Goal 8 of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all 

It’s telling that people all over the world, in consultation with the United Nations, have chosen a goal that specifically addresses the need for economic growth and jobs to alleviate poverty. It is reflective of a broad shift in emphasis to more meaningful and inclusive economic growth across the globe. That growth is not just about expanding national economies but the real emphasis is on ensuring that we reach the most vulnerable people in society.

I am honored to be chairing the United Nations Foundation, Global Entrepreneurship Council and I aim to particularly focus on this opportunity for businesses to demonstrate their role in sustainable development. I have always believed that business can be a powerful force for social good.

I am a strong advocate that Africa’s time is now. With the fastest global population growth projection, and a sizeable small and medium size enterprise sector, accounting for 90% of Sub-Saharan African businesses, goal 8 will have particular impact on Africa.

The scale of the ambition is evident in some of the proposed targets to achieve this goal: boost productivity of economies through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation; encourage formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises including through access to financial services; substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training by 2020.

But how do we hit these targets? On a macro level, technology is one of the main factors that will enable more inclusive economic growth in Africa. The mobile ecosystem is a major driver of economic progress and welfare globally; if deployed appropriately, it has the potential to solve some of Africa’s development challenges. Mobile penetration is already showing promising results, with various reports putting the number at 52% in 2012 and is expected to grow to around 79% by 2020.

A well-known success story is mobile money services across the continent. Sub-Saharan Africa leads the world in the number of active mobile money services, bringing financial services to millions of unbanked populations, while driving economic growth and promoting financial inclusion. According to a GSMA report on the mobile economy in Africa, in 2013 2.4 million jobs were directly supported by the mobile ecosystem in sub-Saharan Africa, with a projection of 3.5 million jobs by 2020.

In the last few years we have seen an explosion of mobile applications designed by Africans to solve practical challenges in their communities and the world. However the potential for the mobile industry to transform African societies will require increased collaboration between all players in the region. If governments and the private sector continue to build the right foundations, the mobile could be a powerful driver for job creation and contribute as much as $300 billion a year to Africa’s GDP by 2025.

On a micro level – to hit these targets, we must factor in the role of small and medium enterprises to drive job creation and economic growth, as well as supporting entrepreneurship. A report by GEM consortium ranked sub-Saharan Africa as having the highest percentage of youth potential entrepreneurs. More has to be done to unlock this potential. Structural barriers such as access to markets, access to finance and mentorship need to be addressed in a real and practical way.

I am glad to see decisive collaborations on this. The Global Agenda Council for Africa and the Global Agenda Council for the Future of Finance decided to create an impact investment fund listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange for young entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs. This fund will go a long way in creating an environment for a favorable and burgeoning SME sector with lasting impacts.

At the Mara Foundation, we created Mara Mentor to address the gap in mentorship many young African entrepreneurs lack. Mara Mentor is an online community that connects ambitious entrepreneurs with experienced and inspiring business leaders. The initiative encourages idea and knowledge sharing among Africa’s most promising young entrepreneurs, inspiring a collaborative approach to business start-up and growth. Amongst our mentors, we have a number of brilliant Young Global Leaders who are doing their part in nurturing young and women entrepreneurs.

As the innovative and entrepreneurial generation, we are wired to take risks and provide creative solutions to solve the challenges in our communities. I encourage leaders and communities all over the world to be bold in achieving this goal. We have to get it right, this time.

Have you read?
5 reasons why we need financial services for the poor
How can Africa support its young innovators?

Author: Ashish J. Thakkar is the Chair of the United Nations Foundation, Global Entrepreneurship Council, and Executive Chairman of Mara Sokoni. He is the author of The Lion Awakes: Adventures in Africa’s Economic Miracle, and a Young Global Leader

Image: Software developers work at the Information Technology Developers Entrepreneurship Accelerator (iDEA) hub in the Yaba district in Lagos June 25, 2015. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye