It is important to see Innovation Sierra Leone in the context of international development, poverty reduction and tackling climate change.
The challenges Sierra Leone faces are the same the African continent and indeed much of the developing world faces.
In the African context, to turn jobless growth in to job creating, poverty reducing growth, governments will need to transform their economies to be more competitive, productive, diverse and supportive of business, especially the small businesses that are the engine room of Africa’s growth and job creation.
This is no different in Sierra Leone. Indeed, the country needs to diversify its economy away from an unhealthy dependency on the mining sector to other sectors. In particular, sectors that are ripe for entrepreneurship such as tech, services and supply chain enhancements and solutions. Between 2011-2013, Sierra Leone was one of the fastest growing economies not only in Africa, but in the world at 8% annual GDP growth. However, much of this growth was jobless!
Profitable business operations create jobs and livelihoods throughout their value chains, generate tax revenues, raise skill levels and drive game changing innovations with the potential to tackle many development challenges.
A series of systemic barriers impact job creation in the private sector, especially amongst micro, small and medium-sized businesses, which include a weak investment climate, inadequate infrastructure, limited access to finance, and insufficient training and expertise.
Innovation Sierra Leone has services to lower and ultimately remove these barriers.
The World Bank estimates 600 million jobs must be created by 2020, mainly in developing countries, just to keep up with population growth. The private sector provides nine out of every 10 jobs.
In the Africa context, unemployment remains acutely high, particularly amongst the young and women. Between 2000 and 2008, Africa’s working age population (15-64 years) grew from 443 million to 550 million, an increase of 25%. In annual terms this is a growth of 13 million, or 2.7% per year.
If this trend continues, the continent’s labour force will be 1 billion strong by 2040, making it the largest in the world, surpassing both China and India.
More than 60 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is under age 24, and the number of youth was expected to grow by 19 million just between 2010 and 2015.
Youth unemployment rates in the region are around 60 percent, and even those youth who are employed tend to work in low-skilled jobs that pay very little, with 72 percent living on less than U$2 per day.
Sixty percent of the Sierra Leonean population are between the ages of 14-49 years old. Sierra Leone has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa at 70%. An estimated 800,000 youths between the ages of 15 and 35 are actively searching for employment .
Since the majority of job growth in the region is expected to be in the informal sector, it is critical that youth be equipped with the tools and skills to succeed as entrepreneurs if they are to be part of that “demographic dividend .”
Innovation Sierra Leone also recognizes the importance of Agriculture. In Sierra Leone and much of Africa, 60-70% of the population lives in rural areas and is mostly dependent on agriculture. Agriculture employs 65% of Africa’s labour force and accounts for 32% of GDP.
Therefore, Innovation Sierra Leone will work with entrepreneurs and others focusing on increasing agricultural productivity and access to markets for farmers. We believe such entrepreneurs will contribute to raising incomes and reducing poverty.
To meet the Sustainable Development goals, transformative action is needed across all three key dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.
Economic: Inclusive and sustainable economic growth is the key driver of poverty reduction. Policy innovation and good governance are needed to create the right enabling environment and product, service and business model innovation are needed to meet the needs of all the region’s citizens in ways that preserve natural resources for future generations.
Social: Africa’s young and growing population needs to be healthy, educated and equipped with the right skills. Concerted action is required to transform education, health and food systems and other essential infrastructure, including water and sanitation, and to ensure equality of opportunity for women and other marginalized groups.
Environmental: the same token, for Africa’s natural capital to remain abundant and productive, effective governance mechanisms for the management of natural resources and ecosystems will need to be strengthened and action taken to tackle shared risks including water scarcity, environmental degredation and climate change.
No single organization or even sector can do it alone: systemic challenges require coordinated responses from inter-connected and interdependent stakeholders. As such, we believe we have a role to play for Sierra Leone to meet the targets of the SDGs. Innovation Sierra Leone is taking a role to equip entrepreneurs with the tools and skills necessary for them to succeed.
Together with our partners we believe we can achieve a triple bottom line in our performance.