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Investing in Girls’ Education and Technology: Key Takeaways from the African Diaspora Investment Symposium

February 15, 2018 - By Kelly Diggins

“Make money; forget about aid! Run like a business, create a common good,” Tebabu Assefa, founder of Blessed Coffee, expressed during a session at the African Diaspora Investment Symposium (ADIS) on January 26 – 27 in Silicon Valley. A shift in focus from providing aid to investing in Africa was a common theme at the conference, which annually convenes impact investors and other social leaders from various countries to make connections and share knowledge on African development. Other attendees shared this same sentiment, making comments that the process of implementing effective development programs in Africa starts with recognizing that it does not need handouts. Using this as a baseline, much of the discussion revolved around how to invest and support innovations that will prepare for the expected population growth of 2.4 billion people by 2050.

Representatives from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors were in attendance, with Heather Grady moderating a panel on investing in education, science and technology. In the discussion, panel members identified two major areas that have high potential for both social and financial return: girls’ education and technology.

Why girls’ education?

As speakers on the panel noted, investing in education for girls equips them with the knowledge and skills they need to meet opportunities throughout their lives, which in turn creates better social and economic stability among entire communities. Within the African continent, girls are much less likely than boys to complete their education, often being dropped from enrollment due to barriers such as child marriage, pregnancy, lack of funds for books and uniforms, or an expectation to devote their time to housework.

Providing girls with access to education has been proven to lead to reductions in infant/maternal mortality as well as increases in financial returns for the woman, her family, and her community. Studies have shown that entire economies are successful when women and girls are educated and economically empowered. Thus, investing in girls’ educational opportunities is a great first step towards make widespread impact, as noted by several participants in various panel discussions at the conference. Emphasizing the need for gender equality and women’s empowerment, panel speakers encouraged investors to review their investment portfolio through a gender-responsive lens.

Why technology?

Needless to say, technology can enable significant growth by providing innovative solutions among sectors such as agriculture, financial inclusion, and health. Throughout the conference, speakers referred to technology’s transformative influence on development around the world, but specifically in Africa.

For an example of tech’s potential to create sustainable change, consider its effect on the current shortage of doctors on the African continent and around the world. With a significant expected population growth imminent, the doctor-to-population ratio will gradually worsen. According to the World Health Organization, the global shortage of health care professions will be over 14 million by 2030, based on a threshold 4.45 health professional to 1,000 people. Therefore, companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Google are researching robotic surgery to fill this gap and provide much-needed health services to previously unserved populations. Speakers repeatedly advised investors to examine the supply chain of different markets to see how innovations in technology could make the process more efficient and cost effective.

Throughout ADIS, speakers’ insights helped equip attendees with the knowledge they need to make effective impact investments to accelerate sustainable development in Africa. With a shift in focus from providing aid to investing in sustainable solutions for the region’s social and economic problems, investors can return to their portfolios with a more business-minded outlook that may be more likely to produce both social and financial returns.


Written by Kelly Diggins of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Global Team.

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