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Education and Training: Enabling the Developing World’s Future

February 18, 2010


In yesterday’s post entitled The Future Belongs to the Young, I promised to write a post about a series of articles published in the Financial Times about what is being done to help the world’s youth prepare for the future. The focus of the yesterday’s post was the important role that education plays in preparing today’s youth to become responsible citizens. A concomitant benefit of education is that it can displace despair with hope and give young people a stake in the future. Education and training are also featured in the articles that are the focus of this post. The first article deals with a college in Ghana [“New college sets high standards to mould Africa’s future leaders,” by Sarah Murray, 29 January 2010]. Murray writes:

“Some say that the most powerful way to change the world is to educate its future leaders. This is certainly the view of Patrick Awuah, founder and president of Ghana’s Ashesi University. While working as a software engineer for Microsoft in Seattle, Mr Awuah had been looking for a way to contribute to nation-building efforts both in his home country, Ghana, and more broadly across Africa. ‘Drilling down, I came to leadership,’ he says. ‘And if you look at who is at the African universities, those are the people who are going to be running this continent,’ says Mr Awuah, who was educated in the US at Swarthmore College. Yet when he surveyed the higher education landscape across Africa, Mr Awuah was dismayed by what he saw. For a start, he says, only 5 per cent of school leavers were going on to college. Because the number of young people embarking on higher education is so small, he says, these are by definition the future leaders – and not just politicians but also the lawyers, doctors, bankers, chief executives and teachers essential to shaping society and managing an economy.”

I’m pleased that when Murray defined what she meant by “leaders” she didn’t start and stop with politicians. Although political leaders are critical for making or breaking a country (it has been corrupt national leaders, for example, who have squandered the natural resources of many African countries leaving a legacy of distrust, disillusionment, and poverty), leaders in other societal sectors (i.e., education, finance, business, etc.) will make the biggest difference when it comes to improving the lives of ordinary citizens. Mr. Awuah would like to see corrupt leaders replaced by educated and ethical ones. Murray continues:

“[Throughout Africa] most young people, he says, are receiving their education from institutions where classes are overcrowded, where learning by rote is the main form of instruction and cheating is the norm. To start to change this, Mr Awuah decided to create a liberal arts college that would educate students to be ethical and entrepreneurial leaders.”

Followers of this blog know that I’m proponent of entrepreneurs and of activities that foster the creation of businesses and jobs. In the long run, I suspect that the entrepreneurs will play a more important role in Africa than the politicians when it comes to economic development. Murray reports that Awuah didn’t blindly jump into the education business. She continues:

“First, … he decided to educate himself – with business and management skills. He embarked on a two-year MBA program at the University of California’s Haas School of Business, a course he says was probably ‘the single most important investment’ he made in the Ashesi University project. After a 1998 trip to Ghana with business school colleagues to conduct a feasibility study into the possibility of setting up a university in Accra, the capital, he returned to Seattle and set up a foundation, investing his own money as well as donations from colleagues and from Microsoft. He decided against a for-profit model. ‘It soon became clear that if we wanted to achieve a certain quality, we wouldn’t have sufficient returns to attract investors and venture capitalists,’ he explains. ‘And it wasn’t clear what the exit scenarios were – you don’t start a school and sell it to an investor or do an IPO. So for an adventure like this, the non-profit model seemed better.’ But while half the students are on financial aid and fundraising remains essential for expansion, the school is financially self-sustaining, with tuition fees largely covering operating costs.”

Although the establishment of a university is a significant achievement by itself, a university can only become great by adhering to high standards. That is a goal that Awuah wanted to reach and maintain.

“As well as pushing for high academic standards, fostering a culture of ethics is a central mission of the school. If caught cheating, students fail the course. Anyone found cheating a second time is expelled. … Students sign up to an honor code – one voted into force by the students themselves in 2008 – that requires them to report instances of academic misconduct. Moreover, all students embark on community service before they graduate. With a liberal arts core and majors in business administration, computer science and management information systems, the emphasis is on teaching young people to think entrepreneurially and ethically, as well as on equipping them to analyze problems and come up with solutions.”

How’s the university doing?

