Reeta Roy’s Remarks from the Young Africa Works in Kenya Launch

June 20, 2019

The Mastercard Foundation launched Young Africa Works in Kenya, a public-private partnership between the Foundation, the private sector, and the Government of Kenya. The initiative aims to support five million young Kenyans to access dignified and fulfilling work over the next five years.

The announcement was part of an address from the Foundation’s President CEO, Reeta Roy, at the launch event of Young Africa Works in Kenya.


Your Excellency President Kenyatta,

Honorable Ministers,

Chairman of the Mastercard Foundation and members of my Board of Directors,

Young Leaders,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

I am so thrilled and very excited to be here with you to share the Mastercard Foundation’s new strategy, Young Africa Works in Kenya, which will impact millions of lives.

This is a public-private partnership between the Government of Kenya, the private sector, and the Foundation.  And we are very, very grateful for the reception and the warm welcome we have received from the government, from the private sector, and from young people. We are very grateful for that, because that’s the energy that has made Young Africa Works in Kenya possible

Just before I get into the details, I wanted to have a moment to set the context.

An Optimistic Time for Africa

From our point of view, this is such an optimistic time to be in Africa. It is an optimistic time for Africa. There are so many flagship initiatives afoot to improve governance, infrastructure, telecommunications, power generation, financial services, and very soon, right now, we are at the cusp of the creation of a single African market.

Africa, as you know it, is the world’s youngest continent and, in fact, it just gets younger every single day. The working age population will soon surpass that of India and China by 2035. And in fact, there has never been a more consequential time for young people to come of age. They are already growing up in a time when they have better access to education, to healthcare, to technology, to untold opportunities unimagined by their grandparents and their parents.

I believe that’s why this will be the African Century. And we at the Mastercard Foundation would like to be a part of it.

Young Africa Works

Many of you already know the Mastercard Foundation. We’re a Canadian organization with a vision of a world where everyone, all people, deserve the opportunity to learn and to prosper.

For the past decade, we’ve been working in 30 countries across the continent including right here in Kenya and, together with many partners, our work has advanced financial inclusion, education, and livelihoods for young people. And these programs, cumulatively, have already benefited more than improved the lives of 33 million people.

Over the next decade, we will focus on the single greatest challenge, or opportunity, of our time – an issue, a topic, that I know is on the mind of every president, every parent, and every young person: it’s employment, jobs, work.

In the coming years, we know 100 million young Africans will enter the work force and how they fare will be a significant predictor of economic and social progress.

This new strategy, Young Africa Works, has set this bold target of 30 million young people across Africa, especially young women, in dignified and fulfilling work.

Now, we can’t do this alone and we know that we want to collaborate and we are already collaborating and, in many cases, co-creating solutions with government, with the private sector, with entrepreneurs, with educators, and most importantly with young people because they have the greatest stake in the outcomes.

Together, we intend to implement Young Africa Works in 10 countries.

This strategy is about one word, and that word is transformation – transformation of economy, transformation of opportunity, and transformation of how we solve problems.

Now to do so, we will take a number of steps:

  • The first being to align with each country’s economic agenda and build upon the progress and the momentum that they have already achieved.
  • Second is we’ll target industries which will be work destinations for a skilled young workforce.
  • Third, we want to grow the private sector, especially entrepreneurs and especially small businesses, because they are the fuel and they are the engine of economy.
  • We want to partner with the educational community to equip young people with the right skills and, because this is Africa, we will want to use technology. Technology to achieve scale and to connect young people with opportunities.

Making the Invisible Visible

So, Young Africa Works.

We’ve been very intentional about the word “work.” That’s because the very nature of work is changing. And we want to envision a future that’s coming, if not, already here.

It’s more than just what we think of when we say the word “job”, because that conjures up an image of going to an office, of being in some kind of place, when in actuality, there is work is all around us. Work in industries. Work that generates incomes. Young people have to see that opportunity because I know once they see it, they pursue it. We have to make the invisible visible to them.

