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An Open Letter to African Philanthropists

Earlier this year, I stood in front of a panel of white European faces and did my best to convince them to invest in a youth-led initiative run by young Africans to empower young Africans – Africa Matters. With conviction and passion, I spoke of the work Africa Matters has done, and the need to empower youth through leadership skills, new narratives, soft skills and social entrepreneurship.

Africa currently has the youngest population in the world, with almost 50% of

the population below the age of 18. This large and youthful population will continue to increase rapidly and, according to UNICEF, by 2050 40% of the world’s children under 18 will live in Africa. While, economists view Africa’s young population as an economic burden, a youth population of this size presents immense opportunities if we invest in skills, leadership and education. This will equip the youth to develop innovative solutions to complex African problems.

However, despite the stories of Africa Matters’ work and the quantitative data which outlined the need for our work, the panel did not understand - and understandably so. While they all had experience in developmental work in Africa, our contextual understandings were miles apart. Their experience stems from projects focusing on food security, HIV and AIDS prevention, and childcare, which are more tangible projects that can be easily measured. Hence, they did not resonate with my focus on capacity building for African youth because something like ‘empowerment’ cannot be immediately quantified.

While the critical issues they address are indeed important, the empowerment of African youth cannot be neglected. It is through developing the skills of African youth, through organisations like Africa Matters and many others, that they will be equipped to provide sustainable and innovative solutions to food security, HIV and AIDS prevention, and childcare. Unfortunately, many external investors do not see the youth population as an opportunity for tangible change, as many of them are accustomed to prescriptive models for African involvement.

We need African philanthropists. We hope that by focusing our attention on attracting investors from within the continent, this sentiment will be more acutely perceived. There are numerous youth-led African organisations who are working with youth from different communities to develop leaders of today.

When Africa Matters launched our Ambassadors program, which called on youth from Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda and Zimbabwe to apply for a one-year leadership development and social engagement program, we expected 50 applications. We received over 500. Every single applicant highlighted youth unemployment and youth disempowerment as one of the greatest challenges facing their countries. Moreover, they all spoke about the importance of being able to capture and utilise the energy of their large and inactive youth populations, a resource that has the potential to revolutionise their countries.

African youth are saying ‘here we are.’ We have the passion, the strategies and the communities to make impact, but we do not have the money. African philanthropists: we need your investment to continue to empower young people. We are all playing a role in our communities, but to upscale our impact we need you. African philanthropists share a common vision of the Africa rising narrative. You know of the youth momentum on the continent, and you know about the issues plaguing our countries. So, invest in youth-led initiatives - so that we can develop youth-led solutions to African problems.

I do not want to stand before another panel of white European faces begging them to understand my context, share my vision and invest in an organisation making tangible change. I want to stand before African philanthropists and create synergies for impact. As Justin Nelson said, “If you’re going to spend years telling young people they can change the world, don’t be surprised when they actually do it.”

Africa Matters is among many other youth-led organisations that are currently making tangible impact but need your investment to upscale and expand that impact. View our youthfulness as an opportunity and empower us to empower others. Let us work together for our Africa.

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