The Mastercard Foundation is committed to supporting economic recovery programs in Africa to enable states to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the first French edition of "Dialogue For the Future" conversations, Nathalie Akon Gabala, Mastercard Foundation's Regional Head for West, Central and North Africa, joins AllAfrica co-founder and executive chair Amadou Mahtar Ba to delve into the Foundation's work and partnerships in West Africa. She goes into detail about the resilience programs the Foundation is implementing on the continent, the place of education in the its Young Africa Works strategy and the importance of digital technologies in Africa's ongoing recovery effort from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is the impact across the continent of the recovery and resilience program of the Covid-19 of the Mastercard Foundation?
We launched this economic stimulus and resilience program in March 2020. The first objective was to respond to the health emergency not only with the supply of health and safety equipment, but also by supporting healthcare workers in the various communities.
The second objective was to support the economic resilience of individuals and communities. Pertaining to this second objective, we detailed our intervention on three levels. The first is to support MSMEs, which represent a large part of the economy of most African countries.
The second is to contribute to the strengthening of digital solutions in sectors such as education, health and trade. The third level is a contribution to food security.
During the pandemic, we noted that an intake was required for the maintenance and effectiveness of certain food support systems. In this sense, we have approved 87 programs across the seven countries in which we work in addition to some regional programs.
To cite a few examples, in Senegal we have signed a partnership with Teranga Capital to support SMEs, including those in the informal sector.
In Ghana, we have launched a similar program with NBSA and also a psychological support and mentoring program for young people in partnership with SOLIDARIDAD, which aims to help young people find alternative sources of income.
One of our largest regional projects in partnership with Africa CDC is the procurement of screening tests for African states, as well as the deployment and training of community health workers responsible for testing, tracing and educating populations about barrier behaviors.
In the three major projects you refer to, it is noted that only Africa CDC is a government organization. Is this a deliberate strategy or is it simply a matter of necessity? Are you also partnering with the resilience initiatives and funds set up by various African states?
As I said, there are 87 programs but I only mentioned three. We work with other government institutions, not only nationally but also regionally. Like in the case of the program that supports the development of economies in partnership with ECOWAS. Due to the flexibility of the Mastercard Foundation in terms of partner choice, we have the flexibility to intervene as needed.
We work with both the public and private sectors. We also work with communities, youth groups, associations and NGOs. Our interest is to always be in line with government priorities because it is difficult to claim to have an impact without taking those priorities into account.
We make it a point of honor to work in agreement with the countries in which we operate and with all partners involved in sustainable development.
So far, how are you welcomed in the different countries? How do you feel about working in these countries?
The most compelling example of this is Ghana. We want our partners in the country to work with humility knowing that the countries know their needs and that the engagement with these countries must be for the purpose of empowerment and must lead to the sustainability of all the solutions that will be developed. In Ghana, we are in regular consultation with state institutions and our programs have so far been very well received. Because of the Mastercard Foundation's values of humility and co-creation, we have the opportunity to bring together different types of actors from the private, public and community sectors to come up with solutions that help people.
Young people know what it takes to create jobs. We need to work with a real willingness to help, to learn and also a lot of humility to be able to support them.
With regards to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on communities and the business world, have you noticed significant differences from one country to another or from one region to another in the sphere in which you operate?
We've noted more similarities than differences. These similarities lead us to rethink our strategy precisely because since 2019 we are implementing a key program of the Mastercard Foundation, which is the Young Africa Works strategy.
Following the pandemic, we had to ask ourselves whether we should always pursue the same strategy, and this has led us to review what the seven countries in which we are present have in common. The great similarity that we identified in these countries is that MSMEs and SMIs need more support in order to reach their full development capacity.
Access to financing for SMEs and SMIs is becoming more and more essential. We have the opportunity and the duty to contribute to the acceleration of the implementation of digital solutions in support of the effort already made by governments.
There is an enormous amount of creativity among young people, and this is demonstrated by the fact that we have never seen as many innovations in Africa as we are seeing during the COVID-19 period.
It is also interesting to note a real desire to consume locally among African populations. African governments are putting in place mechanisms to support local entrepreneurs and promote the processing of raw materials on the continent. I am also happy to see that we are rethinking food chains and that we are looking for solutions to promote agriculture in order to move towards food self-sufficiency.
In addition to access to capital, there is also the issue of training within SMEs and SMIs.
I totally agree with you. I would even say that it is a priority because there is no point in giving money if we cannot be sure that it will be put to good use. At the Mastercard Foundation, we place a special emphasis on education, which is the cornerstone of many of our programs.
Today, with Young Africa Works we are working not only on access to finance but also on strengthening business incubators and technical assistance to SMEs. We also plan to work with governments to strengthen secondary and higher education.
Tell us more about the Young Africa Works program? Is this program present in the French-speaking countries in which you operate?
We have implemented it in West African countries but at different levels. In Senegal, we are working with the Ministry of Technical and Vocational Education to participate in the reform of the technical and vocational system that is currently underway. We are establishing centers that will not only train young people but above all focus on the digital transition. Today, we realize that in addition to the technical skills that young people need, they also need to be well prepared for the job market and that is what we are going to work on in Senegal.
In Ghana, we are working with the government to strengthen the education system through the inclusion of the skills demanded in the job market: entrepreneurship, technical skills, science and technology, digital access, access to the fundamentals of numeracy and literacy.
The Mastercard Foundation has recently published a report on secondary education in Africa and how to prepare youth for the jobs of tomorrow. What are the main points of this document that you can share with us?
We have identified seven competencies that are important and should be part of any training curriculum in Africa. In addition to that, we talk about the need for massive training. We estimate Africa has the capacity to generate 10.8 million jobs that will need to be filled. We are also talking about the need to build bridges between technical and general education that go hand in hand nowadays.
In addition, we discuss the adaptability of our governments. In a context of perpetual change, it is important to be able to adapt in order to meet new educational challenges. Finally, we talk about the need for solidarity and free education based on families. This will allow the different governments to offer quality education that is accessible to all.
Should this be free of charge at the primary or secondary level? Because primary education is normally free in many countries.
The focus of our report is on secondary education.
Another important point is the establishment of a dialogue between the private and public sectors, especially between educators and employers. Today, there is a demand that is evolving in parallel with the problem of young people who have been trained but are not ready for employment.
Africa has learned much from this tragedy. The idea that the pandemic could represent an opportunity for the continent to explore new, better, smarter systems is gaining ground. This will require massive investment in technological infrastructure to enable e-learning, e-medicine e-commerce etc.. What is your opinion on this issue?
I'm going to use an English term – "leapfrog." That's what the crisis shows us. African states are aware of this. Honestly, before this crisis, we had rarely seen African states react so quickly to take measures to promote the digitalization of operations, for example. Both states and individuals as well as private institutions are now open to innovation.
You were recently named one of the 100 most influential women on the continent. Tell us more about your journey? And what advice do you have for young girls and women starting their careers?
I spent the first part of my career in the financial sector, in the commercial world and then in private equity. I spent the last ten years in an investment fund before joining the development community. I had a rewarding experience that allowed me to work all over Africa. I have been in South Africa, East Africa, the West and Central regions, which allowed me to see a lot of the continent's wealth, resilience and the potential of African youth. In terms of advice for young girls and women, I tell them that they have the right to want a family and a career. It's more than a right, it's a duty because others have fought to give it to them. I would also tell them that they have to learn how to establish a family and professional network and how to delegate. They will not be able to do this all on their own.
Interview by Amadou Mahtar BA
Transcribed and translated from French by Bacary DABO