Is Ubuntu the answer to Africa’s looming human resource challenge?

In Africa, where a sizeable young population is creating an employment challenge, applying the Ubuntu mindset could help to support local job creation, local business and the wider community.

Africa is uniquely poised to exploit a demographic dividend, arising from a huge component of youth in its population. This is in stark contrast to ageing economies in Asia, Europe and the Americas, particularly in Europe and Northeast Asia, and to a lesser extent in the United States.

Indeed, South Asia and Africa have been identified as exceptions to the general ‘greying’ globally, both being regions where fertility is still high and youth are expected to contribute a sizeable proportion of the overall population.

Today, in all but three African countries, the youth aged 15-29 represents a huge proportion of more than 40% of the adult population, a phenomenon known as the “youth bulge”.  What’s more, this trend is expected to continue up to 2025, according to data from the US Census Bureau, as captured in the graphic below.

World youth demographic

As the youngest kid on the block, the implications for Africa as a youthful continent powering global growth could be tremendous. With countries greying globally, an educated and energetic labour force in Africa could transform the continent into an economy of global reckoning.

However, as this youthful population moves into the working group (aged 20-64), the dramatic increase in jobs required will be the biggest challenge that most African economies will need to confront during the next decades. Thus, the continent will be faced with the challenge of educating its youth, upskilling them to their employment potential, and creating enough jobs to keep its youth employed and engaged.

To give a rough estimate, by 2030, the youth of today will grow into a working age population of 616 million for Sub-Saharan Africa. At a whopping 74% increase over 2010 levels, the high working age population in the region will put enormous pressure on the state and private sector to create jobs.

Needless to say, a purely capitalistic approach to industry based on a profit-only mindset will fall considerably short of keeping this huge labour force productively employed. Equally, failure to tackle this significant human resource challenge could have serious consequences for the region as it is confronted with swelling ranks of disillusioned youth with sparse employment avenues.

It is here that Africa must rely on an enterprising private sector and use indigenous philosophies to fashion its own path to success. Instead of the individual growth tenets suggested by Western capitalism, community-minded work philosophies such as those suggested by the Ubuntu mindset (‘I am what I am because of who we all are’) can lead the continent towards more stable and sustained development.

To the observer, ubuntu can be seen and felt in the spirit of willing participation, unquestioning cooperation, warmth, openness, and personal dignity demonstrated by the indigenous black population. From the cradle, every black child inculcates these qualities so that by the time adulthood is reached, the ubuntu philosophy has become a way of being” – Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr

To give an idea of how well-integrated Ubuntu (pronounced uu-Boon-too) is in the social fabric of African communities, the following anthropological findings are significant. An anthropologist studying the customs of an African tribe was surrounded by children most days and decided to play a little game. He put candy in a decorated basket at the foot of a tree and suggested the children play a game. When the anthropologist said “now”, the children had to run to the tree and the first one to get there could have all the candy. The anthropologist said “now”, but instead of racing each other to the tree, all of the children took each other by the hand and ran together. They all arrived at the same time and divided up the candy. Puzzled, the anthropologist asked why they had all run together when one of them could have had all the candy. The children responded: Ubuntu. How could any one of us be happy if all the others were sad?”
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Being integral to the community mindset, Ubuntu can be applied more naturally at the African workplace, without facing resistance from the employer or the employed.

Local entrepreneurs following the Ubuntu philosophy in their workplace are likely to create more jobs, undertake more community development initiatives and create deeper impact in their society. In turn, employees applying the Ubuntu philosophy are more likely to engage with their co-workers, work better as a team, and contribute more to the community as a whole.

Supplemented by finance from the right sources, such local businesses can contribute substantially to local jobs, providing the growing working age population with productive employment avenues. Global financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation, regional development institutions such as the African Development Bank, as well as private financiers such as GroFin, offer finance to support the growth of local businesses so that they can contribute to the community in turn.

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For the past 16 years, GroFin has been helping thousands of African entrepreneurs make measurable impact in their communities with the right combination of finance and business support. With an Ubuntu philosophy at the workplace, more and more such entrepreneurs can become community champions and lead change from within, rather than without.

Finally, the concept of Ubuntu can be critical to community building and economic development. Even as too many African people currently look only to the government for all solutions, it is only by taking the whole community together – government, business, individuals and non-profit organisations alike – under the Ubuntu philosophy that the continent is likely to see its looming human resource challenges being tackled and addressed.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse by Nishika Bajaj on 16.02.16