A march towards demographic dividend

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BY Frans Makken

Demographic dividend is a term that is increasingly preoccupying discussions among development economists and the donor community in general in Kenya. The term refers to countries with the greatest demographic opportunity for development and those that are ushering in a period in which the working-age population has good health, quality education, decent employment and a lower proportion of young dependents. Smaller numbers of children per household generally lead to larger investments per child, more freedom for women to enter the formal workforce and more household savings for old age. When this happens, the national economic payoff can be substantial, and this is the demographic dividend.

African countries are rightly excited about the prospects of reaping a demographic dividend, based largely on their unrivalled potential of a youthful population. However, whether Africa can reap the benefits of a future demographic dividend will depend on how the continent prioritizes those Sustainable Development Goals that will give the continent a competitive edge through its youth. In Kenya for instance, one study has estimated that the demographic dividend may not happen before 2055.

In most African countries, including Kenya, high birth rates are weighing down on economic growth, as large numbers of under-15 youths need to be supported by a smaller group of workers. Kenya’s fertility rate stands at 3.7 while a rate of 2.5 or less is required to reach the tipping point where the working-age population surpasses the inactive part. Yet, a high working-age population is not the cure-all; the quality of the work force is even more important and how it meets the demands of the market and fits its wider ecosystem.

In my tour of duty, I have over the past four years worked closely with the Kenyan government and non-governmental actors to address some of the challenges, including in the areas of health and food security. The Netherlands strongly believes in the power of partnerships and innovation to ameliorate those bottlenecks.

One of the goals of the Kenyan government, through the UN Development Assistance Framework (2018 – 2022) is to front-load the realization of the demographic dividend by prioritizing strategic investments in the four key pillars of Employment and Entrepreneurship; Education and Skills Development; Health and Wellbeing (including family planning); and Rights, Governance and Youth Empowerment.

In September 2017, The Government of Kenya announced at the United Nations General Assembly the establishment of the SDG Partnership Platform, to realize Kenya’s vision to achieve universal health coverage. The Platform has since received global recognition from the UN as a promising practice to accelerate SDG financing and impact and has become a flagship programme under Kenya’s new UN Development Assistance Framework 2018-2022.

The Platform supported by the Netherlands was established under the leadership of the Government of Kenya, and with support of the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office and key private sector partners such as Royal Philips. The Platform convenes leadership from government, UN, development partners, private sector, philanthropy, civil society, academia, and faith-based organizations and is championing the delivery as one of SDG partnerships which catalyze investments and innovations to drive SDG impacts, as for example in health and well-being (SDG3). The outcomes are visible and appreciable. Healthcare needs are being assessed and primary and community based healthcare is being strengthened in the country.

As the Netherlands is moving from aid to trade, we strongly believe in the contribution of the private sector in achieving the SDGs and investing in the youthful population. In this context, I am pleased to have welcomed a health sector trade mission comprising of leading innovative Dutch companies working on e-health, public health, medical equipment and training seeking partnerships with their Kenyan counterparts. The trade mission took place from 1-3 July and was led by Dr Erik Gerritsen, Dutch Vice Minister for Health who also met government officials to discuss cooperation that would lead to mutually beneficial business deals and better health outcomes in Kenya.

By advancing shared-value partnerships, Kenya will be able to sustainably create more health, education, and employment opportunities for its young people and offer a safety net to many.

Indeed, Kenya is on the way to realizing its demographic dividend; together, we can make the journey to that goal shorter. Kenya can become a blue print for the
rest of Africa.

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