiences, discuss opportunities and risks, and to identify actions necessary to prepare Africa’s youth for a digital future.

Necessarily, this includes the content and methods of instruction offered by the tertiary education system, examining how to rapidly extend broadband connectivity to Africa’s universities and technical institutions, and the use of technology to increase access for students.

The Forum will also help African governments identify necessary reforms in their higher education systems to create opportunities for innovative research like Musujusu’s, effectively bringing in development partners and the private sector.

We invite African governments, universities, vocational institutions, industry leaders, and development partners to join us as we discuss how to spur the advancement of applied science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education throughout the continent so Africa can seize this incredible opportunity.

Just as Venuste Kubwimana, Henri Nyakarundi and William Kamkwamba harnessed water, sun and wind to help their communities, the 5th PASET Forum will harness the energy and enthusiasm of the leading voices in education to help all Africans reap the benefits of the Digital Economy.

Dr. Eugene Mutimura, Minister of Education of the Republic of Rwanda and Jaime Saavedra, Senior Director, Education Global Practice of the World Bank

The views expressed in this article are of the authors.

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