Monday, April 22, 2024

Will Stevens: How U.S. is helping Nigerian youths to navigate evolving entrepreneurship, innovation landscape

The future of work in Africa hinges on our ability to embrace change and to adapt.

• March 15, 2024
Will Stevens
Will Stevens [Photo Credit: The Guardian Nigeria]

Good morning. I would like to thank Mayowa Tijani, an alumnus of the U.S. government flagship International Visitors Leadership Program, or IVLP, and his cofounders at Future Work Africa –– Uche Pedro and Azeez Salawu –– for inviting me to speak at today’s launch of the Future of Work in Africa Report.  

As some of you may know, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Nigeria in January, and during this visit he was struck by Nigeria’s remarkable spirit of innovation. He had a firsthand glimpse of some of the incredible innovative work that is being done by impressive young Nigerian entrepreneurs. 

One of them is helping businesses harness AI to automate operations. Another one uses virtual reality to help students learn when studies are hindered by natural phenomenon like flooding.   

As Secretary Blinken said: “No one place, no one people, have a monopoly on good ideas or innovation. It happens everywhere. And especially in this century, the true wealth of a nation, the true strength of society, will be in its ability to allow its human resources to flourish.”  

In my nearly two years as Consul General, I have traveled around this country and had the opportunity to meet with young Nigerians and listen to what matters to them. And I am truly impressed by their ideas on how to build their country. Making that future a reality is going to take more than just talk. It will require a lot of hard work from young Nigerians who make up nearly 70 percent of the population.  

Nigeria’s greatest resource is not oil, it is the Nigerian people. As the rest of the world grays, Africa blossoms with youth – and by 2050, one in four people on the planet will be African, a seismic change that is already beginning to take shape. You can feel it in the creative industries, in music, films, and fashion. You can see it in the entrepreneurial drive of the average African youth. 

According to a recent New York Times article, “the world is becoming more African.” The continent’s working-age population will hit one billion in the next decade – that is the future’s global workforce! 

In today’s globalized world, all countries are looking to create an eco-system that will foster innovation in order to create jobs for their young people and ensure the future competitiveness of their economy. And there is nowhere better to talk about innovation in this country than here in Lagos, and there is no one better to talk with about innovation than young people like you in this room. 

Digital technologies create exciting new opportunities and have the potential of placing prosperity within reach for more people than ever before. 

The U.S.-Nigeria partnership includes significant investments in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem by American companies from Microsoft and Meta, and we are using the latest technological innovations to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges, in education, healthcare, agriculture, and other vital areas of development and economic growth. 

We gather here today because we recognize that the future of work is not just a distant concept; it is a reality that is rapidly unfolding before our eyes.  

The future of work in Africa hinges on our ability to embrace change and to adapt. The digital revolution is transforming industries, creating new job categories, and demanding a new set of skills. Nigeria, with its youthful population and dynamic energy, stands at the forefront of shaping the future of work not only in Africa but on a global scale.  

As we navigate this transformation, our focus must be on education and skill development, ensuring that our workforce is equipped to thrive in the 21st century. 

At the U.S. Mission in Nigeria, we are deeply committed to supporting the aspirations and dreams of Nigerian youth as they navigate the evolving landscape of employment, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I am proud of the United States’ many contributions to this necessary transfer of skills and mentoring here in Nigeria. One example is the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE).  

This program combines mentoring and networking opportunities with a curriculum developed by one of the top U.S. business schools. 

We have seen 890 women entrepreneurs graduate from this program since its inception in 2019. 

The successes we have recorded through this program demonstrate how targeted training can change lives, take small enterprises to the next level, create employment, and empower women entrepreneurs.  

Another way we support youth innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity is through our network of 25 tech-enabled American Spaces across Nigeria. 

Each American Space, like where we are here in Lekki, serves as a gateway to a wealth of resources, offering visitors the opportunity to learn essential digital skills, from basic computer literacy to more specialized courses on coding, digital marketing, and cybersecurity.   

These are also spaces to learn about how to study in the United States from EducationUSA advisers. Nigeria sent over 17,000 students to colleges and universities in the United States last academic year – the highest number of students from Africa and 7th largest worldwide. 

I encourage you to speak with the American Corner Director to learn more about the resources and programs available. Make sure you register as a member before you leave here today. It’s absolutely free of charge!  

In closing, the workforce of tomorrow must be diverse and inclusive. A growing economy cannot afford to leave any of its people behind. The U.S. Mission looks forward to continuing to work with young Nigerians from all backgrounds to ensure everyone’s potential is recognized and nurtured. 

Thank you for this opportunity to celebrate the launch of the Future of Work in Africa report with you all.  

As Prepared for Delivery  

U.S. Consul General Will Stevens’ Remarks  

at the Launch of the Future of Work in Africa Report  

Thursday, March 14, 2024 

Location: American Corner Lekki 

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