“After starting its first year with 30 students, Ashesi University’s enrolment has now reached more than 400. With the help of a $2.5m investment from the International Finance Corporation, the investment arm of the World Bank, a new campus will open next year, accommodating many more students. Most importantly, perhaps, more than 95 per cent of graduates from the school have remained in Africa, generating a fresh supply of the young, entrepreneurial, ethical individuals that African political, social and business institutions so badly need.”

The impact that those few students will have on their countries remains to be seen. Mr. Awuah isn’t trying to predict the future; he is trying to enable it. Not everyone, however, is a good fit for a college education nor do all college students graduate with employable skills. For them, training provides a better (or supplemental) path to future prosperity. In that area, too, advancements are being made [“Training helps develop key skills for work,” by Rowenna Davis, 29 January 2010]. Davis reports:

“Companies have two big incentives to tap into and invest in young labor supplies – the need to replenish their work-forces, and the desire to further their reputations. In some of the poorest areas of the globe, this enlightened self-interest is guiding economic and social development for the next generation. Take Samsung Electronics’ work in Africa, for example. The South Korean company’s Real Dreams program has offered employability skills to more than 4,000 young people aged predominantly between 18 and 30 since it started in 2008, offering courses in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Egypt. Jung Wook Ko, marketing manager for the Middle East and Africa, says the program has complemented the company’s expansion on the continent. ‘Our resources are not enough in Africa – we need more local people to help us,’ he says. ‘In developed countries we can easily find talented people, but in developing countries it’s more difficult to find good candidates. If we can tell our retailers and distributors and technicians that they can hire more from our youth program, it’s a win-win situation.'”

One of the gripes about Chinese companies as they have moved into Africa is that they have brought with them large contingencies of Chinese workers. Samsung’s approach is much better received. Wisely, Samsung hasn’t used a cookie cutter approach but has varied the program to accommodate “local capacities.”

“The more advanced programs in Nigeria and Egypt help qualified university students find a job after graduation by furthering their IT skills. In Kenya, for example, Samsung is working with the digital design school NairoBits to offer unemployed youth advanced web design skills, enabling some to find jobs in the country’s top design agencies and government departments. At the other end of the scale, young uneducated slum dwellers in South Africa are given basic maintenance and repair skills. Samsung employs only a tiny percentage of the young people on its courses, but Mr Ko still says there is a business case for investing in them: ‘These programs have the side-effect of familiarity with the brand.’ Other companies are keen to participate. Mr Ko says that Samsung is in discussion with Microsoft about how they might support each other, with Samsung providing hard training facilities and Microsoft providing the software. A huge number of other multinationals is offering similar opportunities for young people. Wrigley’s Youth Empowerment Success program (Yes) has invested $2.5m in a variety of business training schemes that have reached some 1,800 students across five target countries – India, the Philippines, Poland, Russia and Spain. This year it is expanding the program with the aim of helping 15,000 young people across the globe.”

As noted in my earlier post, World Bank staffers assert that “even before the financial crisis struck, developing countries needed to create 1bn jobs over the next decade just to keep up with a new wave of first-time job seekers.” Each of those workers needs employable skills. That means the need for jobs is matched by the need for training. Davis continues:

“Although the challenges of youth unemployment vary massively across the globe, employers consistently say that young people – even those that receive higher education – lack important employability skills. … But if companies’ investments in young people are going to pay off, the conditions have to be right. As Emmanuel Jimenez, director of human development for the East Asia region of the World Bank, explains: ‘In some countries it may be hard to hire and fire workers, or high minimum wages may prevent companies from hiring young, less experienced workers. The state must not bias against young people.”

Davis also raises a challenge that too many discussions about higher education fail to mention: unwarranted expectations. She explains:

“‘Expectations may also cause problems. In some countries, including some in the Middle East, people who have had a year or two of post-secondary education think they deserve a white collar job – they’d rather wait for a government position than take the first one that comes along.’ Furthermore, says Mr Jimenez, even if businesses do have an incentive to invest in the next generation, society may benefit from putting in more. ‘It may be that it’s better to employ young people because that’s the time in their lives where they are capable of learning the most,’ he says. ‘If we don’t employ them, that benefit is permanently lost to young people and society as a whole. Firms may need some encouragement to invest the right amount.'”

