Having registered for my APC only a couple of days before the RICS Africa Summit was due to take place, I had to do my fair share of sweet talking and thanks to my persistent demeanour and one of the other attendees dropping out, I was able to land myself a spot on the guest list.
I conversed with various individuals from the industry while waiting for the first of the presentations to begin and this, for me, was one of the greatest things about attending an event such as this one. You are able to walk up to anyone in the room, introduce yourself and have a conversation that may just leave you thinking about things with a completely new perspective. It doesn’t matter how important or established the other person may be, everyone is so open and willing to engage with you, which is what’s great about aspiring to be a member of an organisation such as RICS.
The first presentation by Kganya Kgare, an emerging markets Economist from Stanlib, painted a very insightful picture of the outlook for the African economy with the use of flow charts that got all the RICS members very excitable (I was previously unaware of this love for flow charts but now I know to clap and cheer when I see one). Even though Kganya took a true economistic stance on the outlook of African emerging markets by highlighting the many challenges that Africa faces, he simultaneously explained that if these challenges are overcome there is a tremendous amount of opportunity and growth in store for Africa. Anthony Lewis, JLL Director Capital Markets SSA, joined Kganya on stage for a brief panel discussion that addressed the strategies required for long-term sustainable investment in Sub-Saharan Africa’s real estate markets.
Of the 3 break-away discussions, I chose to sit in on the discussion about the challenges and solutions in real estate across Sub-Saharan Africa. This discussion was focussed around data, transparency and sustainability. The huge shortage of property related data for emerging markets in Africa was highlighted as something that is highly problematic in terms of attracting foreign investment into the continent. Going hand in hand with this were the problems surrounding the need to combat corruption and improve the transparency of doing business in Africa. Even though it seems unlikely in the short term, the possibility of establishing a central database of shared information in an attempt to increase transparency and combat corruption in Africa for the mutual benefit of the industry as a whole is not as far-fetched as we would have previously believed.
The final topic discussed was one that is very close to my heart – Sustainability and the Green Building Agenda. Many of the comments made at the summit with regards to this topic were focussed on the shared opinion that African countries do not prioritise sustainability and green building because investors do not get their desired return on the increased capital outlay required by developers in order to build with the sustainability agenda in mind. Having attending GBCSA workshops and completed the online course for new-builds, I know that this is simply not true. There is in actual fact a very strong business case for sustainability and green building in terms of the monetary gains to be achieved by ‘going green’ from reduced operating costs, improved tenant retention and the ability to charge premium rentals, its simply silly not to ‘go green’. The CEO of RICS, Sean Thompkins, made a very heartfelt comment where he pointed out that the built environment is responsible for producing 40% of all CO2 emissions and that it is our responsibility as an industry to realign our priorities in order to reduce this statistic regardless of the business case that stands behind the green building agenda. I recall a proverb that I once read which speaks directly to Thompkins’ comment. It reads:-
‘When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, the last stream poisoned and the air is unsafe to breath, only then will we realise that we cannot eat money’.
On a lighter and brighter note, the closing remarks by Wafula Nabutola, the newly appointed Director of RICS Sub-Saharan Africa, sparked excitement in the hearts of many when concluding that although Africa’s emerging markets are facing a number of challenges, the growth prospects are momentous and there is no better place to be in terms of identifying these opportunities, grabbing them with both hands and soaring with them because Africa, as an emerging market, is still rising.