Since the World Economic Forum on Africa came to end, I have been reflecting upon many of the ideas and discussions that emerged during the three-day meeting in Addis Ababa.

It has been an inspirational and thought-provoking experience to be in the company of so many innovative thinkers and dynamic individuals intent on driving change for the world and our communities. There was a real sense among participants that Africa is changing.

The empowerment and engagement of youth was a theme that dominated our talks, and I enjoyed contributing to the many discussions about how best to ensure young people have not just the opportunity to develop and prosper, but also have a sense that their voice will be heard and that they have a stake in their communities.

As an Ethiopian from a rural background, I am especially passionate about ensuring the continent’s next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs and thinkers come from all walks of life. Governments and the business sector can play an important role in making that happen and I am confident that many fruitful partnerships will emerge from this year’s Forum.

The support and appreciation for the role of civil society by government and business leaders was especially encouraging. I sensed a widespread understanding of the challenges facing the largely young population of Africa, but also of the potential that could be unlocked by more effective support of civil society.

Translating these hopes into reality is no simple task. I agreed with many of my fellow meeting Co-Chairs who identified challenges of good governance, inequitable wealth distribution, social exclusion and a lack of opportunity as obstacles to prosperity in Africa, but I remain optimistic that change – of the right sort – is coming.

Corporate social responsibility has begun to take root in the continent, but my message to business leaders throughout this Forum has been to put people before profit, and to think more about the kind of investments that will help communities help themselves in a sustainable way.

As I said at the opening plenary, the days of hand-outs and short-term solutions to chronic problems are over. We need to pull together to find innovative ways to change the state of the world.

Many thanks to the Forum for inviting me to Co-Chair this year. It has been an extremely rewarding three days and I look forward to seeing the ideas generated in our discussions translated into action on the ground and contributing to real change for the people of Africa.

Author: Bekele Geleta, Secretary-General, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Geneva.

Pictured: Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) looks on during a signing ceremony in Geneva. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse