As a leader of a major foundation that focuses on Africa, I’m often asked to describe how we envision the continent’s future.  Predicting anything is always hazardous.  But one promising development is taking hold – the emergence of an imaginative and proud community of African philanthropists, as exemplified in the first meeting of the African Philanthropy Forum in Addis Ababa later this month.

Philanthropy is not new to African societies. Reciprocity and giving are age-old practices that manifest regardless of socio-economic status.  It is part of the currency of how communities and societies function. Even if it seems that few formal African foundations exist, it is worth noting that African citizens in the Diaspora remit more money – some $52 billion each year – than all other donors combined.

Philanthropy, however, has always been about more than giving money. In North America, philanthropic organizations have driven advancements in health, education and social equity. Today, Africa’s entrepreneurs and philanthropists have the resources, networks and opportunities to spur greater levels of social and economic change, beyond what cash-strapped governments or donors could do on their own.

Achieving this progress requires urgent and sustained attention. The art of philanthropy requires keeping our egos in check and a relentless focus on the public good.  It calls for an insatiable curiosity, a willingness to listen and learn, the capacity to collaborate, and rigor and discipline in evaluation.

The MasterCard Foundation is putting these principles to work.  We are deeply passionate about ensuring that Africa’s young people are connected to the continent’s economic potential.

We started with a simple, but challenging goal: to enable more young men and women to find jobs or create their own.  The experiences of governments, higher education institutions, companies, and donors have shown how difficult this can be.  The informal economy, which dominates in Sub-Saharan Africa, makes it difficult to understand where opportunities exist.  Rather, what we see are the vast numbers of young people who are either unemployed or underemployed.  Training programs have often led to dead-ends because the training was not linked to sectors with jobs. Entrepreneurship training activities have failed to address the need for capital and on-going mentoring. For young people these experiences lead to a sense of despair and mistrust in institutions.  We know we have to do better.

We looked at data and learning emerging from our $177 million portfolio of projects that have tried to connect young people to skills and jobs.  We saw the best chance of success in approaches combining market-relevant skills training, access to financial services, and activities that build self-confidence and adaptability skills.

We also needed to hear directly from young men and women. Through our Youth Think Tank, we consulted with young people who had experienced one of our programs and asked them to document their experiences in running a family farm or starting a business. We also consulted government, civil society leaders and donors about how to optimize different initiatives and what sectors of the economy had the most potential for growth.

We see that a collaborative, holistic approach among various actors is needed in order to achieve change. Our request for proposals under our Economic Opportunities for Youth strategy was recently unveiled.  Through it, diverse organizations will be coming together so that more young people can get the skills, confidence and capital they need to become more economically empowered.  There is a tremendous opportunity to generate new insights so that collectively we can solve these stubborn problems.

Expanding our definition of collaborators will be key. Recently we held a stakeholder meeting in Uganda.  It was a proud moment for us when Arnest Sebbumba, a 25 year-old Ugandan farmer and entrepreneur, and a MasterCard Foundation Youth Think Tank member, stood up and asked attendees to give him feedback. Arnest is fellow collaborator who is invested, as we are, in creating opportunities for young people.

Through new gatherings like the African Philanthropy Forum, the desire to work together is taking root in tangible ways.  Giving life to these intentions to create opportunities for young people will require looking beyond our individual experiences.  If we remain focused on our ultimate vision – to ensure that  Africa’s coming changes result in better lives for its people – then we will be building a truly lasting legacy.