Ashish Thakkar is the Founder and Chairman of Mara Group, an investment firm with a presence across 25 African countries. He founded the Mara Foundation in 2009 to foster and support emerging entrepreneurs through mentorship and venture philanthropy.
Thakkar is also the Chair of the African Development Bank (AfDB)’s Presidential Youth Advisory Group (PYAG), a think tank inaugurated by AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina on November 27, 2017 to provide innovative solutions for Bank’s plan of creating 25 million jobs for African youth under its Jobs for Youth in Africa Strategy (JfYA).
In this interview he speaks about how Africa can support its youth for greater productivity and empowerment.
What are your thoughts about the Presidential Youth Advisory Group?
The Presidential Youth Advisory Group is thanks to the vision of AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina. He is very obviously passionate about the Jobs for Youth in Africa initiative, which is committing to create 25 million jobs by 2025, but at the same time making sure that we equip up to 50 million youth with job-ready skills across the continent.
The President Youth Advisory Group has come together as a think tank, but at the same time helping to execute on this vision and dream. It is extremely important and critical for the continent that this comes to life and therefore, I am extremely honoured and excited to be chairing this amazing group of individuals within such a phenomenal organization like the Bank.
The most important part of it is that everybody is coming from different walks of life. Everybody is coming from different countries across the continent, but also different backgrounds – whether it is in public sector, private sector, et cetera. We will therefore have different perspectives, different viewpoints, and everyone is under the age of 40. So hopefully we will get things done. It is very exciting. There is a lot to do.
What are two key things that your group would immediately focus on?
The two key things are one, how do we create the right skillset for what is going be necessary tomorrow? What I mean is that in some cases, with things like artificial intelligence and everything else that is happening, the reality is that things that we are training our youth for today may not be relevant in 10 years. So it is very important to see how we can constantly create systems and thinking in a way that we can get them to learn, unlearn, and relearn when necessary. I think the skillset is important– be it entrepreneurship or specific skills. In the entrepreneurship space, education is very important, but informal education in the form of mentorship is absolutely critical.
Our traditional education system does not teach entrepreneurship. So how do we ensure that mentorship is required? That is one element.
The other element, in which obviously the Bank is very involved, is the access to capital. The youth on our continent are so energetic: they are so passionate and so creative. But how do we ensure that we get them access to capital. That is the challenge. Banks are not really lending to businesses, so we still have that missing piece, and equity is just nonexistent for that space in the market. So how do we create the right funding mechanisms to ensure we can invest in these young entrepreneurs in the right manner?
These are the two pillars that I think we (as PYAG and the AfDB), need to focus on in order to make the Jobs for Youth in Africa come dream through.
What is your message for youth in Africa?
My message to the youth of our amazing continent, the African youth is: we are really, really lucky to be young people on our amazing continent today, where technology is growing at such a rapid pace and where connectivity and the whole digital transformation across all sector is happening now. This is our time as the youth of Africa: not to wait for somebody to give us a seat at the table, but actually to take a seat the table. Not only taking it, but then actually doing something with it. This is our time to think creatively, to think innovatively, and to empower, inspire, and enable each other to transform our amazing continent into something completely different. This is our time.