11/18/2014 02:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Empowering Young Africans With a Voice

For many generations, Africa has been looked upon by people around the globe as one of the world's greatest social problems. Corrupt governments, starving children and the HIV/AIDS epidemic dominated people's perceptions. But times have changed, especially here in Sub-Saharan Africa. While social problems continue to exist, there is a new storyline emerging. One that is full of promise and hope. It's about young people eager to learn, who embrace technology, want to start businesses, and take part in international trade.

This next generation of savvy young Africans also cares about the environment. They have been taught to value charismatic megafauna like the cheetah from a young age, as having these wildlife species ensures tourism, which drives the economy. They also understand the importance of biodiversity in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. This is because many have either visited Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia as part of their basic education or participated in one of CCF's school outreach programs.

Over the past 25 years, more than 350,000 students have been impacted by CCF's Education Programs. It has long been our intention to inspire and train the next generation of African conservation program managers, biologists, geneticists, eco-tourism guides and animal healthcare professionals. We believe that the key to solving Africa's conservation issues lies with this next generation, and that's why it is important to invest our time and resources in teaching them.

CCF was formed in 1990 with a goal of implementing programs to ensure a permanent solution to the cheetah conservation crisis, with the idea that Namibians and Africans in other cheetah range countries step in at some point and take over the reins. If the larger goal is to create a sustainable Sub-Saharan region, Africans must be empowered with a voice in how their natural resources are managed and how their problems are solved, especially when it comes to wildlife and the environment. Providing education and training to the next generation makes this possible.

It is heartening to note that others have embraced this notion, as Investing in the Next Generation was adopted as the theme for the monumental U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held in August. The largest gathering of its kind in history, President Obama brought the heads of state from 50 African nations to Washington, D.C. to explore timely issues, among them food security, climate change, access to electricity, wildlife trafficking, peacekeeping and human rights. A full day was given to a business forum, which focused on strengthening trade and financial ties between the U.S. and Africa. As an estimated quarter of the world's labor force will be African by 2050, providing jobs and making a shared investment in Africa's youth was also a major part of the conversation.

Sub-Saharan Africa today presents one of the world's greatest opportunities.

A week prior to the Summit President Obama held a town hall meeting with 500 members of YALI, the Young Africans Leadership Initiative his administration launched in 2010. These promising young leaders, all under age 35, were in D.C. as part of the inaugural Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, a six-week leadership course. Through YALI, the U.S. is investing in the next generation of African leaders, and has committed significant resources to enhance leadership skills, bolster entrepreneurship, and connect young African leaders with the rest of the world. During the town hall, Obama pledged new investments, including the development of four Regional Leadership Centers in Africa, a vast array of online classes and resources, and seed funding, training, and networking opportunities for young entrepreneurs. These types of investments give young people the leadership skills and confidence necessary to effectively express themselves as they develop into the next generation of entrepreneurs, politicians, academics and professionals, assuring their voices will be heard.

Africa has the youngest and fastest growing population in the world, with approximately 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 - a number expected to increase to 330 million by 2034. In fewer than three generations, 41 percent of the world's youth will be African. With such explosive growth, Africa will add 163 million people to its potential work force between 2010 and 2020, the majority of these people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a direct consequence, the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa is also growing at a much faster pace than the rest of the world. This presents tremendous opportunities to expand trade between Sub-Saharan African nations and the rest of the world.

Imagine what would happen if other world leaders recognized the potential of empowering Africa's youth - the advancements that could be made? Bringing electricity to Sub-Saharan Africa. Developing the region's infrastructure to better support domestic and international trade. Creating relationships between government leaders and businesses that open lines of communication leading to trade. Creating jobs that ensure at least a middle-class lifestyle for future generations. Eliminating once and for all the scourge of wildlife poaching. Securing the long-term survival of endangered species... Imagine if we tapped the intellectual power of Africa's youth to make things better for everyone, rather than treating African nations like poor relations who need a hand out? Such talent and resources must be put to good use to ensure the future of Africa, as well as the other nations of the world who connect with them.

As Namibia's President Hifikepunye Pohamba eloquently stated in addressing the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, "A peaceful and stable Africa is a better and safer trading partner for the United inclusive States and for the rest of the world. A secure and stable Africa is better positioned to harness the continent's vast natural resources and unlock its true development potential, eradicate poverty and bring about shared and inclusive prosperity for the current and next generations. Through prudent and targeted investments in education, health, information communication technology and the empowerment of women and the youth, a new era of sustainable and inclusive prosperity will dawn over Africa."

What does this mean to the cheetah? If African economies are strong and people are living well, they are more likely to care about conservation. If African people are suffering and they are hungry, there is little hope for other creatures. Investing in Africa's youth will increase chances for prosperity and is the best way to ensure the long-term survival for all.