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Remarks by IMF Director Lagarde at Africa Rising Conference

Speaker: Christine Lagarde
Published May 29, 2014

IMF Director Christine Lagarde gave the keynote speech at the Africa Rising conference in Mozambique on May 29, 2014. She discussed demographic, technological, and environmental challenges to growth, and policy priorities.

Excerpt:

Build people

So, we have the foundations of our building (infrastructure); we have set up the systems to ensure that it functions effectively and efficiently (institutions); now we need to let the people in.

This brings me to my third priority: build people—children, youth, workers, and in particular, women.

Let me be clear: Africa's greatest potential is its people. They are the key for the region to fully capture the dividends from population growth. By some estimates, a one percentage point increase in the working age population can boost GDP growth by 0.5 percentage points. This is huge.

For this to happen, however, "good" jobs need to be created in the private sector. Today, only one in five people in Africa finds work in the formal sector. This must change. With wider access to quality education, healthcare and infrastructure services, it can change.

Similarly, technology can be tapped to extend the reach and access of financial services to millions of people. Here, Kenya's experience offers valuable lessons to the rest of the world on how to empower the poor through financial access.

By combining mobile banking with financial services provision, 75 percent of Kenya's population now has access to financial services. Crucially, it is the poor that have benefited the most from this expansion.

Which brings me to a topic that is close to my heart: women. I know that most of the women in Africa cannot afford not to work. But when they do, they are mostly employed in informal activities. We all know what this means: low productivity, low incomes, low prospects. We also know the constraints: access to education, credit, and markets.

The gains to be made by overcoming these constraints are immense—particularly through girls' education. By some estimates, the economic loss in developing countries from the education gap between girls and boys could be as high as $90 billion a year—almost as much as the infrastructure gap for the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa!

As the old African adage goes: "If you educate a boy, you train a man. If you educate a girl, you train a village."

My bottom line: invest in women. It has a great rate of return—economically and socially for the future.

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