Statistics supporting the narrative around Africa’s demographic dividend are well known and often recited. The continent’s population is set to double by 2050 to 2.4 billion. Its under-18 population, already nearing 60% of Africa’s total, could increase by two thirds to reach almost 1 billion by that date.

Considering that nearly 50% of Africans live in cities, seeking housing, jobs and services, this is an urban and demographic time bomb. It is critical for African countries to post higher economic growth rates than their population growth rate in order to boost employment opportunities, reduce poverty and ultimately, avert social crisis.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa can help resolve some of the continent’s most pressing challenges by providing much needed jobs, products and services. The cornerstone of most economies are SMEs, which account for about half of global gross domestic product (GDP) and 60% – 70% of employment.

In the African context, SMEs are critical drivers of economic growth and the long-term sustainability of the continent, making up the lion’s share of enterprises and employing around two thirds of the continent’s formally employed workforce. In South Africa, it is estimated that SMEs provide employment to roughly 47% of the workforce, with their total economic output accounting for around 20% of GDP.

Creating an enabling environment for SMEs to thrive and participate more actively in African economies, particularly in the era of 4IR, is therefore essential for promoting and boosting sustainable and inclusive economic growth, creating employment, nurturing innovation and reducing inequality across the continent.

However, the business environment in most African countries often leaves SMEs burdened with structural hurdles and a lack of strategic resources. This includes limited access to finance, knowledge networks and markets, inadequate education and training, and uncompetitive regulatory frameworks.

While governments need to work harder to provide an environment fit for business, a new breed of home-grown African firms that are globally competitive and locally impactful is gaining momentum, despite the challenging business environment, high risk and political uncertainty.

The rise of African multinationals and the notion of ‘Africapitalism’ presents an interesting link and nuance to business success and development. The most successful firms in Africa have recognised their role in developing society and markets for the future. Purpose-driven business that strives for collective impact has become an integral part of strategy and execution in Africa.

This is a cornerstone of the Johannesburg Business School’s (JBS) soon to be launched MBA – nurturing sustainable business for collective impact and inclusive growth in Africa.

The JBS MBA is grounded in the African context, with a strong global connection. Geared for disruptors and entrepreneurs, beyond the corporate climbers targeted by traditional programmes, development with a direct impact in the community will underpin the programme.

This is reflected in the three areas the MBA will focus on:

‘Self’ provides insight into purpose and self-management.
‘Enterprise’ gives an understanding of what it takes to run a successful and sustainable business.
‘Environment’ looks at how business operates in society.

These focus areas will equip business leaders and entrepreneurs with the knowledge and contextual understanding they require to situate themselves as dynamic forces within the African business landscape.

Many predict that Africa will become a key player in the global economy in the coming decades. Apart from developing and equipping leaders to manage and take advantage of the commercial opportunities that Africa’s growth offers,  the JBS MBA is committed to collective impact through supporting the growth and scaling of home-grown African businesses, as these will be the true drivers of change and progress across the continent.

For more information on the JBS MBA which starts in January 2020, as well as to book to attend one of the MBA Information sessions, visit

Liezl Rees is the Head of the Centre for African Business (CAB) at the Johannesburg Business School, University of Johannesburg.