With its 16 member states, and approximately 390 million people, the SADC is a region of vast potential, but also significant challenges. As a 2022 Oxfam study shows, high poverty rates have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to significant job losses. Unemployment levels are unacceptably high. According to a 2023 World Bank report, inequality within the region is also staggering, with a mix of high-income and low-income countries and reports ranking many SADC nations among the most unequal in the world.
Limited access to health services and widespread food and nutrition insecurity pose severe risks. A 2022 SADC report estimated that around 55.7 million people in the SADC region are food-insecure, and that in countries such as Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique up to half of their populations are chronically undernourished.
Educational challenges further complicate the picture. A predominantly young population grapples with high unemployment rates, partially due to poor participation in vocational training and a misalignment between educational programmes and skills needs. Low gross enrolment ratios (GER) in tertiary and vocational education undermine the production of highly qualified graduates essential for economic competitiveness.