Photo: via World Bank

The working-age population in Africa is expected to grow by 450 million by 2035. In fact, Africa is the only region in the world where the workforce will continue to grow in the coming decades. By 2075, one out of three people of working age will be African.

How can the continent harness this enormous potential to accelerate economic growth and achieve greater prosperity for billions of people?

One answer is human capital which is key to creating and accessing good quality jobs.

Human capital is the health, education, and skills that people accumulate over their lifetime and which allows them to reach their full potential. With quality education and relevant skills, Africa’s young people can contribute to putting the continent on more inclusive and prosperous growth trajectory. This will require political and financial commitment at all levels, and from all stakeholders.

Over the last 20 years, Africa has made tremendous progress. Over 100 million more children in sub-Saharan Africa are in school. Gender parity in primary education has been achieved. And between 2009 and 2021, education spending in the region has almost doubled.

However, Africa continues to battle a learning crisis. Millions of children are out of school, and most of those in school are falling behind on key learning indicators such as reading, writing and basic math. The percentage of 10-year-olds unable to understand a simple text is projected to be approaching 89 percent after the COVID pandemic.

The current education system is at capacity, and the demand will only increase. Africa will represent over 40 percent of the school-age population in low- and middle-income countries by 2050. The population growth presents significant fiscal pressure on governments including on public service delivery, early childhood development interventions, and sustained investment in accessible and quality education for all, especially for women and girls.


Making bold investments in the continent’s young people is a matter of choices and priorities – not destiny. These large number of young, working-age Africans can be a source of growth and stability – if equipped with the necessary health, education, and opportunities to realize their potential. On the other hand, the same cohort could become a source of instability due to unmet aspirations. The choices African countries make today will determine their future.

Now is the time for Africa to invest in its people, in this unique moment in Africa’s demographic history – countered by fiscal pressures and huge needs of the African people. It will require strong country and regional commitment to the development of human capital. Africa’s leaders recognize this and know that greater progress is possible.

Given this time-sensitive window, African Heads of State are convening at the Africa Human Capital Heads of State Summit on July 25-26 in Dar es Salaam to discuss this agenda as a top of the line priority.

African leaders know that they will not be able to deliver change without building political momentum in the region. The summit will be vital for ensuring that countries accelerate investments in people and ensure a better future for all.

Human capital is necessary for people to maximize the opportunities of today and the jobs of tomorrow. Healthy, education, skilled and innovative people are better prepared to take advantage of job opportunities and to create jobs for not only for themselves, but also for others in our rapidly changing world.

Every month, 3.7 million young people enter the work force. The onset of digital technology, climate change, and migration have resulted in both disruptions and opportunities in a rapidly evolving global job market. Recently, COVID-19, climate change, and conflict and have increased unemployment globally, particularly for youth. This risks setting back hard-won gains in human capital and will drag down future job prospects.


While all countries require a skilled workforce and robust job creation, 84 percent of the 5 billion people who make up today’s working age population live in developing countries. Too many of them – 7 out of 10 – work in the low-productivity informal sector, earning little and facing significant risks.

There is an imperative to increase job quality in terms of productivity, earnings, and security – especially for women, youth, and the most vulnerable. These groups represent an untapped reservoir that must be leveraged for economic transformation.

Complementing foundational education and skills development with lifelong up-skilling and re-skilling can build the talent needed by employers and the needs of the self-employed.

Since the Africa Human Capital Plan was launched in 2019, the World Bank’s commitments in human development operations in Africa have reached a historic $34 billion, with $11.5 billion new investments championing women and girls. Much of the funds are delivered through the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), our fund for the poorest countries that provides support to 39 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa – with human capital as one of its special themes. And just in 2023, the World Bank has invested $87 billion globally to support better jobs outcomes, especially for women and youth.

In partnership, several countries have made progress benefitting millions of people from these investments that they have made:

In Tanzania, the Productive Social Safety Net II project has supported over five million Tanzanians through providing job opportunities for their parents and incentives to keep their children in school – and attend health check-ups to strengthen their children’s human capital foundation. The program now covers all villages in the country


The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) major education reforms, supported by a World Bank project, have showcased consistent results: an additional 2.3 million students were enrolled in public primary schools in project provinces, in school year 2021-22 and 58,000 new teachers have been hired.

In Nigeria, Edo state saw an opportunity to further the development of its digital education drive and used WhatsApp, among other platforms, to organize e-classes. Through its EdoBEST initiative, more than 11,000 teachers received rigorous training and 7,000 virtual classrooms were created. 

The Africa Centers of Excellence project (ACEs) is the first large scale regional program in the higher education sector in Africa. It addresses higher-level skills and innovative research requirements for the continent’s priority development sectors. The centers, geared towards international standards, deliver quality training that helps to fulfill labor market demands on the continent.

The Africa Human Capital Heads of State Summit will conclude with commitments from the participating countries to prioritize investments in people, especially on learning, skills and health. It will be essential to work with all stakeholders to ensure there are sufficient resources to fulfill the aspirations and ambitions of Africa’s young people.