BrandArena: New Report Highlights Need for Digital Investment to Empower 400 Million Young Africans

Thursday 30 May 2024

New Report Highlights Need for Digital Investment to Empower 400 Million Young Africans

...Caribou Digital and Mastercard Foundation Urge Enhanced Infrastructure, Skills Training, and Inclusive Policies for African Youth

Caribou Digital, in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, has unveiled a groundbreaking report titled "Youth in Digital Africa: Our Connections. Our Choices. Our Future." This comprehensive study, reflecting the voices of young Africans, underscores the necessity for significant investment in digital infrastructure, skills training, and inclusive policies to harness the potential of the continent’s youth.

The report amalgamates personal stories from young people across Africa, revealing how technology shapes their lives. It emphasizes five critical themes: access, skills, jobs, voice, and choice. These narratives serve as a powerful appeal to governments and development partners to bridge the digital divide and promote youth engagement.

Conducted over six months from July 2022 to January 2023, Caribou Digital's research spanned seven African countries, aiming to influence policy changes for over 400 million individuals aged 15 to 35. The report integrates insights from the Mastercard Foundation's extensive research, which includes over 360 firsthand accounts of digital technology usage, and features discussions from a diverse youth panel, including refugees and individuals with disabilities.

Key findings highlight a significant gender gap in digital technology usage, with young African women facing societal pressures and higher instances of online harassment. These barriers impede their online engagement for both social and business activities, calling for targeted measures to address these disparities.

Young Africans with disabilities voiced their challenges with the high cost of acquiring essential assistive technologies, like screen readers for the visually impaired, and the skills to use them, creating a significant barrier in leveraging digital tools. The story of Papi, a participant in the report from Rwanda, illustrates this in his account. He found someone willing to teach him JAWS, a screen-reading software tool for visually impaired people, but the cost of the lessons (USD$2-3 per hour) was difficult to afford. Assistive technologies can significantly improve the lives of young people with disabilities, as narrated in the report, and without them, they risk being left behind in a world where the use of technologies like the internet is associated with higher well-being. 

Commenting on the report, Grace Natabaalo, Research & Insights Manager, Caribou Digital, said: ‘’We are thrilled to launch our latest report, which authentically documents how technology is shaping the lives of young Africans. This report is a collection of voices empowered by the benefits of digital access and marginalised by the significant barriers preventing their full participation in this burgeoning technological age. We view this report and its findings as a statement for Africa, which has the largest youth population in the world; it is crucial that they are not left behind their global peers and are invested in through strong infrastructure, skills training, and inclusive policies. As we enter a new era of Artificial Intelligence (AI), African governments must ensure that young people in Africa are prepared to harness the transformative power of AI.’’

Commenting on the report, Ayo Ojebode, Director, Research Systems Strengthening and Knowledge Mobilization, Mastercard Foundation said: “The Mastercard Foundation envisions a future in which all young people in Africa can access dignified and fulfilling work. Digital technology plays a key role in this mission, with the power to unlock opportunities through network building, access to markets, skill development, and more. We are proud to be a partner of Caribou Digital, which has undertaken this transformative research project and shed critical light on the issues that shape our work. We look forward to seeing the impact their insights and thought leadership will have on systems change in Africa, for and by its young people.”

The report also showcases the empowering potential of digital technologies for young Africans.  It highlights how these tools enable them to connect, build networks, discover opportunities, and access resources and skills training. The report emphasises the critical role digital access played during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns forced many young African businesses to close, but those with internet access were able to pivot online, keeping some afloat. A survey conducted across Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, and Ethiopia revealed that at least 15 percent of young entrepreneurs took their businesses online or increased online sales during the pandemic. 

Beyond this immediate impact, digital technologies are transforming learning and work for young Africans. They create new income opportunities, foster greater choice, and pave the way for financial independence. In the report, young people share how they are learning software product design, development, and management to boost employment opportunities for themselves.

The Youth in Digital Africa report champions young Africans by highlighting their use of technology to shape their own futures. While ensuring access to technology is crucial, the report, a collaboration between youth panellists, Caribou Digital, and additional young voices from reviewed literature, stresses the need for governments to invest in infrastructure and skills development. This is especially important for young women, people with disabilities, those in rural areas, and refugees.

To download the full Youth in Digital Africa report, please click here.

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