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Building Bridges to Young Africa Leaders

Building Bridges to Young Africa Leaders

Guest blog post by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews

The United States understands the importance of creating opportunities for young people to succeed, both in this country and around the world. That is why yesterday, during a town hall with 500 exceptional young people who participated in the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders - President Obama announced the expansion of his Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). At the town hall, President Obama announced that the fellowship, the flagship YALI program, will be renamed the “Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders,” and will be doubled to reach 1,000 participants per year by 2016. Launched in 2014, YALI is a signature effort to support the next generation of African leaders and embodies President Obama’s commitment to invest in the future of Africa. The Washington Fellowship connects young African leaders to leadership training opportunities at some of America’s top universities to help expand their leadership skills and knowledge so they can foster change in their communities and countries.

At the Commerce Department, we are also working closely with young entrepreneurs to help spur economic growth by helping them gain the skills and connections they need to launch new businesses and create jobs in their communities. Entrepreneurship is a cornerstone of the global economy, giving people the power to unlock their economic potential and transform their communities. With the launch of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) initiative, chaired by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, the U.S. government is partnering with 11 prominent American business leaders to mentor the next generation of entrepreneurs. Africa is an area of interest for PAGE efforts. In fact, as part of a trade mission to West Africa this past May, Secretary Pritzker and PAGE member Nina Vaca, CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources, visited the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) and the MEST Incubator program, which provides training, investment and mentoring opportunities for aspiring technology entrepreneurs in Africa. In addition, PAGE members Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution, and Alexa von Tobel, CEO of LearnVest, will be sharing their experiences and expertise on Wednesday on an “Enabling Inclusive Economic Development” plenary session, as part of the fellowship Summit.

The U.S. Partnerships and Initiatives Spurring Economic Growth in Africa

President Obama has called Africa “the world's next great economic success story.” According to the African Development Bank, Africa maintained an average GDP growth rate of 3.9 percent in 2013, exceeding the 3 percent rate for the global economy.  U.S. exports to the continent of Africa have grown 39 percent since 2009, reaching $50.2 billion in 2013. The brightest spot has been U.S. merchandise exports to sub-Saharan Africa, which have increased 58 percent since 2009.

Building on this progress, the Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies are co-hosting the U.S. Africa Business Forum on August 5, a day focused on trade and investment opportunities on the continent. Part of the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit taking place August 4-6, the Forum is part of the Administration’s efforts to explore Africa’s huge economic potential:

  • U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa: In 2012, President Obama announced the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa, a comprehensive policy strategy to address the opportunities and challenges in Africa in a forward-looking way. The Strategy focuses on strengthening democratic institutions; spurring economic growth, trade, and investment; advancing peace and security; and promoting opportunity and development. 
  • Doing Business in Africa: As part of the Strategy, the Department of Commerce launched the Doing Business in Africa Campaign, which has helped U.S. businesses take advantage of the many export and investment opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa. As part of the campaign, Commerce has expanded trade promotion programs tailored toward Africa and dedicated an online Africa business portal directing businesses to federal resources.
  • Commercial Service expansion: To expand Commerce’s human resources footprint in Africa, Secretary Pritzker recently announced the opening of new U.S. Commercial Service offices across the continent. The U.S. Commercial Service helps U.S. businesses start exporting or increase sales to new global markets. By expanding its Commercial Service teams in Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, and Libya, and opening offices in Angola, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Mozambique for the first time, the Department of Commerce hopes to help U.S. businesses find their next customer abroad and create jobs in Africa.
  • Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship: In order to promote entrepreneurship in the United States and around the world, President Obama launched the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship (PAGE) initiative. Chaired by Secretary Pritzker, the PAGE initiative brings together 11 prominent American business leaders to mentor and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs around the world. In May, Secretary Pritzker and PAGE member Nina Vaca, CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources, visited the Meltwater School of Technology in Ghana to encourage start-ups and to gain more insight into the Ghanaian entrepreneurial culture.
  • Trade Africa: Trade Africa is a partnership between the United States and East African Community (EAC) – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The initiative seeks to increase exports from the EAC to the United States by 40 percent, reduce the average time needed to import or export a container from African ports by 15 percent, and decrease by 30 percent the average time a truck takes to transit certain borders. By setting goals for efficiency and production, Trade Africa will increase the ease of doing business on both sides of the Atlantic.
  • Power Africa: To address the lack of access to electricity in Africa, President Obama started Power Africa – an initiative designed to catalyze new financing and investment in energy solutions that will help African nations provide reliable electricity and power to their citizens. To pursue this commitment, the United States has committed $7 billion toward Power Africa and has secured additional private sector commitments worth $14 billion – and already, Power Africa has closed on transactions totaling nearly 3,000 megawatts, with an additional 5,000 megawatts in the planning stages. This partnership with Africa will unleash the growth and potential of every citizen, allowing Africa to continue to flourish – and expand its exporting relationship with the United States.