National needs and education/training need to be carefully matched so that the hope and opportunities that should be provided by such programs isn’t replaced by disillusionment and despair. In past posts, I have repeatedly touted the benefits of national economies being connected with the global economy. In the information age, that means connecting to the World Wide Web. The first thing that requires, of course, is infrastructure. Once the bandwidth and connectivity is in place, however, there is a rising need for individuals who know how to exploit emerging opportunities. Fortunately, programs are also in place that are addressing the challenge of the so-called digital divide [“Better access can level the playing field,” by George Cole, 29 January 2010]. Cole reports:

“In many developed countries, technologies such as mobile phones, computers and the internet are routinely used by young people in education and employment. Most young people are enthusiastic about technology and the benefits it can bring. ‘Young people have a natural ability to use technology, regardless of their qualifications, knowledge, education or location. It doesn’t matter if a child is in California or the slums of Nairobi,’ says Akhtar Badshah, senior director of community affairs at Microsoft. The power of technology to create opportunities and unleash potential cannot be overestimated, so a number of corporate-supported programs and initiatives have been established to give young people in developing countries greater access to technologies such as video and IT.”

Like Samsung, in the article discussed above, Microsoft is not being completely altruistic with its programs. The more people that become IT users, the more opportunities Microsoft has to sell its products — and emerging markets offer the greatest opportunities for growth; and the best place to start in emerging markets is with the young.

“Microsoft and the International Youth Foundation (IYF) have formed a two-year partnership called the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP). This aims to improve the employability of disadvantaged people aged 16 to 35 in sub-Saharan Africa, where youth employment stands at 21 per cent – the second highest rate in the world. Microsoft has provided a $1m grant and IYF works with local partner organizations in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania. YEP aims to reach 40,000 individuals, with 10,000 young people directly benefiting from technology and training . In Kenya, for example, IYF and three NGO partners are providing ICT, life skills, entrepreneurship training and other support to 2,600 young people based in settlements around Nairobi.”

Once again the word “entrepreneurship” is brought into the conversation. It’s hard to discuss a brighter future and not talk about entrepreneurs at the same time. Dell and other organizations are also involved in IT training programs.

“Dell YouthConnect is a global program that aims to support education and digital inclusion for underserved youth. The program has provided more than $8m and has been launched in eight countries including Brazil, China, India, Morocco and France. The latest Dell YouthConnect program was in collaboration with Unicef and supports the Children’s Forum for Climate Change. Dell YouthConnect has provided 160 lap-tops to enable young people to participate in the debate on climate change. RM, the UK-based education technology company, sponsors two government schools in Kerala, southern India. It has not rushed to provide the schools with IT, although its long-term strategy is to do this. … In September 2007, IYF and the Tanzania Ministry of Education and Vocational Training launched Bridgeit (known locally as Elimu kwa Teknolojia or Education through Technology). Other project partners are Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks, Instituto Nolia de Tecnologia (INdT) and the Pearson and Vodacom foundations. The aim of Bridgeit is to provide schools with videos that can support science, maths and life skills teaching, and to improve the quality of interaction between teacher and student. Bridgeit has received almost $3m funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAid). Some 150 public (state) schools are involved in Bridgeit, representing more than 40,000 students with an average age of 13.”

Another article asserts that that young people can help themselves enable a better future and that many of them are [“Social Entrepreneurs: Putting the public good ahead of profits,” by Rowenna Davis, 29 January 2010]. Davis reports:

“Fredrick Ouko Alucheli is disabled. He uses two elbow crutches to support his weight and a caliper for walking. He grew up in West Kenya and both his parents are peasants. But the defining feature of Mr Alucheli is his job – the head of Action Network for the Disabled (Andy), the organization he founded when he was 20. … After his parents made sacrifices to give Mr Alucheli an education, he was able to apply for the grants he needed to start Andy (formerly known as Kenya Disabled Action Network), which now offers a range of programs for disabled young people including training, work placements, sporting opportunities and human rights education. In the seven years since its foundation, Andy has helped more than 1,000 young people. Mr Alucheli is not alone. He is one of thousands of young ‘social entrepreneurs’ – innovative pioneers who find creative solutions to social problems. They only differ from regular entrepreneurs in that the public good rather than profit drives their activities. These imaginative pioneers are pushing the boundaries of development in nations across the globe.”

