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Two years ago, 24-year-old Ednah Gacheri was a beauty advisor selling lipstick and face creams in a small pharmacy in Nairobi. Today, she is the personal care and beauty manager for an entire pharmacy chain, overseeing the purchase of hundreds of products for 57 outlets across Kenya and Uganda.

In many ways, it’s a classic story of hard work and perseverance. “After I graduated with a degree in economics and business, I couldn’t find any work,” Gacheri says. “Selling cosmetics was definitely not my first choice, but I took the job, embraced it, kept learning, and now I’m doing exactly what I want to do.”

Gacheri knows that her swift rise from student to salesperson to executive at Goodlife Pharmacy, an IFC investee, is atypical. Scores of her friends and relatives are searching for work or hustling at low-paid jobs just to make ends meet, and she estimates that only 20 percent of her graduating class of 250 are working in their field.

Ednah Gacheri oversees the purchase of hundreds of products for 57 outlets in Kenya and Uganda. © Fridah Wanjiku/Goodlife

Her classmates’ struggles highlight how one of Africa’s biggest challenges—finding jobs for its citizens—continues to grow. A staggering 1.7 million people enter Africa’s job market every month. This means that by 2032, the number of sub-Saharan Africans entering the workforce will exceed the rest of the world combined. In fact, almost 60 percent of total new jobs needed globally over the next 10 to 15 years will be for the working-age population in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

IFC’s initiatives to strengthen the private sector—the largest engine of economic transformation and provider of jobs—are powering new solutions for Gacheri’s classmates and other men and women in Africa seeking employment. Through investments, advisory services, and new partnerships, our efforts help businesses work through regulatory constraints while providing them with the resources and support they need to succeed and create jobs.

In 2018, IFC clients directly employed more than 240,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa, including 73,000 women. © Dominic Chavez/IFC

The Story Behind Low Job Numbers

Unemployment and underemployment across Africa and the Middle East aren’t new phenomena. The numbers continue to grow because major enablers of employment are weak or absent. These include modern infrastructure like power, water, and transport facilities—policies that help build businesses, trade zones that encourage the exchange of goods and services, opportunities for skills training and development, and access to affordable finance. When there’s no investment, there’s no expansion.

Meanwhile, rapid technological advances are rendering certain industries obsolete. For example, agriculture was once the biggest employer in most countries. Technical advances have drastically shrunk the number of people working the fields: In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture’s share of total employment fell from 62.5 percent to 54.6 percent between 1991 and 2018, a downward trend that is expected to continue.

o support job growth, IFC has committed to larger investment volumes in the poorest countries. © Dominic Chavez/WB

Investing in Infrastructure

To help Africa provide a steady supply of jobs to its citizens, IFC is investing in infrastructure projects with the potential to transform economies. In Cameroon, for example, IFC and the World Bank are helping construct the 420-megawatt Nachtigal Hydropower Plant, which will boost the county’s power-generation capacity by a third. The project is expected to create up to 1,500 direct jobs (most locally sourced) during peak construction. Improved access to power for businesses across the country will indirectly support many more jobs after operations begin. IFC’s equity investment and debt financing of €170 million makes Nachtigal our biggest-ever power investment in Africa.

In addition to this sort of infrastructure expansion, job growth depends on reliable access to financing and training. IFC’s €2.5 million investment in Mali Shi is helping the company build and run a shea kernel processing facility in Mali, a country recovering from years of violence. IFC’s advisory support is building the capacity of more than 100 harvesting cooperatives in Mali Shi’s supply chain, indirectly supporting more than 120,000 shea collectors, 95 percent of whom are women.

More than half of the jobs needed globally over the next 15 years will be in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. © Dominic Chavez/WB

Partnerships that Promote Growth

IFC’s partnerships with the public sector across Africa and the Middle East create conducive investment climates, reinforcing our efforts to create jobs. These partnerships help introduce laws, regulations, and processes that make it easier for businesses to expand—for example, by allowing them to acquire building permits more quickly or trade across borders.

These methods support businesses in their efforts to grow and hire more people. In 2018, IFC clients directly employed more than 240,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa, including about 73,000 women.

To make a long-lasting impact on businesses and job growth, IFC has also committed to much larger investment volumes in the world’s poorest countries—those eligible to borrow from the International Development Association (IDA)— and in fragile countries. This support will take place throughout the decade, via the IDA Private Sector Window (PSW), a $2.5 billion fund to catalyze investment, growth, and job creation in the poorest countries. The PSW is a key pillar of IFC’s strategy to tackle difficult development challenges by creating markets and mobilizing private investors.

While there is no single solution to job creation, helping businesses put their ideas into action so they can build the factories, farms, and hi-tech firms that will employ the millions of jobseekers across Africa and the Middle East is a crucial step.

“I tell my unemployed friends that they must be resilient,” Gacheri says. “You have to do what you can and be impactful where you are. If one person can succeed, it means there is a way for more to do the same.”

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Published in October 2019