African Innovation Week 2020: The Future of Work in Africa

On 29, Jan 2021 with:

By Anna Chinyoyo, Program Associate.

Last week we were honored to participate in the African Innovation Week 2020 event organized by the Norwegian Council for Africa. Our Lab Manager, Rachel Mzengi, was one of the panelists in the online event. The rest of the panelists were; Naana Winful Fynn, Regional Director for Norfund in West Africa, Teshome Hunduma Mulesa, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Life Sciences, and the moderator director for the Norwegian Council for Africa, Aurora Nereid. 


The discussion was around the future of work in Africa. Even though many African countries have experienced significant economic growth in the last decade, this growth still runs behind the continent's growing population. By 2030 it is expected that 30 million youth will be entering the African labor market. What are the main challenges and possibilities for job creation in African countries?


How will the Covid-19 pandemic impact job creation in the coming years? With all-new jobs that will have to be created in African countries in the next decades, is it possible to do this and at the same time reach the sustainable development goals by 2030? And what role will innovation and technology play in this regard?


"More corporates are looking to tap into innovation."


Rachel Mzengi introduced Smart Labs and continued with how innovation and technology in Tanzania are growing, especially in the financial, telecommunication, and FMCG industries. "Having worked in the marketing agency environment, we have seen that more corporates are looking to tap into innovation and digitally transforming their business." She went on saying, "We know a lot of talented people and companies that can provide innovative solutions; we saw this through the Vodacom Digital Accelerator program, where we had over 500 startups that applied. The result indicated how much innovation has grown in Tanzania. Seeing that event made us realize that we are in the right market". She concluded by stating that there is a bright future for Tanzania if the gap between innovators and corporates is bridged. Most corporates want to venture into an innovation but do not know how to.

"Agriculture is the backbone of the African economy."


Teshome Hunduma Mulesa, who is recently researching agriculture, stated that agriculture is the African economy's backbone. He went on by saying that "It is so important to mention that most often we hear that unemployment is the source of instability and conflict. This is evident in many African countries where youth are unemployed and lead protests that cause instability. But it is possible to use the growing population of youth as something good for Africa". The growing population of unemployed youth can be Africa's labor force, changing the economy. But looking at agriculture in Africa, it is mainly small scale; most farmers are family farmers. To expand and create growth, we should find a way to encourage youth to explore more in the agriculture sector. He went on explaining, "Most farmers produce enough crops once a year because they depend on rain, but if youth develop technology, there can be increased crop production even during the dry season. But we can also engage youth in processing agricultural products; this will create employment and avoid loss of food. Youth can also do marketing that is linking producers and consumers. All this will require many initiatives, of course starting with education, access to capital, and many more things". He finished by stating how much African governments should increase their budgets towards agriculture because this could be a way to create more employment.

“Are we really driving development if most of the jobs that are available are of poor quality?”


Naana Winful Fynn explained the importance of policies and regulations in the creation of quality and sustainable jobs. She began by stating, “Africa needs jobs, period! But are we driving development if most of the available jobs are of poor quality? It's not just jobs; it's quality jobs that will improve lives. Given COVID-19 that shook most businesses, are companies in these situations treating their employees well? We are kin to ensure that there are no mistakes made by companies we work with". In this case, not only does Africa need to look for ways to increase jobs, but they also have to be quality jobs for improvement of lives and the economy in general”. She concluded by explaining how Norfund in West Africa supports innovation especially with investing in innovative companies. She explained that “Given the state of the world and what we all see technology is going to be an enabler and a driver for many sectors. In our most recent strategy which we are still working on we have taken an approach of being opportunistic with Fintech. We are looking to learn and invest in Fintech.”


"Policies have to be in place to support the people for Agritech to be possible."


Answering a question from the audience regarding the potential of the Agritech industry growing in Africa, Rachel Mzengi stated, "We have worked with startups in the Vodacom digital Accelerator; they are Agritech companies. You could tell that the idea has worked outside our country, but then the tech product uses a phone. Smartphone penetration in Tanzania is 25%. You can imagine how many farmers who are the consumers have those smartphones". This shows that most Agritech startups do not create solutions that match their contexts and hence fail. She went on by stating, "It is all about understanding the people you are targeting and then do it. But then I agree with Teshome; investors should stop telling startups what to do. Lastly, for Agritech to be possible, we need policies in place to support the people, and slowly we will get there".


This discussion pinpointed many critical areas to focus on to create more jobs and reduce unemployment, especially for the growing population with much youth. It also called for key actors like the government, donors, and investors to fully use their power to support creating jobs in sensitive sectors like agriculture that are the backbone of the African economy but are overlooked. Listen and watch the full discussion to get more insights from our YouTube channel.


key actors like the government, donors, and investors to fully use their power to support the creation of jobs in sensitive sectors like agriculture that are the backbone of the African economy but are still overlooked.


Smart Lab is an innovation platform that links learning institutions with corporate partners to empower groundbreaking solutions that will impact communities.


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