Opinion: Why the UNDP is launching African Influencers for Development (AID) initiative.

Opinion: Why the UNDP is launching African Influencers for Development (AID) initiative.
  • PublishedSeptember 22, 2019

UNDP has launched a bold new platform, African Influencers for Development (AID), an initiative aimed at bringing together creative figures from a host of disciplines to work on innovative approaches to Africa’s evolving challenges as well as opportunities. Ahunna Eziakonwa  (pictured)  – Assistant Secretary General and Regional Director, UNDP Africa – elaborates.

Africa stands at the cusp of a new dawn, with initiatives like the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs), the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) offering the promise of phenomenal economic and social transformation. 

Fulfilling this promise for all of Africa’s citizens is more urgent now than ever. I was impressed to listen to Patu Ndango Fen, a progressive young entrepreneur from Cameroon, at the recently held TICAD conference, with her optimism and passion. Like many young people across Africa, she is striving to become a solutions provider.

We can do much more to realise the full potential of this new generation of Africa’s business leaders, who are current rather than future catalysts of Africa’s development.

I truly believe Africa’s power and prosperity lies in partnerships that unlock Africa’s immense potential and provide tangible, equitable and lasting benefit to every African citizen.

That is why the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa is launching a bold new platform at the UN General Assembly in September, to harness the intellectual and entrepreneurial energy of Africa.

‘African Influencers for Development’, or AID, will feature leading figures from Africa’s private sector, academia and the creative sectors that will come together to find new and innovative ways to support Africa’s development agenda in partnership with UNDP. 

This creative and more sustainable approach to strategic partnerships with Africa’s domestic and external stakeholders can help to transition Africa away from a legacy of patronage to more Africa-centric relationships involving bilateral, multilateral and commercial partnership. At the heart of these partnerships is an alignment with the continent’s strategic priorities and an emphasis on sustainability.   

UNDP is recalibrating its relationships and creating new ones. AID is a call to action for development-minded businesses, academic institutions and other development actors to use their influence for Africa’s development. 

The idea behind AID is a simple but powerful one, to create a platform to help drive the continent’s development by harnessing Africa’s creative, intellectual and entrepreneurial energy through a powerful coalition of current and future African influencers.

This call for consistent and adaptive collective actions for reducing poverty, creating jobs, reducing inequality and promoting peace and stability was echoed at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7), in which UNDP was a co-organiser.

This gathering with Heads of State and representatives from 53 African countries agreed on creative strategies for accelerating economic transformation through innovation and private sector engagement; deepening sustainable and resilient societies; and strengthening peace and stability.

The need for new ways

The new vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa calls for governments, business and communities to find new ways of working to harness the ideas, resources and innovations that are required to achieve this ambitious agenda. 

Beyond public investment and traditional development flows, investment from the business sector can unlock both development gains and profit for investors. According to a report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (2017), the business opportunities created by the 2030 Agenda will create more than 85m jobs in Africa. A $1tn annual investment in housing alone has the potential to create 13m jobs in the continent.

At UNDP we have a long track record of working with governments, business, civil society and academia. We see the private sector as agents of change who help to unlock financing and connect investors to bankable projects.

In Uganda we are partnering with the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) to convene governments and mobile industry to co-create mobile technology solutions for the SDGs. 

In Malawi, over 250,000 people (32% women) who had access to, or participated in the supply chains of 17 private companies saw their income or livelihoods improve through the UNDP-supported Malawi Innovation Challenge Fund.

Africa’s needs are evolving in scale and complexity and require a comprehensive approach and effective partnerships to address them. The number of young people below 25 has grown by 145m since 2010 and over 10m join the labour force each year, while only 3.7m jobs are created.

Africa also faces multidimensional threats from climate change, described by UN Secretary General António Guterres as “the most systemic threat to humankind”.

By 2030, Africa will host the highest population, vulnerable to increased desertification, located in 46 out of its 54 countries. With fertility and poverty rates declining slowly, the continent will continue to host the largest population in extreme poverty.

UNDP is working to strengthen existing relationships and create new ones to address these complex challenges and ensure no one is left behind. 

The YouthConnekt programme, which helps young entrepreneurs build businesses and jobs, has created over 8,300 jobs in Rwanda since 2013. It is now being scaled up in 10 other African countries and, at the request of the AU, will be established as a continental youth initiative.

In Angola, we are facilitating a public-private SDG platform to mobilise financing for the SDGs that is linked to the Angolan Corporate Social Responsibility Network and Public-Private Partnership Initiative.

New solutions to complex issues

The Africa of tomorrow will be radically different from the Africa of today. Rapid population growth, climate change, urbanisation and migration trends will fundamentally reshape the continent’s development, governance and security landscapes. 

This is why, in 2019, UNDP repositioned its strategic offer to Africa to respond to the rapidly evolving development landscape in the continent. Strategic impact areas include natural resource management, youth, energy and governance and two emerging ‘headlight’ issues – the AfCFTA and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

UNDP is also realigning its capacities to maximise impact and results on the ground and leveraging on its corporate enablers such as a new Digital Strategy, Global Policy Network and its Africa Finance Sector Hub, based in Pretoria.

This new way of working in development is changing the discourse towards more collective approaches that see the private sector and entrepreneurs as engines of change that transform challenges into sustainable solutions. 

We have established 30 Accelerator Labs across Africa to work with local actors, academia, private and public sector partners at national and global levels to find radically new approaches that fit the complexity of current development challenges. 

These labs aim to introduce new services, backed by evidence and practice, and accelerate the testing and dissemination of solutions within and across countries.

We are already partnering with the Sahara Group, an international energy and infrastructure conglomerate, to promote access to reliable, clean and affordable energy in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria.

In addition, our partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation will involve the training and mentoring of 100,000 young entrepreneurs in Africa over 10 years to enable young people across Africa to build sustainable business, collectively generate millions of new jobs and contribute to their local economies.

I believe in the power of a strong coalition of established and emerging African influencers in business, academia and the arts to advance the continent’s development and regional integration objectives and call upon more partners to join us in this noble cause. In my country, Nigeria, there’s a proverb which says: ‘A man (or woman!) cannot sit down alone and plan for prosperity.’ 

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