Young African entrepreneurs as catalysts for prosperity

elea Blog

African Leadership Academy (ALA), an organization that elea has partnered with since 2022, is dedicated to reshaping Africa by developing a powerful network of young entrepreneurial leaders that will address Africa’s most significant challenges and create profound social change. We had the pleasure of engaging in a conversation with Hatim Eltayeb, the CEO of ALA, where we discussed youth unemployment, explored the potential of the demographic dividend, and examined the essential factors that are required to expedite the continent’s growth trajectory.

Hatim Eltayeb, CEO of African Leadership Academy

Hatim joined ALA as a teaching fellow in 2009, right out of university, intending to stay only a year or two before pursuing a law degree. After three years, he left ALA, because he was drawn home by the Arab Spring. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, he set out to try and build an education business in Cairo, the city he grew up in. Four years later, Hatim returned to ALA as the Dean of the Academy, humbled by his entrepreneurial experience. He had learned that entrepreneurship is not a walk in the park, but at the same time, he was convinced that it is a powerful tool.

In conversation with Hatim Eltayeb

In conversation with Hatim Eltayeb

We invited Hatim Eltayeb to share his perspective on youth employment, the demographic dividend, and essential factors to expedite the African growth trajectory.

What core principles shape ALA's approach to transforming Africa?

Hatim: ALA was founded to invest in young people, and we have always held a core set of beliefs about Africa’s transformation. We believe in the power of youth, in pan-African cooperation, and that education should serve a larger end. Africa deserves better leaders who will deliver lasting peace and shared prosperity. From the very start, we have recognized that entrepreneurship is a key lever in delivering the future that we want. Over the past fifteen years, as we have pursued this vision, entrepreneurial education has become an increasingly global phenomenon. Thinking and working entrepreneurially is an essential skill set for young people, regardless of the field of endeavor they choose to pursue. The need for young Africans to acquire these skills is urgent.

"Entrepreneurship is an essential ingredient in Africa’s transformation."

But what are the realities for youth in Africa right now regarding employment?

Hatim: Across the continent, youth unemployment rates are nearing or exceeding fifty percent, both in our largest economies and our smallest ones. In most instances, the situation was severely exacerbated by the pandemic. We can be sure that traditional pathways to employment through education will not grow quickly enough to meet our mounting needs. At the same time, we can expect that the shape of the economy will continue to change drastically over the coming generation, as disruptions from politics, technology, and climate change continue to unfold.

Can you elaborate a bit more on the demographic factors?

Hatim: Based on the demographic analysis reported in the New York Times in July 2023, many of the world’s biggest economies will continue to age rapidly between now and 2050. In some countries, where they are currently approaching the peak of their economic productivity, the proportion of individuals above 65 years of age will be higher than thirty percent, a rate that is higher than we have ever seen before. For example, China will have 200 million fewer working-age people. At the same time, African countries will continue to drive global population growth, moving towards a moment when almost half of the world will be living in Africa.

“Africa will be the world’s youngest continent and will have the largest workforce by 2035."

The report also highlights an interesting result of these changes: as populations age, they enter (and exit) periods of peak economic opportunity. While most African economies currently have populations with an average age below peak economic productivity (i.e., they have many children and young people), by 2050, this trend will begin to reverse.

“Today's youngest Africans will be its key economic contributors in 25 years."

The article projects that four of the ten countries with the highest “working-age” share of the global population in 2050 will be in Africa, with South Africa leading. Similar moments of peak productivity have driven immense economic growth in other parts of the world, mainly in Europe and East Asia. But demography is not destiny, and the demographic dividend is not automatic. Whether this immense workforce, most of which will be in Africa, drives growth or instability will largely depend on leadership.

Fadwa Moussaif from Morocco was selected to receive the Anzisha Prize in 2017. She founded Boucharouette Eco-Création, a business in the ancient city of Casablanca, to revive and protect traditional craftsmanship, thereby empowering and employing others while preserving a vital heritage practice.

How does ALA contribute to shaping the future leaders capable of steering this economic growth?

Hatim: The Anzisha Prize, founded by ALA in 2011, is Africa’s most significant venture-building fellowship for young African entrepreneurs between 15 and 22 years old. It aims to equip them with the tools and resources needed to run successful businesses. To unlock the demographic dividend and direct this immense wave of human potential towards prosperity and away from instability, we must do at least three things:

  1. Invest in individuals: Over the past twelve years, Anzisha has invested in more than 220 young Africans. They have come from every region of the continent, varied language backgrounds, and a variety of sectors. Together, these young entrepreneurs have created almost 3’500 new jobs over that period.
  2. Invest in community building: Over time, we have evolved our model for empowering entrepreneurs from a prize to a fellowship. We invest in ongoing community building and learning, and we reward results and invest in relationships.
  3. Build a movement: We strive to build a movement that will shape an ecosystem. Each of our efforts is, on its own, a drop in the ocean, and each young entrepreneur cannot, on their own, change the course of history. No program, organization, or curriculum operating in isolation can address all the needs that confront us. It is only by working together that we can endeavor to shift the ecosystem.

How do you make these young people believe in themselves and their capabilities as future leaders?

Hatim: Since inception, we have believed in the power of stories that inspire and encourage. The seemingly impossible becomes more conceivable when young people on the continent learn about the journeys of peers who look like them, share their experiences, and come from their neighborhoods. In this way, we can inspire African youth to pursue entrepreneurship and show them how to be successful.

Noah Walakira from Uganda was selected for the Anzisha Prize in 2014. He founded the Namirembe Sweater Makers at age 14, a community-based organization that knits sweaters and offers vocational training to combat unemployment.

Who needs to support the movement?

Hatim: Young people are only one part of the puzzle. We know that other stakeholders must also come to the table; educators, parents, policymakers, and investors need to invest in young entrepreneurs. We must provide them with evidence that young African entrepreneurs are indeed a lever for increasing the country’s prosperity and collaborate with them to build momentum around this proposition.

Entrepreneurs are not heroes or saviors. None of us are. We need robust institutions, strong governance, and responsible policymaking, but we must also empower young people to solve problems, create value, and show their peers another way to build wealth. We need a path to prosperity, and entrepreneurs are a crucial ingredient for achieving this.

"Africa's future will be largely determined by what we do today – the leaders we invest in, the communities we build, and the ecosystem we will help to shape."

About African Leadership Academy (ALA)

ALA seeks to transform Africa by developing a powerful network of young leaders that will address Africa’s most significant challenges, achieve extraordinary social impact, and accelerate the continent’s growth trajectory. In February 2023, elea entered into a multi-year partnership with ALA, intending to further broaden its contribution to the African ecosystem by supporting the education of the next generation of leaders and entrepreneurs.

Author: Hatim Eltayeb, CEO of African Leadership Academy