Interview: Sean Cairncross

In what ways can Côte d’Ivoire accelerate efforts to diversify its economy?

SEAN CAIRNCROSS: Côte d’Ivoire is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, thanks in part to improved political stability and governance, investment in people and economic opportunities. To accelerate diversified growth, there are two main constraints that need to be addressed. These are improving human capital, particularly through the economic empowerment of women, and facilitating the movement of goods and people. For instance, we are investing approximately $400m in transport and education infrastructure and soft-skills projects. Through these investments, Côte d’Ivoire is quickly becoming a desirable location for employment-intensive industries such as manufacturing and business process outsourcing.

How can the government boost private investment?

CAIRNCROSS: Private sector investment drives sustainable economic growth, and Côte d’Ivoire’s government plays a key role in creating an enabling environment for this. A vital component is ensuring that the private sector can access the qualified, skilled labour force needed in Côte d’Ivoire.

Companies that currently invest in Côte d’Ivoire, or are considering investing, often cite skilled labour shortages as the biggest challenge to their ambitious plans. The shortage of sought-after skills in the workforce largely stems from an education system that requires further investment, particularly in the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) segment.

We encourage a new approach to the TVET system through a public-private partnership (PPP) model. This approach aligns incentives and resources by allowing the private sector to match TVET courses to market demand. Because of its wealth of knowledge and experience, the private sector is best positioned to deliver training and technology to make the Ivorian workforce competitive and attractive to private investment.

What steps can be taken to encourage the economic empowerment of women?

CAIRNCROSS: An economy cannot reach its full potential if women are left out. Data consistently show that strengthening women’s economic opportunities is beneficial to the economy. In recent years, Côte d’Ivoire has pursued a series of major reforms to promote gender equality. For example, in April 2019, with support from the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, we assisted in the establishment of a new unit for gender equality at the Ministry of Education. Low literacy and education completion rates continue to hinder women’s full economic participation, and greater education advocacy for women and girls is needed to expand employment opportunities.

However, more still needs to be done. Côte d’Ivoire must ensure full implementation of the laws passed to support and encourage women’s participation in the economy. In July 2019 the government passed a marriage law supporting women’s equal right to the management of household assets, an important step in bringing attention to gender equality in the home.

To what extent can foreign aid agencies support African countries in tackling pressing challenges?

CAIRNCROSS: Our country-led approach to development has supported African countries as they address fundamental challenges by working closely with government counterparts and key stakeholders, including the private sector, civil society and other donors. The process is data-driven and relies on extensive analysis to determine the right infrastructure and policy reform projects to address economic constraints in sectors such as energy, education and transport.

These projects, however, will not be sustained by foreign assistance alone. We believe that the key to catalysing Côte d’Ivoire’s growth potential lies with private sector collaboration through blended financing, which mobilises private capital for the good of the public.