These efforts are designed to catalyze economic growth in Africa by improving infrastructure, connecting American and African businesses, encouraging exporting, and bringing basic necessities like electricity to millions of Africans.The U.S.-Africa Business Forum will build on these efforts to strengthen trade and investment ties across the Atlantic.

Using Data to Connect Workers & Employers at Career Building Data Jam

Using Data to Connect Workers with Employers at the 21st Century Career Counseling Data Jam

Cross post by Mark Doms, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs

On Friday, I was part of the team from the Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, Office of the Vice President, and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) who joined up with Baltimore’s Morgan State University (MSU) to "data jam" on how to get America’s youth connected to jobs and on the path to rewarding careers.

Labor force participation for America’s youth is at historic lows. Only about 1 in 2 people in their teens and early 20s are working or looking for work. While it is easy to point to increasing college enrollment as a reasonable explanation, the workplace offers the opportunity to gain skills to complement academic, career and technical training. The cost of young people staying out of the labor market is all too real. Failure to join the labor market means reduced financial self-sufficiency, lost opportunities to apply academic skills or gain occupation-specific experience, and acquire more general workplace skills such as teamwork, time management, and problem solving.

The Data Jam brought together entrepreneurs, technology leaders, and policy experts to explore ideas for tools, services, and apps for young job seekers to explore career options, training opportunities, and new industries. Technology can help young people find connections to the labor market; assess academic, career, and technical training information; and, simply learn more about the world of work. The proliferation of labor market and career information from federal and state governments and the private sectors can provide great content and inspiration for new tools and apps. So, it was fitting that MSU, with competitive STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) coursework and state of the art facilities, opened its doors to national technology experts, and regional and federal government leaders to connect young workers with the training and resources they need to identify and seize upon employment opportunities.

My goal in participating in the event was simple: to tell job seekers about available data sets, and offer a call to action to job creators to develop those tools over the coming months. Advancing that goal will require three overarching approaches from all parties in attendance: (1) identify ways to better integrate disparate, but highly relevant data sources that are often siloed at the federal and state levels; (2) build and/or improve tools that are easy and intuitive for the user; and (3) more effectively reach young job seekers where they are on the Internet—the most beautiful site or most effective tool is no good if no one knows it exists.

During the morning session, teams of technology leaders, design and user experience experts, and federal and state policymakers discussed the challenges facing America’s young unemployed population, and then brainstormed ideas for technological solutions. By early afternoon, the teams had refined their ideas and pitched them to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, myself, and the rest of the participants. Nick Sinai, OSTP’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer, concluded the day by soliciting participant commitments to develop mobile apps and online tools that will enable young job seekers to explore career and training options .

The proposals will be further refined and teams will create prototypes to launch at a White House “Datapalooza for Job Seekers” this fall. Stay tuned to learn more about the diverse projects and ideas that came from Friday's jam!