Creating Opportunity Jared Levinson  | February 13, 2019

Purpose and Prosperity: How 5 U.S. Companies are Closing the Skills Gap in Africa

Already home to nearly 1.2 billion people, Africa’s population is expected double in size by 2050, according to the United Nations. Between 2050 and 2100, it could nearly double again. Notably, the continent’s population is also overwhelmingly young and boasts one of the world’s fastest-growing middle classes.

Combining Africa’s vibrant population with its increasingly bright macroeconomic outlook, it’s no surprise that more U.S. companies are pursuing the continent’s vast potential as they look to maximize investment returns while simultaneously making a positive and lasting social impact on communities in need.

In fact, U.S. businesses made more investments in Africa than businesses from any other country in 2017, according to EY Global’s 2018 Africa Attractiveness report. And many of those investments are as much about social impact as they are about financial and economic opportunity.

In the U.S.-Africa Business Center’s report, Purpose and Prosperity: How U.S. Businesses Are Creating Impact in Africa, Jane Nelson, director of the Corporate Responsibility Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School, outlines the potential mutual benefits to both African host countries and American companies through such foreign direct investment.

“From the perspective of the United States, sustained and mutually accountable relationships between American companies and African governments, businesses, financial institutions, nonprofits, universities, and community organizations can benefit America’s own economic growth, job creation, and national security,” said Nelson. Nelson goes on to explain the vast benefits to the host country may include “tax generation, job creation, technology transfer and adaptation, and infrastructure investment.”

The benefits to the host country include: generating local taxes and income; producing local goods and services, creating local jobs; supporting technology transfer and adaptation; and building physical and institutional infrastructure. But we must not overlook the fact that sustained and mutually accountable relationships between American companies and African governments, businesses, financial institutions, and nonprofits can benefit America’s own economic growth, job creation, and national security, too.

For examples of corporate social responsibility in action, check out these five U.S. companies who are investing in skills transfer and workforce development initiatives across the African continent.

Black & Veatch

Founded in 1915, Black & Veatch has been working with clients in Africa for more than a half century.  The company partners with local government officials on numerous energy infrastructure projects to ensure that local opinions are included in the planning and design. Working with local communities, the company enhances the skills of people on the continent to sustain the success of these critical infrastructure projects. Black & Veatch provides customized training programs that offer both the technical skills needed to support the development of these power generation facilities while also expanding professional skills that aid future projects.


Farmer training has always been a focal point of Cargill’s Cocoa Promise. In partnership with the National Agency for Rural Development Support and the World Agroforestry Centre, Cargill began piloting farmer coaching in Côte d’Ivoire in 2016, and has since trained about 1,250 farmers to become coaches. Each farmer coaches approximately 60 farmers per year. The coaches first visit the farmers and undertake a detailed farm assessment, which is then used to create a bespoke Farm Development Plan.

Through coaching, detailed insights are obtained at the farmer, co-op, and regional levels—which helps Cargill and its partners direct specific training where it is needed most. The one-on-one coaching program in Côte d’Ivoire has so far benefited 62,000 farmers, meaning farmers are developing more productive and professional farms. As a result, cocoa farmers who adopted the actions set out in Farm Development Plans in 2016 have already achieved average yield increases of 49% in their first year. Now, Cargill has begun to implement the same farmer-coaching model in Cameroon.

John Deere

Partnering with TechnoServe, John Deere has been utilizing video training for farmers in rural Africa since 2013. The training allows farmers to receive both a visual and hands on instruction on the skills and knowledge they need to thrive. Concentrated primarily in Kenya and Ghana, the project has benefited over 47,000 people helping them earn an extra $29.9 million in income.

John Deere with TechnoServe contributes to improving food security and poverty reduction outcomes in these communities. The project aims to expand to establishing businesses that sell farming equipment to further aid these farmers that are supporting their communities.

Johnson & Johnson

Nurses and midwives are essential to the health systems across East Africa. They make up roughly 85% of the total health care workforce in the region. Johnson & Johnson aims to ensure that, through local collaboration, aspiring health professionals and leaders receive the proper training and have the necessary skills to teach others.

The company has been partnering with Aga Khan University since 2001 to offer scholarships for nurses and midwives so that they can obtain the necessary education to advance, and remain a vital asset to the country’s health workforce. Johnson & Johnson remains committed to strengthening (if advance is used above) the leadership skills of health professionals on the continent along with the INSEAD Business School by providing a course for primary care leaders to gain the competence and thinking to innovate healthcare in Africa. Thousands of students have taken up on these opportunities provided by Johnson & Johnson and have gone on to help eliminate gaps in healthcare and strengthening health systems in Africa.


Microsoft’s YouthSpark Initiative has been supporting African youth for years, providing the skills they need to help close the skills gap and find job opportunities aligned to their talents. In the past three years, Microsoft has invested $33 million to support over 8 million youth and they hope to sustain this momentum in 2020 by empowering an additional 10 million youth and finding job opportunities for 200,000 young people.

Microsoft collaborates with local communities, nonprofit organizations, schools, businesses, and government to ensure their solutions fit locally identified needs. They have partnered with the African Development Bank’s Jobs for Youth Initiative, and developed other specific partnerships in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

For more examples from Purpose and Prosperity: How U.S. Businesses Are Creating Impact in Africa, tune in to the U.S.-Africa Business Center’s Africa Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Event via Facebook Live on February 14 at 1:00 PM EST. During the forum, the U.S.-Africa Business Center will explore additional ways that U.S. businesses can drive both business success and development impact in Africa.