Wednesday, 22 July 2015 00:00

African Business Safari: Making Business Connections

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The month of June is typically busy with lots of business events before the start of the holiday season and last month was certainly no different.

So when I was invited to the Africa Business Safari –ECOWAS event, I looked forward to the being introduced to business owners from the ECOWAS region of Africa and those wanting to do business in the region.  I was not disappointed.

Whilst social media enables us to create and share content or participate in social networking, it is not a replacement for meeting people in person at events. I'm sure you'd agree that seeing someone face to face deepens the level of interaction and information shared and learnt.

In this post, I am going to share with you what I gleaned from the Africa Business Safari event.

The Africa Business Safari - ECOWAS event was held on Wednesday 3rd June 2015 at the House of Lords and was jointly organised by the Association for African Owned Enterprise(AAOE) - a leading membership organisation representing professional and entrepreneurial Africans in the UK -  and Business in Africa Pays (provides information on what is happening in Africa and bridge the gap by making introductions to businesses in Africa).

Committee Room 4A where the conference was held, provided the grand architecture and ornately designed interiors that provided a stately backdrop for the event.

 

The conference focused on the ECOWAS region - a 15-member regional group of countries in West Africa with presentations from a panel of expert speakers at the event on their specific business sectors. The event was chaired by Washington Kapapiro, Director of AAOE.  

Lord Mohammed Sheikh, Conservative Peer, businessman, academic and philanthropist opened the proceedings with his welcome speech.  

Below is a summary of Lord Sheikh's speech

  • Population of Africa is expected to double in 2050.  Therefore Africa is expected to grow economically and be more competitive.  Many African countries have been members of the much admired 7% club for many years.
  • Africa is improving its investment climate.  Last year African countries were amongst the best for making it easy to do business.  Benin, Ivory Coast, Senegal & Togo are doing extremely well.
  • Since 2005 all African countries have improved conditions for SMEs - which are the backbone for any economy.
  • Effective communication and understanding the needs of the region is key to the growth of the region.
  • UK share commonality of language & laws with Africa which helps to build relationships.
  • Africans in the Diaspora are successful but can do more to facilitate trade between the UK and Africa.

A panel of speakers talked about their businesses in the ECOWAS region.  Below is my summary of the discussion:

  • Chris Pouney- Partner, Nina & Pinta Ltd.
    • Nina & Pinta specialise in corporate travel, training & development and consultancy.
    • Business travel industry is important to an economy and ROI is 10:1.
    • They have conducted research on sub-Sahara Africa and they look at the role of the travel industry and talking about organisations doing business in Africa.  Some of the challenges they found resulting from their research on sub-Sahara are:
      • Infrastructure challenges (e.g. transportation).
      • Payment systems
      • Fear of corruption
      • Nina & Pinta addresses some of the challenges (e.g. University students are not trained in the travel services industries) by educating and training the students.
    • Tourism is well established in East Africa and Southern Africa. Currently, there is a lot of progress in the building of hotels in the ECOWAS nations. This needs to be done in conjunction with the development of the tourism industry as tourism is key to the sustainability of economies.  This is a big opportunity for the region
  • Kofi T Sedalo- Director, SIMNET Ghana Ltd. 
    • SIMNET operates state of the art networks which enables its clients to have real-time access to their transactions in a secure manner. They focus on lottery & sports betting and facilitate payments.
    • Whilst cloud technology exists, mobile payments are in use (particularly in East Africa) and cities like Kigali has ubiquitous WiFi, generally, the continent has technological challenges, such as: with internet connectivity.
    • The region (and continent) needs to implement cloud computing and move towards having a mobile strategy and a maintenance culture.
    • 70% of farmers in Nigeria not in possession of mobile phones despite the fact that sim card ownership is at 3 sim cards per head in Nigeria.
    • The lack of a maintenance culture.
  • Estelle MannSONCAP (Standards Organisation of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Program) coordinator, Intertek
    • Intertek is a partner to the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).  They specialise in facilitation export & shipping specifically in Nigeria
    • The Soncap certification is a mandatory document required by the Nigerian Customs for clearance of the goods.
    • Intertek has a global network of offices who can assist you in meeting the requirements for Certificates of Conformity.
  • John Foster- Africa Editor for Debtwire
    • Debtwire is an intelligence information service for investment banking
    • Challenges - most of which are not unique to ECOWAS nations.
      • Infrastructure needs more development
      • Corruption
      • Rise in the levels of debt
      • Youth unemployment
      • Strength of the dollar will see a reduction in investments
      • Oil is core to development of ECOWAS
      • Whilst a stable region, there is some political instability.
      • Telco & IT is growing and helping trade develop across the region
      • Trade between member states needs to increase and trade across regions.
  • Herman Chinery-Hesse - Director, the SOFTtribe
    • Africa is resource rich and has a young population.  We can make it happen through partnerships.
    • Greatest challenge is that the region faces is misinformation & stereotypes. E.g. Debt problem is not only our problem.  The solution involves creating local partnership - there is a need to understand the culture. It's all about knowledge transfer.
    • SOFTtribe have produced mobile phone based emergency security system which protects your home or business from attack.
  • Adeola Dosunmu- Head of Research, Private Equity Africa
    • Private Equity is about investors wanting to invest and gain equity ownership in companies.
    • Adeola gave a presentation on private equity facts, figures and trends.
    • Amongst the Top 10 deals 2014 were:
      • Helos Towers Africa - Nigeria
      • IHS - Nigeria
      • Jumia – Nigeria
    • The richest investment groups in Africa are the pensions.
    • Remittances figures shows that there is substantial money flows into Africa from Africans in the Diaspora. However, we fail to formalise these funds and there is a need to make these funds more strategic.
    • Key to safeguarding investments made by investors is partnering with local companies. 
  • Evans Amoah-Nyamekya- Chairman, Inspiration & Energy Ltd.
    • In order to ensure sustainability for businesses and the welfare of nations, companies need to integrate social and environmental factors into their business operations
    • Delivering your CSR for the benefit of you and your country. This requires us to have a solid framework for delivering CSR - which must be a core component of the business plan.
    • As gatekeepers of Africa we need to protect our continent. Which then begs the question: “What are we are giving back to Africa? “
    • In Ghana, the following is being done:
      • Otmfuo Osei Tutu II Education Fund to support the development of resources for the improvement of education in Asanteman and in Ghana.
      • Examples of organisations that are embracing CSR are: MTN, Arsenal, SocerEX.
      • HRH Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan - his campaign in this area is awesome.
    • Other examples of individuals and organisations embracing CSR are: HRH Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan, MTN and Arsenal.
    • CSR can be used to attract business and open new doors. Benefits of CSR include:
      • Changing mindset that allows businesses to adopt non-financial gains
      • Providing a triple bottom line - people, planet, profitability
      • It is also beneficial for the following areas in business: Human Resources, Risk Management and brand differentiation.
      • Reduces scrutiny from government
      • Encourages broader supplier relations
      • The opportunities are enormous.  For example, in the areas of: training and infrastructure.

The conference was well attended and I found the event to be most worthwhile.   I gained some valuable insights, information and contacts to enable me to move my initiatives forward.

Joyce Sarpong

Founder and CEO of AfricaOracle

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