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Ashish J. Thakkar: Forget oil and gold. Young Africans are our greatest natural resource


 In line with its commitment to Africa’s youth, the African Development Bank established the Presidential Youth Advisory Group (PYAG), a think tank for new, innovative ideas and financing instruments to support youth entrepreneurship and employment in Africa.

PYAG is driven by a world-class team of forward-thinking, inspiring young and mid-career professionals, chaired by CEO of Mara Phones, Ashish J. Thakkar.

In this interview, Ashish J. Thakkar talks about innovative ways to create jobs for Africa’s youth.  



Tackling youth unemployment is a central part of many national agendas in Africa. Why does it matter?

High youth unemployment could potentially have a detrimental impact on economies and could lead to a despondent generation.  It’s imperative that empowering youth is high on the agenda to enable them to secure or create employment for the future. 

As PYAG and the African Development Bank, we strongly believe that the youth on our continent can be our biggest natural resource and strength if their energies are channelled in the right direction. That’s the reason why the Bank has and is investing in Jobs for Youth in Africa.  


The Bank’s Presidential Youth Advisory Group, of which you are Chair, was established in 2017. What has been the Group’s impact to date? 

We have prioritised certain focus areas, from outreach and advocacy around jobs for youth, the future of jobs, innovative financing for youth, and also complimenting and strengthening the Bank’s current focus areas.

PYAG members have been representing the Bank at global and continental events to encourage youth involvement in the decision-making processes. An example is the inclusion of youth-led sessions in international gatherings such as the Bank’s Annual Meetings in Busan, and the design and facilitation of the session Catalysing Investment for Young SMEs and the 2018 Africa Investment Forum Young SME Awards during the Africa Investment Forum in Johannesburg.


The Bank’s Coding for Employment program recently announced an all-female cohort. What can the private and public sectors do to make the tech-industry more inclusive in terms of age and gender?

Public and private sectors need to ensure they are engaging a diverse group of people when recruiting. Inclusivity can also bring varied contributions to enhance business growth.  Joint initiatives across sectors can also be a good way of ensuring inclusivity in the tech industry.  A government-driven focus on empowering various demographics in the tech industry can be powerful and set the tone for all sectors to follow. Gender and age equality are not an option but a necessity that we must all take ownership of.


With Africa’s youth population on the rise, where do you see the continent in 10-15 years?

The future is very bright for our continent and will include some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.  Globally, we have the youngest population, which is an incredible asset. To enable and empower our youth will be key to creating the next generation of leaders and job creators.  We have vast natural resources and have a tendency to leapfrog technological advances.  The future is OURS.

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