A network of young African scholars for sustainable development

Published on 28 November 2018

Image of Seife Ayele
Seife Ayele

Research Fellow

Image of Dominic Glover
Dominic Glover

Research Fellow

Grace Mwaura
Tesfamicheal Wossen

Addressing Africa’s sustainable development challenges, including job creation for the continent’s burgeoning youth population, means preparing young African professionals for future roles as development leaders and change agents. Launching today is the IDS Bulletin on “Youth Employment and the Private Sector in Africa” which contains articles by seven young African scholars belonging to the Matasa Fellows Network.

What is the Matasa Fellows Network?

The Matasa Fellows Network was launched in 2015 and is a joint initiative of the MasterCard Foundation and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). The Matasa fellowships exist to support the professional and personal development of outstanding young African researchers and help them to establish their careers in policy-relevant research and engagement, in their chosen fields. Since 2016, two cohorts of young African researchers have been coached and supported to produce policy-relevant work on the youth employment challenge.

Matasa Fellows are all early-career researchers who are about to complete, or who have recently completed their PhDs. To date, the Matasa Fellows Network has supported two groups of talented young individuals from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The authors of the new IDS Bulletin papers belong to the second cohort. They were selected from a competitive field because of the excellence of their research skills and their commitment to engage in policy-oriented research in Africa.

From research to policy

Competence in research is not enough by itself to ensure that academic knowledge and empirical evidence are communicated to policy makers and mobilised for the benefit of society. The Matasa programme supports early career scholars to develop translational and communication skills that typically are not included in PhD programmes. The Matasa Fellows practise skills in policy analysis, develop their political awareness and their understanding of policymaking processes and power dynamics, and learn to identify key actors and target key messages, through better writing and communication skills.

Each Matasa Fellow develops a policy-oriented research paper as well as a short policy briefing based on their research. Along the way, they learn about the contexts and politics that shape policy processes in Africa and the United Kingdom. To date, the seventeen Matasa Fellows from the first two cohorts have focused on the challenges of youth employment in African countries, which face a ‘youth population bulge’. The newly released set of IDS Bulletin articles focuses particularly on the challenges of job creation and employment in Africa’s private sector.

It includes articles on youth job creation in agribusinesses in Ethiopia; precarious employment in small and medium enterprises in urban Zimbabwe; the casualisation of labour (including many young women) in a successful fruit-processing company in Ghana; the employability of youth within agribusinesses in Kenya and of engineering graduates in Ethiopia’s construction industry; and employment programmes targeting young people in Uganda and ex-combatants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.

Future of young African scholars in development

The work of the Matasa Fellows has attracted a lot of attention and interest. The Matasa articles and policy briefs are frequently downloaded, indicating high demand for these publications. Over 400 talented applicants have applied to join the programme. Matasa Fellows from the first round have gone on to disseminate their research in high-level conferences. For example, three of our fellows presented their research in a panel on ‘Land Rights and Youth Employment in Africa’ at a conference on Land Policy in Africa, organised by the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Development Bank, which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in November 2017.

We expect that the Matasa Fellows will continue to make important contributions to public debates and policy processes in Africa, about youth employment and other sustainable development challenges. Over a longer term, we believe that the Matasa Fellows Network has great potential as a platform and resource, which may continue to help African early-career researchers to build their professional and personal networks. The Matasa Fellows have already created their own channels to share information, collaborate, and support one another, including through social media and chat apps. Imagine the potential of an expanding group of Matasa alumni who continue to collaborate, mentor one another, integrate their knowledge, develop new projects, and communicate with African policy makers, business leaders, journalists, civil society activists, philanthropists and others.

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the global community, the development enterprise changed in its agenda and dynamics. Globalisation and regionalisation mean that development challenges are now recognised as more universal and interconnected than ever before. There will be more opportunities for mutual learning and horizontal cooperation among countries of the global North and global South. Bigger responsibilities and larger opportunities will confront African governments and societies, especially their rising generations of young people.

In this new context, it is important and urgent to support African nations to develop and sustain the indigenous capabilities of the next generation of African research and policy professionals and development leaders. We believe that the Matasa Fellows Network has made a good start and has great potential. In the coming years, we aspire to take the network to the next level.

This blog was written by Dominic Glover and Seife Ayele (IDS Fellows) and Grace Mwaura and Tesfamicheal Wossen (Matasa Fellows).


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