The Human Capital Project in Africa: Stories of Progress – World

The Human Capital Project in Sub-Saharan Africa: Stories of Progress

Human capital – the sum of a population’s health, skills, knowledge and experience – represents the largest share of the wealth of countries in the world. It enables everyone to reach their full potential and is increasingly recognized as the main engine of a country’s economic growth.

the World Bank Group Human Capital Project is a global effort to accelerate the accumulation of human capital by encouraging more efficient policies and investments. The project will help countries build their human capital and improve the means of measuring it.

It places particular emphasis on working with countries in sub-Saharan Africa to help them meet their human capital goals. Investing in Africa’s people is essential to ensure the continent’s future prosperity and its full participation in global markets.


To provide a baseline, the World Bank‘s new Human Capital Index focuses on how human capital contributes to the productivity of a country’s next generation of workers. It measures a country’s performance in the building blocks of an economy, including components closely related to the Sustainable Development Goals for health, education and nutrition:

  • Survival: Will children born today survive to school age?

  • The school: How many schools will the children complete and how many will they learn?

  • Health: Will they leave school healthy, ready to continue their education and / or work?

Based on the new index, countries in sub-Saharan Africa saw significant reductions in under-five mortality between 1990 and 2015, but the number of children who died before the age of five, mostly from preventable causes. , such as complications from respiratory infections, diarrhea, or malaria — still stands at around 2.9 million each year.

Countries like Somalia, Chad, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Mali and Nigeria have infant mortality rates of over 100 deaths per 1,000 live births, among the highest in the world (Figure 1).

Large disparities also remain within countries, in particular for access to more complex interventions such as skilled childbirth assistance and treatment of serious illnesses. Disparities in access are often aggravated by the poor quality of health care which often results in shortages in essential drugs and medical equipment, and in the training of frontline health workers.

Investing in education has high returns

Africa has the biggest return to education of any continent, with each additional year of schooling increasing incomes by 11% for boys and 14% for girls. But access and quality issues are important; about 50 million children are out of school at all.

It is essential to carry out the universal basic education agenda, but schooling alone is not enough: learning levels in the region are very low (Figure 2). In some countries, more than 85% of primary (elementary) students cannot read well.

Africa is also the only region in the world where the number of out-of-school adolescents has increased in recent years, in part due to rapid population growth.

Nonetheless, data shows that African countries can improve their human capital. Interventions that have worked for some countries include reorienting education systems through initiatives such as measuring and monitoring student learning outcomes; act on the evidence base of what works for all learners; use cash transfers to promote poor people’s access to education; and develop a sense of urgency among key actors to cope with the necessary changes.

Early childhood nutrition is key

An indicator of chronic malnutrition and child development that is part of the human capital index is childhood stunting, which is measured by the trajectory of a child’s height relative to his or her age. It is an important determinant of the cognitive ability and health of adults, as well as of an individual’s future economic productivity.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest rates of stunting among children (Figure 3). This means that children fall ill more often, miss opportunities to learn, perform less well in school, and grow up economically disadvantaged and more likely to suffer from chronic diseases in adulthood.

Partly due to rapid population growth and modest reductions in stunting, the actual number of stunted children in the region increased by 12 million between 1990 and 2015 and is expected to continue rising if these issues are not resolved. However, a few countries, including some low-income, have reduced the rate of stunting: they include Senegal, Madagascar, Lesotho and Malawi.

Their improvement has been achieved by raising public awareness of what stunting is and by implementing programs with interventions to prevent it, such as promoting breastfeeding and providing micronutrients to pregnant women and children. infants; and providing better access to essential health services, as well as cleaner water and sanitation.


The human capital project aims to support national action plans and facilitate transnational learning. Progress on the ground, however, requires political leadership and action in key areas, such as:

  • Increase public investment in social services.

  • Introduce reforms and innovations to improve delivery service.

  • Engage yourself to equity and inclusiveness.

  • Addressing fertility and gender issues to harness a demographic dividend.

The demographic dividend is the economic growth resulting from a change in the age structure of a country’s population, typically brought about by declining fertility and death rates, and leading to smaller, healthier families with higher levels of education.

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