By Naser Al Wasmi, NYU Abu Dhabi Public Affairs
It is impossible to think about the future of humanity without considering Africa. The fastest growing continent is projected to become home to the majority of young people on earth in the next 10 years. But how can economies on this dynamic continent address the needs of a growing young population? How will African governments engage in their dreams for a brighter future?
This is at the heart of Morgan Hardy’s research. As an assistant professor of economics at NYU Abu Dhabi, Hardy conducts research in African countries to better understand their transition into more developed economies and the impact that move has on individuals and industries as a whole.
“If we think about the major problems we as a human race will face in the near future, finding ways to support the rapidly growing African population is critical. Most of those coming of age in Africa have poor access to health and education, without jobs and well-functioning markets to provide them with the livelihood we all deserve. We need to think of immediate ways to sustain this rapid population growth. Failure to do so will inevitably result in disaster…famines, conflicts, and uncontrollable migration.”
Hardy works closely with African policy makers, providing insights to help improve upon programs aimed at aiding this transition. In a recently launched project in Ethiopia, she's studying the impacts of a government-sponsored push toward industrialization. She’s partnering with the government to research rural women, their households, and their communities, as they migrate from agrarian Ethiopia to the city and begin work on the factory line. The evidence provided by her study will aid policy makers in immediate decisions concerning the details and scale-up of industrial policy in Africa.
Ethiopia is one of the first African countries to attempt this industrial transition. In the bulk of the African context, outside of agriculture, the biggest employer is the single-person firm. Although a few owners truly want to grow their business large, most owners operate tiny firms as their only employment option. Historically, these “subsistence entrepreneurs” are absorbed by larger, often multinational firms entering the market as countries develop. “But why can’t those few ‘born entrepreneurs’ hire their neighbors? Why must it be multinationals and factory lines?”
In a recent project launched with Seongyoon Kim, an undergraduate student at NYUAD, she is asking exactly this. They are collecting data from Ghana’s garment making industry, primarily populated by these single-person firms, asking owners directly about their willingness to hire or be hired by other firm owners in their area.
“The question is, do African countries just get in the back of the line? I wonder if there’s another model. Ghana looks a lot like what Ireland looked like in the 1980s. They’re an educated, English-speaking population with way too many college degrees and no jobs."
Hardy said that transitional economies go through phases. It happened with South Korea, as it went from a manufacturing country, with low international perception of its products, to hosting some of the most tech-savvy industries. This phenomenon happened with Japan before South Korea, and is currently happening with China.
“The question is, do African countries just get in the back of the line? I wonder if there’s another model. Ghana looks a lot like what Ireland looked like in the 1980s. They’re an educated, English-speaking population with way too many college degrees and no jobs. That’s what I think about when I think of Ghana. Ireland got onto the tech boom, so what if Ghana did the same? They don’t have to just get in line. Research like ours, aimed at understanding barriers to the growth of these tiny, Ghanaian-owned firms could help Ghana to form their own line.”