Empowering African youth and women to thrive in the digital age


Three questions on D4D series: Interview with Jan Kennis, Enabel’s D4D lead expert
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Proyecto o iniciativa
AU-EU D4D Hub project

The 2022 edition of the United Nations’ World Population Prospects report predicts that sub-Saharan Africa will contribute with more than half of the global population increase anticipated through 2050. This means that creating quality education and employment prospects for youth will become an even more important priority across the continent.

For Jan Kennis, Digital for Development (D4D) lead expert at Enabel, Africa’s digital transformation can empower young people to participate in society, access opportunities, and contribute to local development. This is especially the case for women, who despite their essential role in shaping the continent’s future, risk being less involved in the digital world.

The expert warns, however, that digital skills are a pre-condition for youth and women to benefit from digital services and tools fully. “For the digital transformation to deliver on its promises, Africa needs to ensure digital leadership by investing in education at all levels in the near future,” he says.

In this interview, Jan shares his views on why it is important to invest in digital skills and possible avenues for African and European organisations to work together in this field.

Q: What are the major opportunities and challenges related to digital skills that Africa is facing?

JK: First, let’s talk about the youth bulge. Africa is currently experiencing a demographic dividend, which will further increase in the coming decades. The digital transformation can certainly help absorb part of the jobs that Africa will need to create for its economies to grow and stabilise — think of tech companies expanding in the continent, start-ups and digital entrepreneurship opportunities. Nevertheless, the private sector is already struggling to find the qualified talent it needs. The challenge is to move on from capacity building in basic digital literacy and start investing in more advanced digital skills that are in high demand, such as software and app development, network management, artificial intelligence or data analysis. Most importantly, we should help youth acquire digital transformation leadership skills for them to drive the continent’s digital transformation, innovate, and create home-grown digital solutions.

Second, I would like to make a point about African women. Africa has a vibrant civil society that includes many women-focused organisations. Working with such organisations is key to ensuring that the digital transformation becomes inclusive. At Enabel, for example, we support women’s collectives and associations that provide training, mentorship, and awareness-raising and incorporate a gender approach.

Q: What can be the added value of European development agencies in supporting their African partners to address these issues?

JK: International cooperation can boost skills, promote inclusion, and invest in new technologies. European partners can also facilitate knowledge exchanges. The EU has important experiences — both successes and failures — in promoting digital skills, rights, governance, service delivery and economy that could be shared with partner countries. Of course, solutions should not be exported as such but are a source of inspiration in other contexts.

In this aspect, I would like to highlight the work of the African Union-European Union (AU-EU) Digital for Development (D4D) Hub. This project brings together eight European organisations — Enabel among them — to leverage their resources and expertise to conduct a more effective digital cooperation with Africa. The AU-EU D4D Hub allows us to share lessons, good practices, and know-how in many areas, including digital skills.

Digital skills development project in Morocco, sponsored through Wehubit.

Q: What concrete measures can be taken? Do you have any other examples to share with us?

JK: Digital competencies should be part of the school and higher education curricula. Education systems should incorporate digital skills at different levels: not only computer classes to develop specific ICT knowledge, but also transversal skills such as presentation and negotiation to promote participation and innovation in the digital era. Teaching online safety and media literacy is also very important to protect vulnerable groups.

An alternative pathway is making digital skills part of technical and vocational training (TVET) programmes, which offer a practical solution to make young people more employable.

Engaging with public and private institutions to reinforce their staff’s digital transformation leadership skills is also very important. A successful example is the e-Tamkeen project in Morocco, where Enabel has been working closely with the Ministry in charge of Digital Transformation to support officials in different ministries in developing the skills needed to lead their institutions’ own internal transformation.

Finally, we should empower women and youth-led civil society groups and start-ups to address local needs. The Wehubit grant mechanism is an example of a programme that allows for an innovative approach to doing so. Wehubit aims to boost digital social innovations via non-profit actors.

About the interviewee

Jan Kennis is the lead Digital for Development expert at Enabel. He boasts over 10 years of experience in international partnerships both in Europe and in Africa. His passions are situated at the intersection between innovative capacity strengthening, digital for development, and natural resource management. Throughout his career, he has applied those three passions in research, international partnerships and education.