Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Head of Sustainability, Access Bank Plc

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  • Sustainable Development

Achieving demographic dividend in Africa 15 Nov 2022

Sustainable development cannot be achieved without guaranteeing the dignity of everyone as we seek to develop our potentials, find fulfilling employment, and contribute to economic growth, societal progress, and safe ecological future. This requires the right policies and investments. It also requires that government understands the demographic structure of the population.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) postulates that countries entering a period in which the working-age population has good health, quality education, decent employment, and a lower proportion of young dependents are those with the greatest demographic opportunity for development. In such countries, there is generally more freedom for women to enter the formal workforce, larger investments per child, and more household savings for the elderly when there are fewer children per household.

Many African countries have failed to significantly transform their economies and raise the living standards of their populations despite having achieved a respectable economic growth of over 4% annually over the past two decades. Many economies of the continent have remained vulnerable to external shocks like commodity price volatility and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic, because of the lack of or slow progress in economic transformation.

Prior to the pandemic, the continent was already experiencing a general slowdown in economic growth and poverty reduction, albeit with significant national variations. For instance, average GDP growth rates from 2015 to 2019 ranged from 1.2% in Nigeria to 8.9% in Ethiopia. Also, the headcount ratio of people living in poverty at USD 1.90 per day varied from 27.3% in The Gambia to 85.8% in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Africa's growth hasn't produced enough opportunities for lucrative employment and the labour market constraints have been made worse by recent global events. According to a World Bank estimate, the pandemic may have pushed an additional 34 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa below the poverty line in 2021. Despite the bleak outlook, the pandemic has provided a chance to look ahead and consider how Africa could "build back better."

The working-age population in Africa (those between the ages of 15 and 64) was estimated to be 750 million in 2019 and is projected to reach 1.1 billion by 2035. Young Africans – those between the ages of 15 and 24 – are joining the labour force at a rate of about 20 million each year. This could lead to either a demographic dividend –  i.e., growth in an economy that is the result of a change in the age structure of the population – or a demographic time bomb. According to a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario, if current trends in fertility, education, job creation, climate risks, and economic growth continue, Africa will miss the dividend of its current population structure in 2030. However, a more upbeat scenario demonstrates how the dividend can be attained as a result of successful policy measures.

Europe’s demographic shift took place more than a century ago. Due to decreased mortality and fertility rates, the population was able to adapt socially and economically. Investment by families in the health and education of children as well as women's participation in the workforce increased. In Asia and Latin America, adoption and use of vaccines, antibiotics, and modern contraceptive methods have seen rapid demographic transition rates. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is quoted to have said: “Our demographic dividend is our strength.”

For Africa, reducing fertility rates now is crucial to achieving sustainable growth that enhances people's well-being. With the demographic transition, the high dependency ratio in the region will reduce. High fertility rates have continued to pose a risk of unpredictability in the dynamics of the continent's long-term development, despite the appreciable GDP growth rates.

The better way of achieving this complex process of declining fertility at the family level is for women to have access to information about family planning options and voluntarily use modern contraceptives to do so, compared to legal force. Therefore, the information component of planned parenthood intervention is crucial to the process. In developing nations, as high as 25% of women have unmet family planning needs.

The private sector has an important role in ensuring the demographic dividend targets of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 are met. The sector can significantly contribute to capital investment in the face of dwindling public resources. Access Corporation, the holding company for financial services companies including Access Bank Plc, has embraced this responsibility. This is evident in its implementation of sustainability initiatives, in the four thematic pillars of demographic dividend: health and well-being, education and skills development, employment and entrepreneurship, and governance and youth participation.

By taking bold steps to complement government actions across Africa, Access Corporation is living up to its sustainability promise to ensure the continent’s potential is realised. Most recently, the Corporation partnered with the Lagos State Government, HACEY Health, and UNFPA to launch the implementation of the Lagos State Demographic Dividends Roadmap and Estimation Profile. The Corporation’s support was provided in a bid to “add value to governance” in Lagos State and thereby provide a blueprint for other states.

This was not the first effort of Access in complementing government efforts towards realising demographic dividend. For many years, the institution has championed the need for sustained private-public partnerships in advancing sustainability. One of the initiatives of the financial powerhouse is Project Agbebi, which is addressing the fundamental need of upskilling traditional birth attendants in a bid to reduce mortality rates at childbirth. Its #All4One Initiative is a social project which has impacted over 15,000 people within Nigeria through skill acquisition programmes and access to finance.

In its capacity as co-chair of the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA), Access Corporation has played a crucial role in increasing the private sector’s contribution to the fight against malaria in Africa, launching the End Malaria Project in Lagos, Ebonyi, and Kaduna states. Through this initiative, the Corporation has been galvanising private sector resources and capabilities for sustained support towards reducing the incidence and prevalence of malaria in the most endemic regions in Africa by 2023, starting with Nigeria.

Scaling its partnership with organizations like HACEY, the Corporation has also worked to improve access to sexual and reproductive health information and services for hundreds of thousands of young people across Nigeria. This ongoing partnership has already seen the organisation distribute over 200,000 birthing kits to pregnant women and conduct over 50,000 HIV testing and counselling for young people in western Nigeria.

Access Corporation’s support of initiatives like Project Enable is also ensuring that thousands of young people living with a disability acquire digital skills to transform their lives. Additionally, the Corporation’s investment in the ACT Foundation provides a platform for many nonprofits to receive funding towards implementing projects that have directly reached over one million Nigerians, especially young people and women, with education, jobs, and health information and services.

The employee volunteering scheme of the Corporation is also focused on mobilising the resources and competences of its employees to scale impact at the grassroots level. The volunteer groups have championed youth-led interventions focused on improving health, increasing access to jobs, training, and education, and supporting young girls to live to their full potential.

It is, however, important to note that public-private partnerships are delicate. Leveraging the powers of communication, both parties must be clear about their respective expectations from the partnership. Whom do they want to reach? What is the timeline? What are the values of each party and is there an alignment with respective visions?  What are the boundaries that must not be crossed? Who is responsible for what? The understanding must be that the partnership is for pooling resources to meet societal need. This is not always easy. Compromise – not of value but approach – may be inevitable, but the benefits of these partnerships far outweigh their inconvenience.

For Africa to achieve its potentials, stakeholders, including the private sector, must be dedicated to societal progress. This is important for bequeathing a sustainable future to the younger generations. A progressive march towards the Africa we want cannot be achieved without sustained and impactful partnership between the public and private sectors.

Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan is Head, Group Sustainability, Access Corporation.