Improved access to education, along with value-based leadership, are the keys to unlocking prosperity on the African continent, according to Gbenga Oyebode, the chairman of the African Philanthropy Forum (APF). Oyebode delivered the keynote address on the second day of the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference.

Drawing on his experience of leading change on the continent, in his role at the APF and as chair of Teach for All, a network of 60 independent organisations working to develop local leadership and enable learning across borders, Oyebode said young Africans need to occupy the driver’s seat of their future, which will help them to rescue the continent.

“To do that we must recognise education and leadership as some of the low-hanging fruits requiring urgent attention and action,” he said.

African schoolchildren face many challenges. “In Kenya and Sudan there have been demonstrations and political unrest which have led to the closure of schools. Children in parts of northern Nigeria are at risk of being recruited into armed groups, or being kidnapped, making it difficult for them to attend school,” Oyebode noted.

“These events may appear isolated, but when taken together, a pattern begins to emerge. Only 62.5% of children in sub-Saharan Africa complete primary school, compared to 86.4% in the rest of the world. Africa has the youngest population in the world; the continent’s level of education and training lies far below the global average.”

As education is the foundation of any successful society, African countries that struggle to provide access to quality education will leave millions of children and adults without the tools they need to succeed. “It is my belief that education is the foundation of any successful society,” Oyebode asserted. “It empowers individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to their communities, drive businesses, and drive economic growth. It is educated people who make the best leaders.”

Leadership drives transformational impact

The conflicts in the countries mentioned are the result of weak leadership and governance, Oyebode continued.

“Effective leaders are essential to ensure that resources are allocated effectively, policies are enacted with the people’s best interest in mind, and corruption is kept in check. Without strong leadership, even the most well-funded education systems can fail to deliver results.”

Oyebode said Africa is in desperate need of visionary, upstanding and courageous leaders who are capable of meeting the increasingly complex challenges the continent is facing, which include the impacts of globalisation and digital revolution, climate change and the energy crisis.

Without inspirational leadership, the burgeoning aspirations of an ever-expanding youth population will not be met. “I firmly believe that, with a focus on driving transformational impact through education and leadership, Africa can unleash its full potential and rise to a new height of prosperity,” he said.

“Although addressing the task of driving impact through education and leadership may appear Herculean, it is important to acknowledge that there is hope. With this hope comes a need for all of us to be strategic about how we utilise these emerging opportunities.”

He pointed to noteworthy initiatives on the continent, such as the Rwandan national curriculum’s focus on developing critical thinking, problem-solving, and entrepreneurship. “Rwanda’s literacy rate is higher than what is observable across sub-Saharan Africa and it is also ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa,” Oyebode said.

Business must rise to the challenge

Oyebode said strategic philanthropy is one of the ways in which business can rise to the challenge of driving transformational impact.

“We must begin to consider empowering organisations involved in improving education, not just as part of a once-off corporate social responsibility event, but as part of our longer term ESG activity, which is a more radical and transformative way of engaging with systems,” he said.

The APF’s community of partners is at the forefront of fostering shared prosperity on the continent through strategic giving, Oyebode pointed out. He went on to outline the four steps to transform the future of education and leadership in Africa:

  • Supporting students by increasing access to education, collaborating to build more schools, training more teachers and providing scholarships. This will go a long way towards growing a new crop of leaders who will improve the future of the continent.
  • Embracing technology, especially to improve education outcomes in Africa. Investment in this regard will ensure that access to resources becomes more broadly available to everyone, especially leaders at the grassroots.
  • Developing leadership skills through programmes that teach civic engagement and value-based leadership, especially to young people who will become catalysts for change in the foreseeable future.
  • Addressing inequality by prioritising solutions that address systemic inequalities, such as the exclusion of nomadic children, or people living with disabilities, from formal education.

Oyebode concluded by saying the future of education and leadership in Africa is bright, but it will require ongoing investment and innovation to achieve the full potential of the continent. “And none of that can happen without you and me.”.