GVU Brown Bag, Data and Social Mobility in South Africa for Women (Education and Equality)

Mbali Hlongwane

ABSTRACT: There is a growing global consensus that Africa is the youngest and fastest-growing continent in the world. By 2030, it is estimated that over 300 million young people will seek employment in Africa. This demographic boom will push Africa’s workforce to more than a billion people, the largest in the world. Youth employment is key to building prosperity in South Africa. The changing nature of work means that digital skills are at the heart of the question of how to create sustainable youth livelihoods in South Africa. Building digital skills is a daunting task, as it is near impossible to keep up with the pace of change. Indeed, the digital revolution has overthrown the very way that we learn. How, then, do we think about what digital skills to impart, and how best to impart them to secure positive results for the earning potential of young women?

Unemployment in South Africa currently sits at over 29%, the highest in a decade. According to a report published by McKinsey on ‘The future of work in South Africa: Digitisation, productivity and job creation’ in 2019, digitization could result in a net gain of more than 1m jobs by 2030 and could create 1.6m jobs for women – and boost empowerment. Tech-enabled jobs will require higher skills, resulting in demand for an additional 1.7m graduates. To seize the opportunity, action is needed by government, business and individuals. To navigate these labor-market transitions successfully, women will need different skills and more education, mobility to switch jobs easily, and access to technological capabilities that will not only be in demand but can also open up new ways of working and new sources of economic opportunity. Women face persistent challenges on these three dimensions that will be needed to thrive in the automation era; these long-established structural and societal challenges have already slowed women’s progress toward gender equality in work. Digital and internet technologies offer women a way to break down barriers by making reskilling more accessible and enabling flexible working, for instance. Moreover, private and public sector leaders have a huge opportunity to support women as they navigate impending transitions.

A mismatch exists between skills gained at the universities and the requirements of the job market due to the disconnect between the key stakeholders – employers, government, academia, and the students themselves. Millions are under- or unemployed, yet nearly two-thirds of companies report having positions for which they cannot find qualified applicants. Meanwhile, as technology increasingly reshapes the future of work, more than 50% of today’s jobs require highly specialized technical skills, and 77% will require them in less than a decade. In this context, women are most affected.

Intend to address three priorities:

  1. To increase access to digital skills, knowledge and use of emerging technologies for young women in South Africa;
  2. To create or strengthen effective links between digital skills development and labor market demand;
  3. To establish or enable synergies in the skills and labor ecosystem, including with the private sector; facilitate conditions for on-the-job skills transfer.


  1. Economic opportunities of women are improved thanks to the use of digital technologies;
  2. Local digital skills, innovation and technology transfer are stimulated to support the development of economic opportunities for women;
  3. Enabling ecosystem for inclusive innovation and knowledge transfer is developed.

Research will include:

  • Data collection efforts to measure social mobility and equal opportunity, and understand the drivers of these issues;
  • Discussion of how policies can break down barriers to equal opportunity and promote social mobility;
  • Analysis of the role of civil society and the private sector in fostering equal opportunity.

Mbali Hllongwane is a systems engineer, founder and leader, project lead, ecosystem manager, and public speaker. "My personal vision is to drive the economic, innovative, and social development of Africa at large through developing and positioning women to participate in the tech transformation. I believe that you simply can't run a good company or a good country without a woman being involved. Due to the existing gap within the tech sector, I want to ensure that 1 million women in Africa have tech skills to build solutions, start companies, and take up executive roles in tech organizations by 2030 driven by technology, knowledge sharing, integrity, and sustainability."

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Schedule of Brown Bag Speakers Spring 2023