A few weeks ago, the Ichikowitz Family Foundation launched the 2022 Africa Youth Survey which contained some pretty interesting findings. Following the launch, Business Insider Africa spoke to the man behind the initiative, African businessman and philanthropist Ivor Ichikowitz. He discussed many topics, including the key takeaways from the 2022 survey and the main motives behind the study. Enjoy the conversation.
BI Africa: Congratulations on the successful launch of the 2022 Africa Youth Survey. Talk us through the motivation for launching the survey in 2020 and the importance of carrying it forward in 2022.
Ivor Ichikowitz: The reason for the survey was to try and get an insight into the priorities, the hopes and aspirations of the African youth. This aim was to understand what the next generation of leadership would look like on the continent.
It was a very huge undertaking because we decided that we would do face to face comprehensive interviews with each respondent. This was to ensure that the interviews had both depth as well as breadth. We also planned to cover 15 countries every year, with the view to covering the whole of the continent eventually; well at least the countries that are possible to survey on a face-to-face basis.
We are doing this with the view to build a body of scientific data that gives an insight into the perceptions of this generation; the first generation of African youths that have never experienced colonialism and apartheid. This is truly the born-free generation and we wanted to understand what their vision of the future of the continent was.
To a large extent, this was also a selfish project. It became clear to me, as I worked and traveled in Africa, that my view of the continent and the views of many policymakers, investors, financiers and politicians who engage with Africa, from outside of Africa, were different. Most of these people have a far more negative view of the continent than I did. I have always been an Afro-optimist. Most non-Africans tend to be Afro-pessimists. So, I wanted to use the research to find out whether my optimism was backed up by the numbers. Alternatively, I also wanted to find out if I was wrong about my optimism.
Surprisingly and very much to my pleasure if you’d like, the outcome of the first survey showed huge optimism amongst the youth of Africa. Despite the challenges, despite the hardship and despite all of the uncomfortable realities that we know to be prevalent throughout the continent, the result showed that this is a generation that is optimistic. They are energetic and they are ready to take the future into their own hands.
As you should know, 2019 was pre-pandemic. And the survey we conducted that year revealed some really interesting findings. One of the key outcomes was the high optimism among the youth. They were willing to take on the challenge of making the African century a reality. Fast forward to 2022, we are seeing a slightly different Africa. We are seeing an Africa that has survived the pandemic. We are also seeing an Africa that is experiencing fuel crises, food shortages and serious issues relating to climate change. And even though optimism has waned, it’s only an 11% decline which is a dip, not a slide. And that for us is very positive. The rest of the survey also shows some significant changes in the view of young Africans. But it still remains very positive about the future of the continent. And most importantly, young Africans are very positive about their own futures.
There is a huge body of data emanating from this survey. We covered many issues such as social issues, economic issues, political issues and even how people consume news and media. We even covered how the youth engage with foreign influences. Overall, the mood remains very optimistic. There are, however, a couple of things that are still far more negative than we would like them to be.
BI Africa: Of all the interesting findings from this year’s survey, what would you say stood out the most for you?
Ivor Ichikowitz: There is a huge amount of really important data here. But to me personally, there are a couple of things that stand out. In the previous edition of the survey, young Africans were very committed to remaining in Africa, creating businesses and making sure that they create prosperity where they were born. In this new edition of the survey, many young Africans are saying that if their own countries are not going to create an enabling environment for them to thrive, they are not going to wait for someone to give them opportunities. They are simply going to pack up and move to places where they can thrive. And that is both very positive and very negative at the same time. It’s positive because it talks to a generation of Africans that believe in their own ability to create a new reality. This is a generation of Africans who don’t want to be saved, who do not believe that they are entitled to or dependent on aid. They don’t believe that they are inferior to the rest of the world, and they will do what they have to do to give themselves and their families a better life.
It’s almost a call to action to both African governments and governments elsewhere in the world to realise that this is a highly mobile population. It’s also one of the biggest youngest populations in the world. I mean, in ten years’ time, about 40% of the world’s total youth population will be in Africa. And these people will move. They will go to where they believe there will be opportunities. Therefore, if the objective is to keep them in Africa, then we need, as a collective - governments, private sector, policymakers, foreign governments - to start investing heavily in industrialising Africa. We must create jobs, create opportunities and give the youth of today a reason to stay in Africa.
That, to me, is a very important piece of information coming out of the survey. It’s a big change from two years ago. And it’s an understandable change.
BI Africa: Unfortunately, this issue of high youth mobility could be detrimental to Africa in the long-run. Could you talk more about the decisive steps that must be taken now?
Ivor Ichikowitz: Well, the survey tells us what needs to be done. Remember, we are talking to a generation that is the next generation in line for leadership. They will be moving into leadership roles in the next 4-5 years. And they are telling us what they want to be done about the problems we face today. They are looking to their governments to create an enabling environment so that they can become successful entrepreneurs. They want their governments to be business-friendly. They want their governments to provide them with connectivity.
