Initiative for Global Development's Frontier 100 Forum offers Business-Led Solutions to Propel development and economic growth in Africa
The world's leading business leaders operating in Africa convened for three days of exclusive talks to strategize on cross-cutting challenges to propel economic growth and alleviate poverty in Africa at the Initiative for Global Development's Frontier 100 Forum in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Initiative for Global Development (IGD) is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that drives poverty reduction by catalyzing business growth and investment in the developing world, with a focus on Africa. The Frontier 100 Forum, an invitation-only biannual event, precedes the World Economic Forum on Africa, which began on June 3 in Cape Town.
Some 120 CEOs and senior executives from IGD's Frontier Leader Network of leading African and global companies met from May 31 to June 2, to focus on hot sectors in Africa and discuss topics ranging from impact assessment, overcoming logistics constraints, addressing the African skills gap, and developing a standardized approach to development. More than half of IGD Frontier Leaders hail from the African continent.
"We bring the world's leading business leaders together in the U.S. and Africa to identify bold, action-oriented business solutions to overcome the bottlenecks to investments in Africa," said Dr. Mima Nedelcovych, IGD's President & CEO at the opening session. "In the end, investments help to create an environment for inclusive economic growth to flourish and Africa to prosper."
Forum attendees were from leading companies such as Microsoft, Dangote Industries, DHL Express, Africa Finance Corporation, Visa, Illovo, General Electric, Logintek, International Green Structures, SeedCo, Maghreb Industries and Pearson, among others. Officials from the African Development Bank and Afriexim Bank also participated in the forum.
A session on assessing the impact of business and investment on local economic and social development drew attention to the fact that impact studies can not only improve a company's bottom line, but also ensure that local communities are experiencing benefits from businesses in their area.
"Impact studies not only show where businesses are having a positive effect, but also where there can be improvements," said Cheick Oumar-Sylla, ContourGlobal. An impact study conducted by IGD for ContourGlobal, for example, found that the company had a positive impact in their local community; however more engagement with the government could bolster their impact.
The skills gap remains a major impediment to business in Africa. Frontier leaders weighed in on successful skills models to promote a skilled workforce. Noting that there was no uniform way to address skills development, attendees agreed that a company must take a tailored approach to identifying their needs and the skill set of potential employees.
Matt Essieh of EAI Information Systems said his company's software engineering training program in Ghana seeks to improve employee ICT skills as well as strengthen math and English skills for stronger problem solving skills.
Weak transportation links and logistics hubs were raised as obstacles to the competitiveness of African industries. A session on transport and logistics solutions explored how companies are tackling logistics constraints throughout the continent to improve lives and make Africa more competitive.
Maeve Magner, a supply chain expert, cautioned that a one-size-fits-all approach would not work in Africa because logistics issues varied from country to country. "Africa is 54 countries - how to address [logistics] has to be specific to the country and the environment within the country."
Charles Brewer of DHL Express Sub-Saharan Africa focused on the transportation challenges on the continent, where he noted that it can take up 28 days for a truck to cross Dar Es Salem into Rwanda. Brewer said stronger cross border regulations can help alleviate the time constraints of border crossing.
Some attendees called for more government partnerships, while others recommended greater investment in infrastructure or skills development. Overall, attendees agreed that in order for Africa to tap into its economic potential, a stronger logistics system is required.
Creating standardized agreements to reduce the time required to develop sector-focused projects in Africa was discussed at the forum. The standardization of documents for companies and governments in specific sectors, like the energy sector, could potentially cut down negotiation time and get projects up and running faster.
Using Morocco as an example, Ismaïl Douiri of Attijariwafa Bank, stated that although the government greatly benefited from standardized documents, such as the power purchase agreements (PPAs) for the energy sector, trust must be built between the interested parties.
Douiri said all parties need to be actively involved in addressing their specific needs and interests in the agreement. "This creates transparency about the needs of all parties so we are ready to negotiate the details and variables when the time comes," he emphasized.
As African economies grow and foreign investment increases, the Forum also featured a "sous l'arbre" discussion or townhall meeting on bottlenecks that the private sector faces in operating on the continent. The frank conversation focused on four areas: infrastructure and logistics; skills and capacity building; urbanization; and adding value. Business leaders had an opportunity to share experiences, learn what has worked in other regions, and identify areas where group action through IGD could help alleviate impediments.
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