Fresh solutions for Africa’s jobs challenge

How social enterprises plug the employment gap.

Hundreds of millions of new jobs are needed to keep the growing population of sub-Saharan Africa in work and out of poverty. As Covid-19 threatens to devastate economies across the continent, could social entrepreneurs provide new opportunities to make a living – in good times and bad? New research explores the potential of businesses that put the good of society ahead of making big profits.

Unemployment is today’s burning issue: the predicament of governments; the most pressing worry of many citizens. 

But nowhere more so than in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population is expected to rise to 2.2 billion within a generation: even pre-pandemic, economists predicted a need for a whopping 600-800 million new jobs in the region by 2050. 

As Moses Anibaba, regional director for sub-Saharan Africa at the British Council, says: “Every time I speak with a government minister in an African nation the conversation is about young people and jobs… the continent’s ‘youth bulge’ will be the driving force of economies for decades to come.”

“South African unemployment rates are through the roof. There are no jobs, even for the young and healthy” – Jane Mills, Noah

An evening ferry in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The east African nation is projected to be among the world’s 10 largest countries by population by 2100, along with Nigeria, DR Congo, Ethiopia and Egypt.

Among those working to fill the jobs gap are social enterprises – businesses whose main aim is to benefit society or the environment, rather than to maximise profits. In sub-Saharan Africa, these organisations are making a bigger impact than previously assumed: social enterprises directly employ between 28 million and 41 million people, according to new research by the British Council.

In fact, across countries where data was available, profit-first small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) each employed an average of two people, while social enterprises hired 10 times as many – possibly because the latter are more likely to actively focus on job creation.

Social enterprise Tebita Ambulance in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, provides emergency medical assistance and also runs a paramedic college.

They’re not only hiring people directly, though. Social enterprises have a powerful ripple effect across the jobs market by providing education or training to help each new generation develop the skills to get paid work in industries old and new – from a Nigerian school targeting the poorest kids, to a Ghanaian coding camp for girls, to a paramedic training college in Ethiopia

And social enterprises are helping to set people up as entrepreneurs as well as supporting those already running businesses to boost their earnings.

In Uganda, for instance, Tugende fills the credit gap faced by motorcycle taxi drivers, helping them to own instead of rent bikes within 24 months or less, also providing training, insurance and safety gear. In Johannesburg, South Africa, BRNWSH helps low-paid domestic workers to develop and grow creative side businesses.

From the Pioneers Post, British Council.

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