One of the key findings from the survey is that the availability of high speed data at affordable prices is a huge problem. And because this generation sees themselves as part of the global society, they see connectivity as a basic human right. It’s very interesting because my generation saw water and electricity as basic human rights. And in many countries in Africa, we’ve not even been able to provide that. But now, we have a generation that does not expect water and electricity as basic human rights. Instead, they see data as a basic human right. Unfortunately, part of the challenge that we’ve brought on the continent is that governments have given that responsibility of providing data to the telcos who are profiteering from the people of the continent by hiking data prices. The reality is that the most expensive data in the world is in Africa. And there is absolutely no reason for this other than the fact that governments entered into unsatisfactory agreements with telcos who only have a profit motive. So, that has to be resolved.
The next issue is actually quite surprising to me because it’s about climate change. In the previous edition of the survey, climate change did not feature at all as one of the challenges to growth and development. Two years later, we find that the African youths are confronting climate change on a daily basis. They’ve seen the effect of drought, they’ve seen the effect of huge flooding, they’ve seen the effect of bad harvest that results in expensive food shortages. And now, they are calling on their governments to deal with climate change as a matter of urgency.
Also interesting is the fact that more than 60% of the people surveyed acknowledged the fact that they are doing something about their own carbon footprint. Two years ago, most of the respondents didn’t even acknowledge that their own carbon footprints were a problem. That tells you something about how fast the psyche of the youth of the population is changing.
To sum up, there is a call to the world not to provide jobs, not to give money or homes but rather to provide an enabling environment so that African youths can achieve their potentials themselves. And again, I think that’s a very positive thing because like I said earlier, this is not a generation waiting to be saved.
BI Africa: Youth unemployment is a major problem across Africa. As a matter of fact, about 86% of the respondents in this year’s survey pointed out unemployment and underemployment as a major pain point. How is your organisation helping to tackle this problem?
Ivor Ichikowitz: Unemployment is clearly one of the biggest problems on the continent. It’s not just youth unemployment, it’s general unemployment. That said, if you look at the statistics around unemployment in relation to the willingness of African youth to migrate to where there are opportunities, it is a huge wakeup call to the whole world; to African governments, to investors, to the West and to the East. If African countries do not wake up to this reality and stop exporting unprocessed commodities, if we don’t make beneficiations and industrialisation mandatory, if we don’t create a scenario where the industrialisation of the continent is mandatory, we are going to find that the brain drain will be absolute.
By the way, even though the brain drain will be problematic for Africa, it will be even more problematic for the rest of the world. That’s because the rest of the world isn’t going to be able to provide the whole of this African generation with jobs. So, the solution is to create jobs in Africa and create them fast. And doing that is not just the responsibility of African governments. Yes, African governments need to ban the exports of raw materials. I mean, President Ali Bongo is a perfect example in Gabon. He banned the export of raw timber. It was an absolute ban. So today, there is a thriving timber industry in Gabon. There are people making furniture, making building materials and basically benefiting from timber. Interestingly, there was a huge opposition against the ban from the Chinese and others. But now, they’ve come to accept it. Sometimes, you need to use legislation to make these things not optional. It needs bold and brave leaders who are prepared to stand up to the establishments and make the difference that is required to ensure the future of the continent.
BI Africa: Let’s talk a bit about you, Sir. What motivated you to get involved with this initiative?
Ivor Ichikowitz: I consider the fact that I was born in Africa and live in Africa as a huge privilege. And I've realised that I am in the minority. Because of the teachings of colonialism and the propaganda of apartheid, many Africans believe that their Africanness is a liability. One of my key missions in life is to be able to communicate to past and future generations of Africans that being an African is a privilege. And that the future of our continent lies in our hands. For too long, we’ve depended on handouts from the rest of the world. The rest of the world owes us nothing. And the truth is we owe them nothing. We live on one of the richest continents in the universe. We live in a continent that isn’t just endowed with very much mineral wealth, it is also endowed with some of the greatest human beings in the world. And our biggest asset is our human capital. Until we acknowledge that, we will never achieve our potential.
I have been successful in business because the continent has been good to me. I have been successful in business because the people of Africa have been good to me. And I believe that every one of us has a responsibility to give back to the continent. I believe that we all have the obligation to give back to each other. And by doing that as a collective, we will make Africa one of the greatest continents on the planet.
BI Africa: Kindly give five career advice to young African entrepreneurs who are hoping to become like you one day.
Ivor Ichikowitz: The most important advice I can give young Africans is that they should believe in themselves. They should believe in their ability to plug into the power and the energy of the continent. And if they believe that they have the capability to achieve whatever they dream, they need to be willing to try and fail. If you are not prepared to fail, then you cannot succeed. There are so many people that are so scared to fail that they don’t even try. And if you never try, you will certainly fail.
Another piece of advice I would give is for them to listen to the environment. Understand the problems that need to be solved and use your own personal experience to solve them. It is out of solving problems that you can have successful businesses. One of the problems the world is having today is that many businesses were created as technology businesses for the sake of technology. Those businesses usually all fail. It’s only the businesses that solve real world problems that succeed. In Africa, we have huge opportunities because we have many problems. While some people may look at Africa as a land of no opportunities because we have too many problems, I look at Africa as a land of immense opportunities because of those same problems. When you look at some of the most successful businesses in Africa today, many of them are owned by Africans solving their own problems. Through that, they are creating commercial opportunities that enable them to reinvest in other Africans who are then motivated to go out and solve other problems. And that’s how we are going to make this continent succeed, using the principles of Ubuntu.Read Full Story