At the 2013 Global Social Venture Competition held at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, two African students, Moctar Dembele and Gérard Niyondiko, won the first prize for creating an anti-malarial soap bar. They tested and developed this product at the International Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering in Burkina Faso, a small country in West Africa.
Also called “2iE”, this institute has been turning out topnotch water, energy, environment, and infrastructure engineers in much larger numbers recently, with support from the World Bank and a number of other donors including France. Operating from two campuses in the capital Ouagadougou and in rural Kamboinse, 2iE enrolled nearly 2,000 students from 27 African countries in 2013, comfortably exceeding its original enrollment target.
More importantly, there is demand for these young engineers with world-class skills in both the public and private sectors. 2iE graduates are getting jobs that pay as much as US$ 1,000 a month—and they don’t have to leave Africa to find them. Over ninety percent of 2iE graduates are employed within six months of graduating from the institute. I think this is extremely encouraging, especially given the weak average employment rate among African graduates.
As the video above shows, 2iE students are keen to help their countries develop further. With improvements in water and sanitation, new sources of energy, and climate-smart development being urgent priorities in fast-growing and rapidly urbanizing African countries, training young engineers in these areas is very important indeed.
2iE is providing high-quality education at a reasonable cost to paying students, who would have had to pay three times as much for an equivalent education abroad. Also, as it is now able to admit and house more paying students, it is in a more sustainable position financially.
Across Africa’s economies, the World Bank is supporting efforts to bring higher education more in line with the needs of employers. I’m excited about a new project that we’re preparing, which has received proposals from higher education institutions across West and Central Africa. The idea is to help them become regional centers of excellence in science and technology.
Higher education can be absolutely transformative—not just to the lives and prospects of ambitious young people, but also to Africa’s economic growth and diversification. Today being World Teacher’s Day, we should also recognize the important role of teachers in raising the quality of student learning at all levels of education, from preschool to university.