Kanayo F. Nwanze (left), president, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); Yonov Frederick Agah, deputy director-general, World Trade Organization (WTO); Susan Mboya, president, The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation; Philip Kiriro, president and chairman, Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF); and Gerardine Mukeshimana, minister of agriculture and animal resources of Rwanda at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda. 

Coca-Cola joined a delegation of more than 1,200 heads of state, CEOs, academics, international organizations, journalists and artists last week in Rwanda for the 26thWorld Economic Forum on Africa. What is arguably Africa’s most influential annual event was themed around “Connecting Africa’s Resources Through Digital Transformation”, exploring timely topics such as partnerships, youth and technology.

I was honored to participate in three days of far-ranging discussions, and here are five highlights from my time in the capital, Kigali, a dynamic and fast-growing city undergoing an inspirational transformation of its own:

1.     Youth Empowerment Comes of Age

With Africa’s population set to double to 2.4 billion people by 2050 (and represent a quarter of the world’s total population), the importance of creating jobs and supporting education for Africa’s youth took center stage. The youth cause was frequently championed by private sector, government and civil society representatives and voiced through the Global Shapers community, a network of young future leaders with a passion for social entrepreneurship. With access to education and entrepreneurship lagging behind other continents, Coca-Cola, a founding partner of the Global Shapers, hosted an interactive event with the African Global Shapers attending WEF Africa and experts from UN Women, TechnoServe and the Digital Opportunity Trust to explore how empowering Africa’s youth and their aspirations provides a clear pathway to growth.

2.     Sustainable Agriculture Plants Seeds of Growth

The agriculture sector today employs more than 65% of Africa’s workforce and represents more than 30% of the continent’s economy. I was invited to participate in a plenary discussion that explored the need for new approaches to food systems that are sustainable, innovative and climate-smart. The session focused on the importance of ensuring agricultural systems are ecologically and economically sustainable so land can provide a good living for future generations, and that farmers can provide healthy and nutritious food for future generations of Africans. This is an area that Coca-Cola is committed to supporting. As well as implementing Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles, I was also able to share more details on Source Africa, a Coca-Cola commitment to building a sustainable, local agricultural supply chain in Africa designed to benefit farmers and economies.

3.     Building Africa’s Resilience From Within

Since independence, African governments have relied on foreign aid to help weather disasters, including famine, disease epidemics such as the Ebola crisis, and natural disasters. Building capacity and resilience will be key to Africa’s ability to manage these issues on its own. Along with the Ministers of Health from Nigeria and Mali, I participated in a discussion which introduced Coca-Cola and our partners' efforts to build Africa’s resilience by strengthening healthcare systems in Africa through innovative partnerships in Project Last Mile, as well as efforts to counter Ebola in 2015, less than a year after West Africa was declared free of the epidemic. With other examples such as UPS and Zipline introducing a trial to deliver blood by drone in Rwanda, it was clear that strong partnerships between government, society and the private sector are essential to overcoming challenges which can and cannot be foreseen.

4.     Technology to Spur 'Fourth Industrial Revolution'

Guest speaker and former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said, “Mobile will be the world’s first universal tech product”, echoing the sentiment of Professor Klaus Schwab who has suggested a digital revolution promises to be a “transformation unlike anything humankind has experienced before”. While only 40% of Africans have a reliable energy supply today, across Africa a Silicon Valley-inspired network is emerging with 3,500 tech startups and growing venture capital funding in Africa. With mobile phones within reach of a growing number of Africans, the opportunity for new technology to innovate and leapfrog other economies is significant. For example, mobile technology is enabling smallholder farmers in Africa to improve their crop yield, and to find the best markets and pricing for their products through buying groups to aggregate their products, enabling them to sell their products on the global marketplace.

5.     It Takes a Village: Partnership Holds Key to Addressing Africa’s Challenges

While looking to an exciting future, the WEF event recognized that overcoming existing stubborn challenges – such as healthcare, youth and women’s economic empowerment, sustainable agriculture value chains, providing universal access to water and sanitation will require a joint effort between the private sector, the public sector and NGOs each with their own role to play. The private sectors investments in innovation provide solutions that can be reapplied in addressing some of Africa’s most pressing issues, while the NGO sector has the technical know how to identify and to find solutions to these issues. The public sector needs to create an enabling environment by investing in infrastructure, and improving ease of doing business including reduction of trade barriers. Rwanda recently waived the need for visa entry for all African countries… making it the ideal choice to bring together leaders from across the continent for valuable Forum discussions.

Susan Mboya is president of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation and group director of women’s economic empowerment for The Coca-Cola Company’s Eurasia & Africa Group.