PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA
“Young people are better than old people at driving innovation, because they not locked in by the limits of the past,” says Bill Gates,
Microsoft managing director. One topic that Nelson Mandela went back to over and again was the power of the youth, says Bill Gates during the 14th annual Nelson Mandela Memorial lecture in Pretoria last Wednesday. This, Gates says, was because Mandela started his career as a member of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League (YL) when he was still in his 20s. Later on he understood that highlighting the oppression of young people was a powerful way to explain why things must change and that there was a universal appeal to the conviction that youth deserve a chance. “I agree with Mandela about young people, and that is one reason I am optimistic about the future of this continent.
Demographically, Africa is the world’s youngest continent, and its youth can be the source of a special dynamism,” he says .
In the next 35 years, two billion babies will be born in Africa and by 2050, 40 percent of the world’s children will live on the African
continent. “Economists talk about the demographic dividend. When you have more people of working age, and fewer dependents for them to take care of, you can generate phenomenal economic growth. Rapid economic growth in East Asia in the 1970s and 1980s was partly driven by the large number of young people moving into their work force,” says Gates. But for him the most important about young people is the way their minds work.
He says when he started Microsoft in 1975, at the age of 19, computer science was a young field. “We didn’t feel beholden to old notions about what computers could or should do. We dreamed about the next big thing, and we sourced the world around us for the ideas and the tools that would help us create it,” says he. Not only at Microsoft but Steve Jobs was only 21 years when he started Apple and Mark Zuckerberg only 19 years when he created Facebook. “The African entrepreneurs driving start up booms in the Silicon Savannahs from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Lagos and Nairobi are just as young- in chronological age, but also in outlook. The thousands of businesses they are creating are already changing life across the continent,” he says. He adds that in soon he
would be meeting these young people like the 21-year-old who founded Kenya’s first software coding school to provide other young people with computer programming As much the 23-year-old South African social entrepreneur who manufactures schoolbags from recycled plastic shopping bags. Besides being highly visible to protect children as they are walking to school, these school bags sport a small solar panel that charges a lantern during the journey to and from school- providing illumination so students can study when they get home.
“The real return will come if we can multiply this talent for innovation by the whole of Africa’s growing youth population. That depends on whether Africa’s young people- all of Africa’s young people-are given the opportunity to thrive,” says Gate.s He says if young people are sick and malnourished, their bodies and their brains will never fully develop. If they are not educated well, their minds will lie dormant. If they do not have access to economic opportunities, they will not be able to achieve their goals. “But if we invest in the right things- if we make sure the basics needs of Africa’s young people are taken care of- then they will have the physical, cognitive, and emotional resources they need to change the future. Life on this continent will improve faster than it ever has. And the inequalities that have kept people apart will be erased by broad-based progress that is the very meaning of the words: “Living together”, concludes part of the excerpts of his delivery relating to the youth.