Davis goes on to describe some of the social challenges being addressed by young social entrepreneurs:

“In the UK, four Cambridge PhD students have founded JustMilk, an organization that is developing a device that would filter the HIV virus out of breast milk. In the Philippines, a group of young people has founded Rags2Riches, an enterprise that empowers women living on a sprawling dumpsite to make high quality handbags out of recycled cloth. In the US, graduates have started Husk Power, which uses discarded rice husks to deliver power to off-grid villages in rural India. In Brazil, low-income women are transforming discarded commercial waste into furniture and works of art for sale, as part of Evamaria, a youth-led social enterprise program.”

Social entrepreneurism is a recent phenomenon that has attracted both young and old alike. To learn more, read my posts entitled The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur and Global Social Entrepreneurs. Young social entrepreneurs, however, are on the rise. Davis continues:

“According to Paul Hudnut, an instructor in social entrepreneurship at Colorado State University College of Business, such initiatives are set to solve some of the world’s main development challenges. ‘Society now has a number of big institutions and businesses that aren’t functioning well,’ he says. ‘They have their roots in petroleum, and times are changing. India and China are rising. The demand for development is growing. The Fortune 1,000 companies aren’t going to change these things. I have more faith in young people to come up with ground-breaking solutions.’ Most experts in the field agree that young people often make the best social entrepreneurs. They are willing to fail, more prepared to travel and less likely to be tied to a family. But most importantly, they think outside the box.”

Often the difference between young social entrepreneurs and older ones is funding. Many older entrepreneurs made their mark in business and go looking for ways to use their fortunes to benefit others. Younger entrepreneurs generally start with little or nothing. Davis explains the challenges they face and how new funding sources like the Acumen Fund can help (for more the Acumen Fund, read my blog entitled Philanthropy and Development in Emerging Markets):

“While some ventures take very few resources to get off the ground … most social entrepreneurs find funding a serious obstacle. This is one of the vital areas in which the Acumen Fund can provide support. Relying almost entirely on voluntary donations, Acumen uses a range of debt and equity measures to help the most promising fledgling projects get going. … Acumen is currently funding 26 projects in Africa, India and Pakistan that reach more than 26m people. Its network of experienced social entrepreneurs means that young pioneers can seek advice before things go wrong. Mr Dellane says project defaults are rare. But youth entrepreneurs also need an amenable economic context if they are to thrive. Bureaucracy, complicated funding applications and red tape are more likely to put young people off than other groups, and the adults that hold the keys are often skeptical of their initiatives, when support is what young social entrepreneurs need.”

Mark Strand, a professor of English at Columbia University and a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote, “The future is always beginning now.” That means that “now” is the time to work to ensure that a brighter future awaits the next generation. In a final article, Sarah Murray claims that helping young people become entrepreneurs is way to keep the doors to the future open [“Future hinges on keeping doors open,” 29 January 2010]. Murray concludes:

“Enterprise can provide a long-term route out of poverty for many unemployed young people. This is the conclusion of Youth Business International, a UK-based non-profit organization that champions youth enterprise. In the first of a series of reports on entrepreneurship, YBI sets out steps that governments, businesses and civil society groups can take to foster entrepreneurship among young people. … Halving youth unemployment could, according to some estimates, add up to $3,500bn to the world economy. The gains of such a reduction in youth unemployment could be substantial, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where the ILO estimates it would generate a rise of 12 to 19 per cent in gross domestic product. … Although not everyone is equipped or motivated to become an entrepreneur, many young people can create jobs that generate employment. In the US, says YBI, micro-enterprises create jobs at an average annual rate of 900,000 a year. … But whether they are seeking employment or starting their own businesses, young people also need access to education and healthcare. … Empowered by education and technology, young people have the potential to become employers, educators, advocates and ‘changemakers’ – a term coined by Ashoka, the social entrepreneurship organization.”

Murray describes several initiatives that “show how young people can help solve global problems by finding novel ways to address issues such as poverty and lack of access to healthcare and education.” Despite the daunting numbers (i.e., about half the world’s population is under 25 and 400 million jobs need to be created for them right now), the overall impression left by the Financial Times‘ articles is one of optimism. We need to get youth involved in creating their own future. Although we can help enable a brighter future for today’s young people, we can’t simply hand one over to them. The way that countries are piling up sovereign debt, political leaders must think that the future is bright and that their youth will succeed — because they are expecting generations to come to pay for past mistakes. That fact alone should motivate leaders everywhere to get involved helping youth help themselves. The future does belong to the young.

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