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Jobs, power and partnership in the post-2015 UN development agenda

Source: Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:58 GMT
Author: Tony O. Elumelu
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Tony Elumelu speaks during the Presidential Power Reform Transactions signing ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria, April 22, 2013. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In 2000, the United Nations made a historic announcement of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They were very specific and had a timeline of 15 years for delivery. Progress on most of the goals has been encouraging but as we look towards the next round of development goals, we must recognise how the world has changed since 2000.

The global financial crisis had a devastating impact on both individual lives and livelihoods but also on the public sector's ability to finance its commitments. Conversely, the rise of the BRIC economies and Africa’s emergence mean that aid is simply not needed in the same way, on the same scale, as it was before. 

We therefore need to reconsider not just the substance of the new development framework, but also the implementation process.

In the original MDGs, the private sector was noticeable mostly by its absence. This time, we are stepping up as part of the solution and pioneering new approaches, which could hold the key to a more innovative and inclusive way to design and deliver development. 

As an entrepreneur - one born, raised, educated, and working all my life in Africa, and now engaged in nurturing the next generation - I encourage the private sector to take a more active role in partnering with the United Nations to formulate and implement the post-2015 development agenda.

In framing the next set of goals, we should focus on tackling unemployment and job creation on a massive scale, and on dramatically improving access to electricity. These goals are both critical to lives and quality of life, and they cannot be accomplished without collaboration with the private sector.

JOBLESS YOUTH IN AFRICA

We cannot continue to close our eyes to the looming crisis of unemployment on the African continent. 

With nearly 200 million people aged 15-24, Africa has the youngest and most rapidly growing population in the world. By 2045, our youth population will double to exceed that of China and India. By 2020, Africa will need 122 million jobs if we are to succeed in the fight against poverty and maintain political stability and global security.

In contrast to current development practice, which advocates investing in lives - the basic health and education of people - in the hope that they will eventually make something of themselves, I believe that if we invest in livelihoods - jobs and economic opportunity - people will purchase healthcare, they will purchase education for their children and look after their families. They will live longer, they will live healthier and they will live with dignity.

Lack of access to electricity is another challenge that will prevent us from eradicating poverty.  Nearly 589 million, or seven out of ten Africans, have no access to electricity. In Burundi, it’s as low as 2 per cent of the population.

This has devastating consequences. Millions of mothers are giving birth in the dark, at great risk to themselves and their babies. Lifesaving vaccine deliveries are challenged by lack of power to support their cold chains.

Nearly two million deaths per year are associated with illnesses derived from cooking with wood and charcoal. And 90 million children go to school without electricity.

If we agree that access to electricity and improved livelihoods are vital components for the success of the post-2015 development agenda, then the private sector must have a key role to play in its design and implementation.

A global agenda that intends to address the livelihoods of people and attack extreme poverty is not set up for success if it does not fully engage the sector of society that controls the most capital, employs the most people, and fosters the most innovation.

INCLUSIVE GROWTH THROUGH AFRICAPITALISM

The experience of Heirs Holdings, and our guiding principle of "Africapitalism" shows that it is possible for the private sector to pursue profit and still make meaningful contributions to human development.

I coined the term ‘Africapitalism’ to define the new role of the private sector in the development of Africa, through long-term investments that create economic prosperity and social wealth.

Heirs Holdings may be best known for our $2.5 billion commitment to Power Africa, a commitment we have started delivering on through our recent acquisition of the Ughelli power plant in the Niger Delta.

We made the investment with the intent of returning a profit, while also creating significant social impact. We are helping to create tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs while providing electricity for homes, hospitals and businesses.

Ours is one of many examples of a new breed of companies around the world seeking a more inclusive approach to growth. 

The post-2015 development framework should seek to scale up such initiatives in order to create jobs and transform lives. For governments, this will mean enacting reforms and creating new policies to build more competitive business environments. 

This will not only unleash the growth of small and medium-size enterprises, but will also attract and incentivize major investors to fill the infrastructure gap in under-developed regions. This kind of major investment is the only way to create the number of jobs we need.

We in the private sector also have important reforms to make. We must act with integrity - making sure that markets serve as the engine of development, not its enemy.

Next, rather than simply donating to worthy causes, we must focus on creating and multiplying value in the societies in which we source, supply and operate, and integrate this into our corporate governance, our operations, our project development and our profit calculation, across the value chain.

Only by combining the financial capital and ingenuity of the private sector with the political will and convening power of governments, and the compassion, selflessness and dedication of the non-profit sector, will we defeat poverty. A potent blend of skills is needed to generate equality of opportunity for all and to transform the world we live in.

Tony O. Elumelu is chairman of Heirs Holdings. This op-ed has been adapted from his keynote address delivered before the United Nations General Assemblyon April 9, 2014 at the opening session of a forum on "The Role of Partnerships in the Implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda".

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