Caribou Digital’s ‘Youth in Digital Africa’ report seeks to inform policy changes for 400 million young Africans




Research and advisory firm, Caribou Digital, in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, has released a new report on African young people and digital technology experiences, titled: ‘Youth in Digital Africa: Our connections. Our choices. Our future’. The report, a compilation of personal narratives by young people across the continent, offers insights on optimising the benefits of technology and identifies five key themes that highlight the interconnectedness of digitalisation in their lives: access, skills, jobs, voice, and choice. The authenticity and amplification of these documented voices is a compelling call on governments and development partners to bridge the digital divide by investing in infrastructure, digital skills training, and youth-inclusive policies to unlock the potential of young people in Africa.

Leveraging its extensive research experience, Caribou Digital conducted a six-month study (July 2022 – January 2023) across seven African countries to explore the impact of digital technology on young lives and inform policy changes to positively shape the future for over 400 million people between the ages of 15 to 35 years old. Youth in Digital Africa combines existing research conducted by the Mastercard Foundation of over 360 reports of firsthand experiences using technology, with a youth panel of 20 individuals from diverse backgrounds (including refugees and people with disabilities) that participated in virtual discussions.

(TOP: Caribou Digital panelists during the release of the report).

Key findings from the report show a concerning gender gap, with young African women lagging in digital technology use. [This is often] due to societal norms, which, in some cases, see family members pressure them to abandon social media. This is compounded by a disproportionate number of women impacted by online bullying, harassment, and body shaming, hindering their online engagement for both social and business purposes.

Young Africans with disabilities voiced their challenges with the high cost of acquiring essential assistive technologies, like screen readers for the visually impaired, and the skills to use them, creating a significant barrier in leveraging digital tools. The story of Papi, a participant in the report from Rwanda, illustrates this in his account. He found someone willing to teach him JAWS, a screen-reading software tool for visually impaired people, but the cost of the lessons (USD$2-3 per hour) was difficult to afford. Assistive technologies can significantly improve the lives of young people with disabilities, as narrated in the report, and without them, they risk being left behind in a world where the use of technologies like the internet is associated with higher well-being.

Commenting on the report, Grace Natabaalo, Research & Insights Manager, Caribou Digital, said: ‘’We are thrilled to launch our latest report, which authentically documents how technology is shaping the lives of young Africans. This report is a collection of voices empowered by the benefits of digital access and marginalised by the significant barriers preventing their full participation in this burgeoning technological age. We view this report and its findings as a statement for Africa, which has the largest youth population in the world; it is crucial that they are not left behind their global peers and are invested in through strong infrastructure, skills training, and inclusive policies. As we enter a new era of Artificial Intelligence (AI), African governments must ensure that young people in Africa are prepared to harness the transformative power of AI.’’

Commenting on the report, Ayo Ojebode, Director, Research Systems Strengthening and Knowledge Mobilization, Mastercard Foundation said: “The Mastercard Foundation envisions a future in which all young people in Africa can access dignified and fulfilling work. Digital technology plays a key role in this mission, with the power to unlock opportunities through network building, access to markets, skill development, and more. We are proud to be a partner of Caribou Digital, which has undertaken this transformative research project and shed critical light on the issues that shape our work. We look forward to seeing the impact their insights and thought leadership will have on systems change in Africa, for and by its young people.”

The report also showcases the empowering potential of digital technologies for young Africans.  It highlights how these tools enable them to connect, build networks, discover opportunities, and access resources and skills training. The report emphasises the critical role digital access played during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns forced many young African businesses to close, but those with internet access were able to pivot online, keeping some afloat. A survey conducted across Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, and Ethiopia revealed that at least 15 percent of young entrepreneurs took their businesses online or increased online sales during the pandemic.

Beyond this immediate impact, digital technologies are transforming learning and work for young Africans. They create new income opportunities, foster greater choice, and pave the way for financial independence. In the report, young people share how they are learning software product design, development, and management to boost employment opportunities for themselves.

The Youth in Digital Africa report champions young Africans by highlighting their use of technology to shape their own futures. While ensuring access to technology is crucial, the report, a collaboration between youth panellists, Caribou Digital, and additional young voices from reviewed literature, stresses the need for governments to invest in infrastructure and skills development. This is especially important for young women, people with disabilities, those in rural areas, and refugees.

Caribou Digital provides fund management, accelerated learning, strategic advisory, research, and impact measurement services. Trusted by leading foundations, commercial partners, and agencies for our deep subject matter expertise in digital transformation and digital development, we support client investments and programs to create more inclusive and environmentally sustainable economies and societies.

The Mastercard Foundation is a registered Canadian charity and one of the largest foundations in the world. It works with visionary organisations to advance education and financial inclusion to enable young people in Africa and Indigenous youth in Canada to access dignified and fulfilling work. Established in 2006 through the generosity of Mastercard when it became a public company, the Foundation is an independent organisation separate from the company, with offices in Toronto, Kigali, Accra, Nairobi, Kampala, Lagos, Dakar, and Addis Ababa. Its policies, operations, and program decisions are determined by the Foundation’s Board of Directors and leadership.

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