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With its abundant natural resources and human capital, Africa is considered by many to be a continent of vast potential. But this potential, if not harnessed properly through sustainability and an adequate education and training for African youth, can easily turn Africa into a ticking bomb… a threat to all our planet. Each one of the main stakeholders (State, Enterprise, Civil Society) has a specific role in addressing market deficits and social, environmental, and economic dysfunctions that threaten the sustainable and inclusive development of Africa.

I was invited to give a keynote speech during a dinner organized last November in Casablanca for the Worldwide Board of Directors of UNILEVER, one of the world’s biggest multinational corporations. Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever, is known to be a sustainability champion. He is leading the company with a sustainability-driven strategy based on ethical principles and socially responsible approach to business. Under his leadership, Unilever became synonymous with social change, greater good, and triple bottom line.

Talking before such a knowledgeable audience was a real challenge, and so was the choice of the subject of the keynote! I choose to talk about a subject important to Governments, Enterprises and Civil Society alike: Sustainability and Youth entrepreneurship in Africa and in Morocco.  However, with time constrains, my focus was more on the role of corporations as creators of value, and social entrepreneurs as agents of change in shaping a more sustainable and inclusive future for Africa. Here are few thoughts and key points to retain from my intervention.

Africa as the last border for economic growth

Africa’s natural resources and the extent of its fertile land make the continent the newest and last frontier for world economic growth. But these qualities also expose the continent to the risk of predation from developed and emerging countries as well as from multinationals.

Africa is experiencing significant population growth. While, on the eve of its independence, it counted only about 180 million inhabitants, the population has increased to 1.2 billion in 2016. A doubling of this population is expected by 2050 to reach the threshold of 2 billion inhabitants. More than 70% of this population is under the age of 30– the youngest in the world; this constitutes a potential force when everywhere else aging of the population constitutes a real threat.

Also, during the last decade, and because of the rise in world prices of raw materials, Africa has experienced sustained economic growth and a sharp rise in its average GDP per capita. This is how the continent began to see the formation of a large middle class of more than 300 million inhabitants capable of forming a solvent and attractive consumer market that further fuels the appetite of multinationals in the food industry, consumer goods sector and telecommunications, to name just a few.

The big threat: Youth, Human development, and Climate change … and MNC’s predation

If corporate predation can be seen as a potential external threat to Africa, the risk also lies within the continent itself. Indeed, young Africans can also be a potential risk not only for Africa but also for the planet as issues of migration and religious extremism become more and more difficult to control. Instability within Africa can have a spillover effect on the economic growth of the rest of the world. Youth unemployment rates are frightening. There are 75 million unemployed youth in the world, 50% of which are of African descent. Human development in Africa is still alarmingly slow– healthcare, education, water and electricity are still inaccessible to a vast majority of Africans. With this comes the threat of climate change, for which the Western world is responsible. The most vulnerable populations in the world will be the first ones to lose their homes to natural disasters, and it is north that they will be heading to rebuild their lives.

Today, the African economy does not create enough wealth to meet the pressing needs of its societies in terms of job creation, education, healthcare and human development. Despite the steady economic growth of the continent over the past decade, African governments have failed to translate this growth into positive social welfare based on inclusive and sustainable development.

Morocco as a gateway to Africa

Morocco has a unique geostrategic position. As the late King Hassan II once said: “Morocco has its roots in Africa and its branches in Europe”. It is a crossroads between Europe, Africa and the MENA region. Today, Morocco positions itself as a gateway to Africa. With a world-class port that provides excellent connectivity to the world and a unique set of Free Trade agreements, Morocco allows access to a market of one billion consumers. It ranks in the top 3 African countries in terms of FDI and doing business.

However, the Kingdom of Morocco is no exception to the region when it comes to slow social development. It faces multiple societal shortcomings that affect employment, education, healthcare, access to water and energy. These shortcomings can be grouped into three major systemic challenges facing the Moroccan society: Youth, Human Development and the Environment.

Today, with unprecedented economic and political uncertainties, there is an individual and collective awareness in Morocco for urgent and broad action to address these economic, social, and environmental shortcomings. Tackling the youth unemployment issue and creating decent job opportunities for young people is one of the biggest challenges facing the government, businesses and civil society alike in Morocco… in Africa and in the world.

The necessary paradigm shift in order to tackle the social challenges

Capitalism is in crisis today. We cannot continue to focus on economic profit without taking into account social and environmental issues. However, the socio-economic and environmental issues we face today are so complex that Governments or Markets alone cannot tackle them.

As Albert Einstein said: “Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them”. A paradigm shift has become necessary to address structural threats, to lay the foundation for inclusive growth, and to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Social innovation as a new concept, and social entrepreneurs as agents of change can play a key role in supporting state and private actors to solve societal issues that threaten growth and prosperity. They go where governments and corporations do not dare to venture.

But even heroes need a little push. For social entrepreneurs to implement their solutions on a large scale, a strong partnership with Governments and corporations is necessary. We are not talking about charity or philanthropy – we are talking about partnerships that set the foundations for co-creation.

Enactus as a social enterprise at the service of Moroccan society

Enactus encompasses this 3-way partnership. It is a community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better, more sustainable world. Enactus provides a platform for teams of voluntary university students to create community development projects that put people’s own ingenuity and talents at the center of improving their livelihoods.

Since its founding in 2004 until 2013, Enactus Morocco used a business model based on philanthropy, but soon the NGO realized that this was unsustainable in a competitive market of social organizations. In 2014, Enactus Morocco adopted a new business model which focuses on serving corporations directly within the framework of sustainability and their CSR strategies. This is the essence of co-creation, or what Michael Porter calls “Creation of Shared Value”.

Enactus Morocco focus predominantly now on 4 axes of social innovation to create shared value with corporations:

  • High impact social entrepreneurship.
  • Innovation for sustainable agriculture and food security.
  • Technological innovation in support of priority social sectors (Education, Health, …).
  • Energy, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

There is a growing consensus in Morocco that entrepreneurship can be part of the solution to job creation, and as such can be an engine to economic growth and social inclusiveness.

By changing our business model, Enactus Morocco managed to attract more than 50 companies and increase its revenue and human resources tenfold. In 2017 alone, 5,000 Moroccan students across 120 local universities were able to implement nearly 250 societal projects impacting more than 195,000 beneficiaries of needy populations across Morocco.

But even with this massive scaleup in impact, we are still just a small contributor in the resolution of Morocco’s social and environmental issues. We need more companies to adhere to this new way of doing business, and more government involvement to aid us in implementing large-scale solutions.

In conclusion, Africa is the last frontier for world economic growth. There is an opportunity for strong, sustainable business for multinationals in African countries. It’s vital not to miss it! In a world in crisis, sustainability isn’t an option. It isn’t a luxury … It is an obligation and a smart way of doing business in Africa.

If harnessed properly, the continent’s youth can reap massive benefits on an economic and social scale. But everyone must join in, governments and private sector, on educating and training Africa’s youth to be the socially responsible citizens and agents of change of tomorrow, and to turn threat into opportunity. As social entrepreneurs, young Africans can play a key role in supporting government and private actors to solve societal issues that threaten inclusive growth and prosperity.

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