Raising the Bar for Human Development in Africa

Ian Solomon Tanzania African Human Capital Summit July 2023

By 2050, one-third of the globe’s population under 30 years old will be African, eclipsing China and India. The coming boom in younger people poses tremendous opportunities for the continent, but plenty of challenges as well. 

How can Africa benefit from what's referred to as the 'demographic dividend' -- when growth in the youth population adds to the labor force, creating additional economic resources than what's required to support a nation's elderly population?

This was the core consideration of leading economists and human development experts on a panel facilitated by Batten Dean Ian Solomon at the African Human Capital Summit in Tanzania last week. Organized by the World Bank, the summit drew more than 1,000 attendees, including almost 100 heads of state and ministers from across Africa. 

Leading the summit’s kick-off discussion, “The Science Behind Human Capital,” the dean encouraged the audience to keep two important things in mind. First, the quality and accountability of investments in education are critical to ensure meaningful results (here he referenced the research of Batten faculty member Isaac Mbiti). The success of education programs cannot simply be measured in the number of students and teachers in the system, but must focus on whether young people are prepared to be productive members of society. 

Ian Solomon Tanzania African Human Capital Summit July 2023-panelists
From left to right:
Adolf Mkenda, Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Tanzania
Njuguna Ndung’u, Cabinet Secretary, National Treasury and Economic Planning, Kenya
Lariba Zweira Abidu, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Ghana
Donald Keberuka, Former President of the African Development Bank
Cheik Oumar Seydi, African Director, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Dean Ian Solomon, UVA Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, United States

“The data is clear and regrettable that a lot of the investment in human capital has not resulted in learning gains. Africa’s learning poverty is extremely high,” Solomon said, noting that 9 out of 10 children cannot read by the age of 10. Conversely, 9 out of 10 children in the developed world can read by age 10. 

Second, leadership is essential to leveraging the demographic dividend. Investments in human capital – things like quality education, health care, human rights, women’s empowerment, etc. – must be sustained through economic and political cycles, Solomon said, which takes strong and innovative leadership. 

Back in Garrett Hall this week, the dean reflected on his time in Tanzania, noting he was the only person at the summit representing an American university. 

“The profound implications of demographics and human capital investment in Africa is not just a matter of African policy but of global policy. It was amazing to hear first-hand from the ministers and other leaders about how they are forging collaborations to address these intersectional issues.

“I see clearly the potential for the Batten School to play a leadership role in partnering with African governments, NGOs, universities and others to advance these issues.” 

In addition, Solomon said he’d like to expand opportunities for Batten students to visit Africa to gain an experience similar to what he did in his 20s, when he went to South Africa as a college student. 

“It was one of the most profound learning experiences in my life, one that shaped my interests and guided my course through life.” 

>> CNBC Africa video of panel discussion

>> African Human Capital Summit 

>> World Bank Africa Human Capital Project

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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