[Investing in Africa]
Tufts Now: “According to the Brookings Institution, 70 percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa are under the age of thirty, and the World Economic Forum projects that by 2050, the population of Africa as a whole will double to 2.5 billion.”
The potential for business investment in Africa is seen by many companies, like Mastercard Foundation, as enormous.
In 2007, a search firm contacted Reeta Roy, F89, with a surprising opportunity: Would she be interested in the top post at the year-old Mastercard Foundation? Roy, a corporate executive in Chicago, had never heard of the Toronto-based foundation, and its mission—to alleviate poverty by advancing education and microfinance—seemed unnervingly broad. Besides, finance wasn’t her specialty.
Still, she was intrigued. She would be the foundation’s fourth full-time employee. She would build the organization and its programs from the ground up.
She took the job.
“I love, love, love inventing, thinking about what hasn’t been done before, and looking at problems afresh,” Roy said.
And that’s just what Mastercard Foundation allowed her to do. Established in 2006 with 10 percent of the proceeds from Mastercard International’s initial public offering, the organization when she joined it was little more than a large pool of money—some $1.2 billion—and a recently named board of directors that was independent of Mastercard itself.
Roy, whose previous role as vice president of global citizenship and policy at health-care giant Abbott included leading its small corporate foundation, found herself faced with a daunting question: How could a fledgling foundation with outsized ambitions have the greatest and most sustainable impact?
She dove in, immersing herself in microfinance and logging thousands of miles of international travel. Leaders at long-established foundations, corporations, banks, and non-governmental organizations shared their knowledge. In 2009, a year after she arrived, she announced that the foundation would focus its efforts on Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa.
The continent has often been defined by deficits such as poverty, but Roy and her board saw enormous potential. The private economy was small but growing, and a cohort of entrepreneurs was emerging. And while other parts of the world were aging, Africa was getting more youthful.
“This is a young continent,” Roy said. “The International Monetary Fund estimates that within fifteen years, there will be more young people entering Africa’s workforce annually than in the rest of the world combined.”
According to the Brookings Institution, 70 percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa are under the age of thirty, and the World Economic Forum projects that by 2050, the population of Africa as a whole will double to 2.5 billion.
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