Africa’s booming youth population don’t just represent a new workforce or market of consumers. They are a new breed of innovators who will solve the continent problems, but first the continent has to become a home that will help them thrive. Bill Gates outlined his blueprint for a thriving Africa when he delivered the annual Nelson Mandela lecture on Sunday evening (July 17).
“The most important thing about young people is the way their minds work,” Gates said, adding that Mandela too believed in the youth. “Young people are better than old people at driving innovation, because they are not locked in by the limits of the past.”
Throughout his speech, Gates gave a nod to the young Africans whose innovations are already filling in the gaps on the continent, helping communities leapfrog developmental challenges. Special mentions went to Martha Chumo, a 21-year-old Kenyan who founded a coding school to teach young Kenyans computer skills and South African Thato Kgatlhanye, who devised backpacks made of discarded plastic bags, that also double as solar lamps.
Oluseun Onigbinde, a 2015 Quartz Africa Innovator honoree, whose website BudgIT Nigeria gives ordinary citizens access to data on state spending, was called on by name for his contribution to improving governance and democracy. “Onigbinde is no doubt a thorn in the side of some of Nigeria’s elite. To me, he is an example of what one person can do to make a difference.”
Mobile innovations and fortified local groups are welcome innovations, but young Africans also need free societies that encourage their creativity and welcome their ideas.
“The real returns will come if we can multiply this talent for innovation by the whole of Africa’s growing youth population,” Gates said. “That depends on whether Africa’s young people—all of Africa’s young people—are given the opportunity to thrive.”