For example, our lives are becoming increasingly digital. This means work is also becoming digital. Across every occupation the use of technology is increasing – and whether that’s in nursing, carpentry, construction, sales – the use of digital skills is critical and across the continent, when I speak to businesses and companies, there is an insatiable appetite for young people with the right skills, digital skills. And this demand will only grow.

When I was here these past three weeks, I learnt of a young woman whose name is Tess, who gave me permission to use her story. She is a student at JKUAT. She is an orphan and she has struggled to keep to her studies while at the same time make ends meet. She discovered online work and she has been receiving some income for writing articles for websites. Not too long after that she also, through the Ajira Digital Project, started mentoring other young people. She’s made enough money to cover her expenses – and Tess is about to graduate.

There are countless stories like Tess and there could be so many more, but unless people have information, knowledge and skills, that work – that opportunity – remains invisible.

The Timing is Right in Kenya

We could not be more excited to implement Young Africa Works in Kenya. There are so many reasons we want to be here in Kenya and I’ll give you three:

  • First the government’s done an enormous amount of work to create a hospitable environment for enabling business to grow – it has invested in the economy, invested in infrastructure and its made some hard choices including, when I look at the most recent national budget that was introduced last week, choices to make sure that we empower small businesses and fuel the economy. It’s also elevated critical industries, the Big Four: manufacturing, agriculture, health, and housing. Where there could be jobs and work to be had.
  • Second, we know Kenya is a country of entrepreneurs at the forefront of the digital revolution in Africa. Kenya is home to a dynamic private sector, which is essential to the implementation of Young Africa Works.
  • Third, the Mastercard Foundation has been privileged to work with many outstanding partners in Kenya. Event today our programs have already benefitted close to two million people. I know from the young people who are here, the energy and insight that you bring, and the encouragement, the hope that you inspire, we know that Kenya is home. Kenya is a place where we can do big things together.

Young Africa Works in Kenya

That’s why, I’m very pleased to announce: with Young Africa Works, has set a bold goal and we intend to enable five million young Kenyans, especially young women, to find dignified and fulfilling work.

Initially, the Foundation has committed 30 billion Kenyan shillings to help us implement this strategy.

The timing is right. The right ingredients are present. Now is the time for transformation.

First, we are going to help small businesses to grow, to access credit, grow, and put more Kenyans to work. We know when entrepreneurs are empowered, they create opportunities and opportunities beget more opportunities.

We are thrilled to be partnering with KCB Group and with Equity Group who, together, will make billions of Kenyan shillings available in credit, and in addition, make available business development services, mentoring, and linkages to markets for young business owners who, in turn, will generate new opportunities for others. This is a nationwide initiative and many businesses across the country will benefit.

Second, we want to grow the digital workforce. We want to help realize the vision of the Ajira program, by working with the private sector. We will start working with KEPSA and innovators like  eMobilis, to make available digital training to young people where they live in community innovation hubs, in their neighborhoods, in their constituencies, at Ajira clubs at universities, and other high education institutions throughout the country. We’re also looking forward to working with an organization known as Moringa School, a very innovative school, and to help them expand access to young people from communities who are particularly disadvantaged who may otherwise not have such an opportunity.

Third, and probably most importantly, we want to grow skills, vocational and technical skills. We want to build on the great work that’s already been done by the Ministry of Education to fundamentally redesign the training for trades. We know, whether its electricians, plumbers, lab techs, tradesmen and tradeswomen are as integral to economic competitiveness as they are to our daily lives. We want to advance quality instruction, on-the-job practical training and link young people to industries.

Work is Dignity

In conclusion, I want to leave you with a thought.  Work is so much more than just making money. Work is about dignity. It’s about looking after ourselves, caring for our families, looking after the people we love. It’s also about giving back to society and paving the way for those who will follow.

When people have the dignity of work, they don’t only just invest in themselves, they invest in the future. This strategy, bold as it is, is more than just a number. It’s about enabling young men and women who are so deserving of an opportunity to change their lives and for many to lift themselves out of poverty.

If we get this right, because I believe we will get it right together, then we have the opportunity to have five million young Kenyans entering the workforce and they could be five million reasons why we are optimistic about the future.

Thank you.