West Africa

What inequality looks like

West Africa is rich in natural resources, yet the vast abundance of the region has not been used to benefit its people. As a result, West Africa remains among the world's poorest regions, where a tiny segment of the population has unparalleled access to power and wealth while the majority remain impoverished.

Millions of West Africans continue to struggle under the burden of extreme poverty. Unequal opportunities for education, employment, voice, and participation severely limit the horizons of people from poor communities, especially youth and women. Growing unemployment has left record numbers disengaged from the economy, fueling public disenchantment—and demonstrating that reforms to the political process must go hand in hand with economic opportunity.

Confronting inequity to promote change

Against this background, we see ample reason for hope. Over the past decade, elections in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal, and most recently Nigeria have unseated incumbents and strengthened the conviction that governments that fail their people can be voted out. New policies—such as parity laws in Senegal that have increased the representation of women in Parliament to 43 percent—are opening up new opportunities for political engagement. Increasingly and in many sectors, women and young people are leading the drive for inclusion.

We believe there has never been a better or more important time to put youth and women at the center of efforts to address inequality in West Africa—and that inaction will come with significant costs. As political processes become more open, we strive to ensure that all people in the region, particularly those from marginalized communities, are able to connect with networks and acquire the knowledge and skills they need to address the challenges facing their societies.

Thematic Areas in this Region
  • At the national and regional levels, we support research, advocacy, network building, and coordination to promote policies that enhance women’s participation in politics, in roles both elected and appointed. We support, among other inclusive policies, constitutional reform efforts that would open full political participation to people under age 30, who in many countries are presently barred from standing for electoral office. We also support civil society organizations’ efforts to monitor taxation and public revenue processes, budgetary allocations, and expenditures—especially related to issues such as education, health, public works, and other social protections that can improve the circumstances of marginalized youth and women.

  • We support efforts to help communities negotiate openly with and benefit from natural resource extraction and we seek to ensure that these efforts have the full participation of youth and women. We also promote efforts to increase transparency and accountability in related income and expenditures. 

  • We invest in finding interventions that enable more girls and young women to complete high school—a proven and effective way to reduce early marriage and its damaging outcomes. We also support building cross-sector movements that connect our partners’ work on women’s rights and agency with other social justice work in marginalized and vulnerable communities throughout the region. 

  • We support policy changes, system building, and innovations in services and institutions that help young people transition from school to quality employment, further education, and civic engagement. We invest in efforts to help youth develop the skills, experience, and networks they need to thrive, lead, and be agents of change in their communities. An important piece of this is cultivating the next generation of youth leaders for social change on campuses, strengthening their leadership skills, and connecting them with larger movements such as those related to academic unions, labor, and human rights. 

map West Africa
Ford Foundation
PO Box 2368 Marina
Lagos, Nigeria

Grant makers in West Africa

Lagos, Nigeria
Program Officer
Lagos, Nigeria
Program Officer
Lagos, Nigeria

Equals Change Blog

Innocent, Chukwuma, New York 2014-2015. Photo Credit: Simon Luethi ©Ford Foundation.

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