As I am new to the African continent, having recently relocated from the Netherlands to Johannesburg, what an exciting and inspirational couple of months it has been. Attending the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali, Rwanda has been both an absolute highlight, privilege and a great learning experience. Listening to political, economic and industry leaders about the challenges but more importantly, focusing on the opportunities that Africa presents for domestic economies, foreign investments and organisations establishing a new business across the continent has been a three day crash course!
The underlying tone at the WEF to grow local economies and improve the foreign investment landscape, has been strongly fuelled by the need for infrastructure, telecommunications, sustainable energy solutions, government support and transparency, and improved tax structures. The fast pace development of technology and improved accessibility to data has stimulated local young entrepreneurship and startups. I have noticed a strong emphasis from both government and private parties to support, collaborate and invest in those initiatives. When compared to past emerging markets such as Asia and India, Africa shows great potential to boost its economies, prosperity and business growth, through bypassing the traditional growth patterns. Challenging the status quo and the need for taking action is now. When speaking to various delegates, I have come to learn that the WEF on Africa is stimulating exactly that. Already tangible examples are presented of successful partnerships e.g. integrated infrastructure projects, that are positively impacting domestic projects, stimulating jobs and showing return on investments in country.
Whilst attending a breakfast session on Thursday morning, a particular quote was said by one of the panel members, that stuck in my mind and underpins the overall sentiment that resonates across Africa and globally – ‘The fragility of perception of Africa’. With Africa’s high diversity of people and cultures, history of country political instability and economic challenges, the perception of doing business in Africa balances a fragile line between positive and negative sentiment. Far too often the media will focus on the negatives instead of the positives. To change the sentiment and perception of Africa, we all need to shift the focus to the success stories and opportunities, because they are there!
The economic landscape is becoming more stable but remains fragile. The road to a more robust foundation is paved and gaining positive momentum. There is a need for focused leadership and there is a role for everyone to play. The time to act is now.
My key takeaway and positive message is that diversification across African countries is not a challenge but an opportunity to do things different, learn from the past, disrupt the traditional business landscape and to collaborate through new integrated partnerships. This differentiates Africa from other economies and will leap frog economic growth.
What a great continent, what an opportunity and what a great place to be!