Nigerian economist calls for funding of 100 million African start-ups by 2035

The year is 2035. Governments all over Africa have adopted a successful Nigerian funding model for youth startups.

Nigeria reported record youth employment and poverty reduction figures since the implementation of the model in the 2020s, prompting African leaders to follow suit. This is Dr. Tony Orji’s vision for Africa in the future.

As a development economist at the University of Nigeria and a member of Future Africa at the University of Pretoria, he sees entrepreneurship as the tool Africa needs to eradicate youth unemployment and poverty.

Youth unemployment is sitting at 50% in sub-Saharan Africa, while poverty affects around 70% of the region. But Orji says that corruption, weak policy, and a lack of access to finance for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) are standing in the way of a turnaround.

“I want to find out how the youth can be empowered through access to finance to start new small or medium-scale industries or enterprises,” he says. He hopes his own evidence-based work will help lay the groundwork for job-creating economic policies in Nigeria and beyond. 

Future Africa is built around the idea of collaboration between research leaders from many different fields, as well as policy-makers, civic society, business and anyone keen to build the Africa we want to live in.

“I am excited about Future Africa because I want to be a great science leader who will contribute immensely in solving the problem of unemployment and poverty in Africa,” says Orji.

He says his work in economics also needs input from researchers in the physical sciences, such as environmentalists and climatologists.

“Climate change cuts across different disciplines as one of the biggest problems currently facing Africa,”  Orjii says. “If the climate is bad, it works against agricultural output; if the people involved in agriculture do not get the required output, it affects productivity and people's income, which contributes to poverty.”

Orji says there are now up to 30 million micro-, small- and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) in Nigeria. “My vision is that this number will more than triple in 2035 to reach 100 million startups! I would love to see that access to finance has been made available to small-scale enterprises,” he says. 

“At that point, poverty would be reduced because people would have what it takes to empower themselves, and to employ other people.”

Currently, youth unemployment stands at 30% in Nigeria, and he ultimately wants to contribute, through research, to bringing this number to below 5%, the natural rate of unemployment. 

The University of Pretoria shares Orji’s dream for the whole of Africa, and already has practical programmes to drive economic development. For example, TuksNovation is a high-tech business incubator that supports postgraduate students and industry to create high-tech business startups and employment opportunities.

Imagine this headline in future: “Nigeria's 2035 youth job boom sees economic policy shift across Africa”. What’s your #ImagineFutureAfrica headline?