Remarks on the Launch of Young Africa Works and of Rwanda Initiatives

Reeta Roy, President & CEO, Mastercard Foundation

Kigali, Rwanda
March 22, 2018


Right Honorable Édouard Ngirente, Prime Minister of Rwanda.

Honorable Ministers.

Chair of the Mastercard Foundation Board of Directors and members of the Board.

Partners and Friends.

Young Leaders.

Ladies and Gentlemen.

What a joy it is for me to return to beautiful Rwanda. Over the years, I have travelled across the country to meet with people, especially young men and women.  I am always energized by the pace of change.

I am grateful to be with you today.

I am also thrilled to make two big announcements.

Today is the launch of the Mastercard Foundation’s new strategy, Young Africa Works, that will impact millions of young lives.

Rwanda is the first country where the Foundation is implementing it. I am excited to unveil two new initiatives in partnership with the Government of Rwanda, the private sector, and educators. These initiatives are emblematic of how we plan to operate in the next decade.

Before I tell you more, let me set the context.

A Continent Coming of Age

This is an optimistic time for Africa. Yesterday’s historic agreement on a Continental Free Trade Area is a major milestone that will propel growth and prosperity. There are other flagship initiatives underway to strengthen governance, conflict prevention, transportation, telecommunications, power generation, and now the creation of one African market.

This is a moment for Africa. You could say that the continent is coming of age.

There has never been a more consequential time to come of age in Africa. Young people today are growing up with better access to education, health, technology, and opportunities undreamed of by their grandparents and parents.

Unlike the rest of the world, Africa will keep getting younger as the century advances. By 2035, Africa’s working age population will surpass those of India and China.

By 2050, a fourth of the world’s population will be African.  And, by the end of this century, almost half of the world’s young people will be African.

It’s not only the numbers that are changing. It’s the narrative. It feels like the entire continent is coming into its own.

President Kagame said it well: “Africa’s story has been written by others; we need to own our problems and solutions and write our story.”  As I travel across Africa and listen, this sentiment of pride, ownership, optimism is palpable.  I see young people pursuing fresh ideas in business, in community service, in the arts and culture.

It’s clear Africa does not need lectures from us; Africans are already leading. The continent is in the driver’s seat.

I believe this will be the African Century.

A Foundation Coming of Age

In our own way, the Mastercard Foundation is also coming of age. We’re a young organization, and recently celebrated our 10th year. Our Foundation works almost exclusively across Africa, where our programs have improved the lives of 25 million people.

Our first decade has been a time of listening, doing and acquiring insight about how we can contribute to a world where all people have opportunity to learn and prosper.

We are not only optimistic about Africa’s future – we want to be a part of this exciting future.

Young Africa Works

Over the next decade, the Mastercard Foundation will execute a new strategy to address what may be the greatest issue of our time in Africa – an issue on the mind of every young person, every parent, and every president. I am talking about young people and employment – how Africa finds meaningful work for her next generation. In the coming years, 100 million young Africans will enter the labour market.

In a time of momentous and positive change, the Mastercard Foundation wants to turn promise into prosperity and jobs. We believe youth employment in Africa will be a powerful predictor of progress out of poverty, a clear indicator of economic and social progress.

With our new strategy, we will enable 30 million young people, especially young women, find dignified and fulfilling work.

Of course, we can’t do this alone. We want to partner, as much as possible, with African organizations – governments, private sector and employers, educational organizations, and most importantly, young people – because they have the greatest stake in the outcomes.

We will roll out Young Africa Works in multiple countries with a few defining elements. In each country, we will:

  • Align with the country’s own priorities and aspirations.
  • Identify industries that are transforming those economies and critical to their global competitiveness; industries poised to be job destinations for a skilled, young workforce.
  • Support secondary education, TVETS, and universities to improve the quality and relevance of education so young people acquire skills that employers need.
  • Enlist employers and companies to provide young people with internships and apprenticeships.
  • Connect job seekers with employers; connect African entrepreneurs with capital and tools to become job creators. This will require technology in order to achieve impact at scale.

Starting in Rwanda

We are launching Young Africa Works in Rwanda today. Rwanda is the first country where implementation is already underway. This is a country of promise and possibility.

Thank you Prime Minister and thank you to your Government for welcoming us. For collaborating with us. This Government is committed to improving the lives of her people and has the capacity to deliver. Rwanda has already generated a momentum on which we can build.

  • It has achieved eight percent annual growth since 2000.
  • One million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty.
  • This country is transitioning from an agrarian to market-driven economy.

Rwanda’s success is a testament to vision, courage to set bold targets, and discipline to achieve them.

We’re starting here because we know success in Rwanda will create a demonstration effect. What we learn here, we will bring and adapt in other countries.

Two Initiatives in Rwanda

In that spirit, we are launching two initiatives here today that are emblematic of our new approach.

Prime Minister, we are proud of the work that the Mastercard Foundation has done in Rwanda. Today, we are announcing that we are doubling our investment with another $100 million over the next five years.

The first initiative, Hanga Ahazaza aligns with Rwanda’s goal to build a globally competitive tourism and hospitality industry.  By 2030, this industry is projected to double to 150,000 direct jobs. This is promising. Growth in this sector will also have a multiplier effect. It will create another quarter-million jobs in sectors like food, logistics, IT, and banking. Getting tourism and hospitality right will transform Rwanda into an international business and conference hub.

Working together with TVETs and the private sector, we will prepare young people to enter this industry.  We will enhance skills in customer service, marketing and management of staff already employed in the industry. We will also enable entrepreneurs to access capital and technical support so they can grow their businesses and grow the sector. Half, if not more, of the young people who participate in Hanga Ahazaza will be young women.

The second initiative is Leaders in Teaching. As we know, teachers in secondary education are shaping the workforce of tomorrow. Teachers are force multipliers: over a career, a single teacher reaches thousands of students.

Rwanda has been forward-looking on education – improving quality, promoting entrepreneurship, and changing the core curriculum to prepare students for a competency-based world. Working with Government and educators, we will:

  • Recruit the best and the brightest into the teaching profession and this includes Mastercard Foundation Scholars in Rwanda.
  • Train more than 8,000 teachers in STEM disciplines, and provide them with mentoring from education leaders.
  • Elevate the status of teachers.
  • Create Model SMART Classrooms in each of the 30 districts in the country, equipping them with digital resources and building a network of educational innovators – so you can scale success.

In time, Leaders in Teaching will impact teachers and more than 250,000 students across Rwanda. In order to spread success even further, we have established a regional Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning based in Kigali to spark innovation in technology and teaching across Africa.

How We Will Work

As we move forward, how we work is just as critical as what we do.

Our experience in Rwanda has been instructive. From Day 1, it’s been a partnership with Government, private sector, education leaders, and young people. Many of you here today have been part of it. It’s been intense. Substantive. Fast-paced. All of us have worked hard to ensure we’ve had the right conversations. There’s been listening. Empathy. Respect.  Focus. This is how we want to engage.

We also want to work in countries that have an economic roadmap and a commitment to address youth employment.  We won’t be asking “what can we do for you?” Instead we’ll ask, “what can we do together?”

We hope to catalyze innovation and share learning to influence and inspire others.


At the end of the day, a job is about so much more than money. It’s about dignity. Looking after yourself, your family, the people you 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 are invested in the future. This strategy is not about a number, it’s about enabling young men and women to lift themselves out of poverty.

If we get it right together, I believe that 100 million young Africans entering the workforce can be 100 million reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Thank you.

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