We must protect the poorest as the fight of our lives

 

I have always believed in Martin Luther King’s statement that the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice. But as we face a new wave of populism borne by the inequities of globalisation, it appears that the arc may have grown longer. Following two decades during which we saw extreme poverty rates cut in half, our challenge is to once again mobilise behind our belief that where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live.

 

Though some of its manifestations are disturbing, the growing opposition in developing countries to international engagement and integration is not surprising. With all of its potential benefits, globalisation has thus far left millions behind. Confidence in government is on the decline, and demands of government are on the rise. For many, that they should share the national wealth with others at a time of acute need and insecurity is an unrealistic expectation. Tragically, rather than seize the opportunity to shape globalisation to foster the equity that is both right and necessary, too many governments have responded by turning inward, slashing foreign aid budgets, or gradually closing their doors to refugees in search of safety and survival.

 

Despite the stunning gains made in the fight against global poverty, globalisation also threatens to leave behind millions of poor people in the developing world. But rather than rejecting globalisation, a growing number of leaders and citizens in the world’s least developed countries, particularly in Africa, are seizing the opportunities it affords–to expand learning through connectivity, improve health outcomes with new technologies, attract new private investment dollars and unleash the potential of young entrepreneurs.

 

As we face a global challenge, we are also poised to benefit from a massive development opportunity: Africa’s young people will, by 2030, comprise almost a third of the world’s young population. By investing in these young people now, we could reap a demographic dividend that could transform Africa into a leading driver of global growth.This investment strategy should focus on education, employment, and empowerment (the three “E’s”), and should be financed by a tripartite blend of foreign assistance, domestic resources and private capital.

 

An educated workforce is the cornerstone of a thriving economy, but today, 130 million of the world’s girls are not in school. To make education work for every girl, and every boy for that matter, we must break the barriers to their completing secondary school, invest in teachers and connect every classroom to the internet. Governments must endorse globally recognised learning metrics and do the actual measuring that can enable mid-course corrections and deeper investments in what is proven to work. Curricula should focus on skills that can increase labour market participation. And to fuel these changes, governments should devote sufficient resources to ensure universal education, and the international community must double its contribution.

 

When it comes to employment, Africa’s young people, just like everywhere else, need jobs that provide income, dignity and purpose. We need new tools to stimulate job creation. The most vulnerable poor live in rural settings, where agriculture makes up the backbone of the economy. National Rural Youth Employment strategies are needed to respond to the realities of young people in rural areas, providing them with the skills, access to financing, and tools they need to become successful agribusiness employees and agripreneurs.

 

Empowermentis about building the tools, political space and freedom to sustain development. The starting point must be the freedom to speak out and hold governments to account. But we must also invest in the underlying tools that empower individuals: addressing the malnutrition that stunts nearly 40% of sub-Saharan Africa’s children, providing immunisation against preventable diseases and the underlying investments that give voice and opportunities to young people such as energy and internet access.

 

This three E’s strategy needs a doubling of external development finance. We must stimulate private sector financing by reducing risk for investors and bolstering the capacity of businesses to attract investment. Donor and African governments must stem the tide of illicit financial flows by publishing government contracts as open data and making information public about who owns companies and trusts.

 

Getting to the last mile, reaching the most vulnerable, especially in the most fragile settings, will require digging deeper on the quality of our interventions. If we invest now, the benefits for Africa and for the world could be dramatic. If we don’t, millions of African young people will be without jobs and opportunities, leading to a destabilising frustration that could affect not only the region, but the world. And the fact is that donor countries can do their part even as they strive to meet growing demands at home, because it is both the smart and the right thing to do. Investing in development today means more and more capable partners tomorrow. Making globalisation work for the many rather than the few offers hope in a future that will allow true global progress to flourish–for all it has thus far left behind.

 

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Gayle Smith
President and CEO, The ONE Campaign

© OECD Yearbook
2017

 

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