TIME 100 Talks
August 18, 2020 5:47 AM EDT

The COVID-19 pandemic has crippled much of the global economy, with potentially disastrous impacts for many African nations. But there are signs of hope, too. Fred Swaniker, a Ghanian entrepreneur and leadership expert, says that a generation of young entrepreneurs is already working across the continent to develop new and innovative enterprises in the face of hardship.

“If we reimagine how we live and do business on the continent, we can actually turn this into an opportunity and not a crisis,” Swaniker said during Tuesday’s TIME100 Talks.

While Swaniker recognizes that a global economic recession will make it harder for African countries to grow their economies and create jobs, he believes that the constraints posed by the virus “will drive innovation.” The shift toward online, remote work, for example, could open up new employment opportunities for some of the best-educated Africans, without them needing to leave the continent.

However, innovation needs to be uniquely African to meet the needs of the continent, he said. For instance, Silicon Valley’s model, which prizes the creating of $1-billion “unicorn” startups with vast outside capital that create few jobs, will not be useful on the continent. “In Africa, we need to do it the other way around,” he said.

Successful African entrepreneurs should aim to create business that supply many jobs without a need for large investment capital. “What we need in Africa is not the unicorn, but perhaps a camel,” he said. “Camels are sturdy. They are able to withstand difficult times.”

Tuesday’s TIME100 Talks, which focused on global leadership, also featured 27th Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, actor and U.N. Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador Michelle Yeoh and a performance and special message from Red Velvet – IRENE & SEULGI.

Swaniker, the founder and CEO of the African Leadership Group, has dedicated his career to creating and developing African leaders. He believes fostering leadership for young people is vital to carving a way out of this crisis. Africa is the world’s youngest continent, with 60% of its population under the age of 25. “Developing the next generation of African leaders is one of the most important challenges,” he says. “Africa’s young population is its greatest treasure.”

But, he warns the continent’s demographics could also be a “ticking time bomb” if leaders do not find a way to create opportunity for young people.

“So, what we do in Africa this century will determine where the world goes,” he said. “And that’s why it’s such a critical issue to address.”

This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.

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