Amb. Sullivan’s Remarks at CDD – Ghana & IREX Youth Employment Breakfast Meeting

CDD – Ghana & IREX

Power Breakfast Meeting on Youth Training and Employment

08:00 Wednesday, June 12

Tang Palace Hotel, Accra

Good morning, everyone. All protocols observed.

Thank you to CDD and IREX for hosting today’s breakfast meeting on youth employment and entrepreneurship. The innovation and tenacity of entrepreneurs have propelled U.S. economic advances. I see that same tenacity and commitment in entrepreneurs throughout Ghana –from the successful businesses we’ve showcased at U.S. Embassy events, to larger corporations, and the many self-employed men and women providing goods and services across the country.

However, today we must ask – what can we do to create an environment that favors entrepreneurship? To create more innovation, more business owners, and more opportunity for youth? To help small businesses grow bigger? No country can thrive unless the youth are a priority, and unless they have the tools and support to create their future.

There is an African proverb that says “even the best cooking pot will not produce food.” To make delicious Jollof requires time, good ingredients, training, and some practice.  It’s the same for our children. It is up to us to create an environment for the youth that develops their skills and encourages creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit, not only for their sake, but also for the good of our communities and our nations.

Without opportunity, chronic unemployment and illegal migration can threaten any country’s development plans.  To quote U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Ambassador Tibor Nagy:

“… a demographic “tsunami” is coming between now and 2050, when the continent will double its population to more than two billion, and the percentage of Africans younger than 25 years of age will surpass 75 percent. These millions of Africans will have high aspirations for employment and a better quality of life –no different from young people anywhere else in the world. Unless we harness the entrepreneurial spirit and dynamism of young Africans and help create jobs and opportunities that will help them thrive in their countries, we will not see the economic development needed to sustain these populations.”

Without the tools to build a constructive future, the potential for innovation can become a magnet for disruption.  This is why the U.S. government’s new Prosper Africa Initiative has prioritized improving the business climate and expanding trade and investment opportunities with our partners across the continent. Because we know that the more business opportunities there are, the more constructively involved the youth can be.

The new Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act created the International Development Finance Corporation (or DFC), Which will introduce innovative financial products in partner countries like Ghana, with an expanded global budget of $60 billion. Lack of access to affordable credit is an obstacle for start-up entrepreneurs.

This is why U.S. agencies like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (or OPIC) provided $100 million in financing to CAL Bank Limited last year to support small- and medium-sized enterprises. And why the U.S. Power Africa team has a “Beyond-the-Grid” group that works with local banks and investors to improve credit access for energy-focused startups. And why the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Power Compact with Ghana aims to transform the energy sector by providing reliable and affordable electricity for households and businesses.

Small Ghanaian businesses have also seen the benefits of expanding trade with the United States, especially through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which was extended through 2025.  Ghanaians have seized the opportunity of duty-free access for eligible products to the U.S. market, with apparel exports to the United States growing over 300 percent since 2014 and almost 70 percent over the past year alone.

This sector directly employs the youth and fosters future entrepreneurship opportunities. Shea processing is another sector in which the U.S. promotes women’s economic empowerment through building connections between Ghanaian suppliers and American importers. We look forward to increasing this type of engagement following the recent passage of the Women’s Entrepreneurship and Economic Empowerment Act.

Here in Ghana, we will launch new initiatives under this framework such as the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (GDP) initiative, announced in Abidjan by White House Advisor Ivanka Trump in April, and the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs (AWE), an educational, mentoring, and capacity building opportunity for women entrepreneurs just starting out, to be launched in Accra later this month. In addition to having access to credit and trade opportunities, a key component of entrepreneurship is having the right information and skills to pursue that next venture.

This is why the U.S. Embassy has fostered partnerships with organizations that share the same vision of how entrepreneurship can revolutionize business models and make Ghana more competitive in the global economy. Young entrepreneurs need spaces where they can connect with other like-minded professionals, which we do through the Young African Leaders Initiative (or YALI).  Since 2010, YALI has enhanced leadership skills, bolstered entrepreneurship, and connected young African leaders with one another. YALI has become a large and dynamic network of youth who are improving transparency and accountability of governments, starting and growing businesses that employ ever-growing numbers of young people, innovating, and, ultimately, serving their communities.

The private sector also has a vital role to play in investing in the youth.  In fact, the American Chamber of Commerce in Ghana recently signed an MOU with the YALI Regional Leadership Center, creating a pipeline for YALI participants to enter companies as interns or employees – opening the door to globally competitive companies and experience.  Separate from AMCHAM and YALI, American company Oracle intends to support 500 Ghanaian start-up companies by providing Oracle Cloud Technology, mentoring, and marketing services through its Global Startup Ecosystem.  Kosmos Energy has supported more than 400 young Ghanaian entrepreneurs bringing innovation to Ghana’s agriculture sector, through the Kosmos Innovation Center Ghana.

These are just a few examples of what the U.S. government and American companies have supported and are currently doing. However, the U.S. government or U.S. businesses cannot do it all, and neither can, nor should, the Ghanaian government. With wider private sector players and other partnerships, Ghana’s youth will have a better chance at creating their own path forward.

I urge ministries to enhance their communication with small business owners and large foreign investors alike – to bridge the gap between industry and policy makers and to understand their challenges.  Because history has also shown us that, when the rules are clear, the sector is transparent, and investors both small and large feel heard, businesses thrive, creating employment and increasing the tax base for domestic revenue mobilization. So the next time anyone asks “and how are the children?” we hope Ghana will be able to say… “they are doing well.”

Thank you.