Africa: Digital Press Briefing About the U.S. Government Prosper Africa Initiative

Mira Mehta, center, founder of Tomato Jos, celebrates with Nigerian dignitaries at a ceremony for Tomato Jos’ processing facility in Kaduna (Photo courtesy of Tomato Jos)
interview

A digital press conference with Victoria Whitney, COO of the U.S. government’s Prosper Africa Initiative discussing how Prosper Africa is unlocking billions of dollars of U.S. investment across the African continent and share exciting new Prosper Africa announcements from the recent Investing in Africa’s Future conference.

Download or listen to the audio file here.

Moderator:   Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub.  I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion.  Today we are very pleased to be joined by Victoria Whitney, Chief Operating Officer for the U.S. Government’s Prosper Africa Initiative.  Ms. Whitney will discuss how Prosper Africa is unlocking billions of dollars of U.S. investment across the African continent and share exciting new Prosper Africa announcements from the recent Investing in Africa’s Future conference.  Ms. Whitney is joining us from Washington, D.C. 

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Ms. Whitney.  Then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have allotted. 

At any time during the briefing if you would like to ask a question live, please indicate that by clicking on the “raise hand” button and then typing your name, media outlet and location into the “questions and answers” tab.  

Alternatively, you can type your full question directly into the Q&A for me to read to our speaker.  Again, please include your name, media outlet and location when you do so.  If you would like to join the conversation on Twitter, please use the hashtag #AFHubPress and follow us on Twitter @ProsperAfricaUS and @AfricaMediaHub.

As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record.  And with that, I will turn it over to Ms. Whitney for her opening remarks. 

Ms. Whitney:  Thank you, Marissa, and I trust that you’ll interrupt if for any reason you have any difficulty hearing me.  But thank you for the warm welcome, and it really is a pleasure to be here to discuss the U.S. Government Prosper Africa Initiative, looking forward to going through some exciting recent developments, and a bit of a look into what’s ahead.  But I will keep my comments relatively brief to ensure that we really get to hear from all of our journalists on the line today.

I will note I’m grateful to have two of my colleagues with us.  Dave Cohen is based in South Africa, and Victoria Orero based here in Washington.  And both are sort of part of this great Prosper Africa team that is increasing trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa, really by making it easier than ever before for businesses and investors to access this comprehensive package of U.S. Government support services that looks like matchmaking, financing, advisory services, and more, because it’s by connecting those U.S. and African companies with new opportunities that we’re generating those jobs, driving growth, and working towards our goal of true shared prosperity.

I like to think back to when Prosper was first announced because the initiative promised a new way of doing business, a new way that would have the U.S. Government take the burden on itself or bringing resources to business instead of making those businesses, honestly, arduously hunt for them all across the U.S. Government.  Prosper promised to leverage the tools of a brand-new DFC to capitalize on the reauthorization of EXIM Bank, expand USAID’s trade and investment programming, and so much more.

And today, to be able to say that Prosper’s approach is delivering some really significant impact – over the past year directly supporting more than 280 deals to close across more than 30 African countries, for a total value of over $22 billion – and many of those deals included support to small- and medium-sized African businesses, paying extra-close attention to those SMEs.

But you look at the DFC, which just opened for business in January – 8 billion invested across more than 300 projects in Africa.  Or newly reauthorized EXIM.  There’s an additional 8 billion in deals on the books for Africa.  That’s actually the highest total in the agency’s history.  And USAID has a pipeline of investment deals worth $10 billion.  And that’s just a glimpse of a few of those participating agencies.

So for just a bit of context, I’d like to add just a quick look at a few Prosper Africa results for the group today.  I really am fond of a recent DFC-USAID collaboration, where we’re providing about 15 million in financing to Cordaid.  This investment is going to support both small and medium-sized companies and microfinance institutions that are really creating economic opportunity and building more prosperous communities, in this case in West Africa.

And then just last week – very excited about this – we celebrated the launch of the Kenya Pension Fund Investment Consortium, which will help unlock resources for billions of dollars in infrastructure development in Kenya.  And it’s also going to provide an opportunity for greater collaboration between Kenyan and American pension funds as well as other institutional investors.

I do love this point.  I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again:  that if just 1 percent of U.S. pension funds were invested in Africa, that alone would be over $120 billion.  And that’s why Prosper Africa has been working so closely with pension funds and other institutional investors to build up that multi-billion-dollar pipeline.  And in fact, we’re close to closing one billion in U.S. institutional investment in Africa in early 2021.

So I’ll go to just a little bit of what we can expect moving forward.  We’re really focused on rolling out new programming that’s going to build on this momentum and deliver even more impact.  Many may know that just this month the U.S. Government hosted a really incredible U.S.-Africa investment conference where we announced the launch of a new DFC-Prosper Africa investment unit, and that’s going to help drive even more U.S. investment in Africa.  And that new unit is going to work really closely with USAID’s new flagship Prosper Africa trade and investment program, and that program is set to launch in early 2021.

This new continent-wide program is going to provide a really wide range of services – think business consulting and transition facilitation, targeted policy interventions, really the core tenets of the Prosper Africa Initiative – and is expected to deliver billions more dollars in exports and investment and create hundreds of thousands of jobs by 2026.  I really think this new program is going to be a game changer.

Adam Boehler, Prosper Africa’s executive chair as well as CEO of the DFC, he describes it really well in the way that he does.  He said, for years we lacked the type of investment infrastructure to really be on the board.  And when people would sort of say, where is the United States, well, we didn’t have the best answer.  But because of the BUILD Act, because of Prosper Africa, we do have an answer.  We’re saying, we’re new but we’re big time, as he had said, and you’re going to see much, much more from us.  So to learn more and explore the Prosper Africa toolkit, I would encourage folks to go visit ProsperAfrica.DFC.gov.  That’s the initiative’s brand new digital resource center serving as that one-stop shop for investment services and resources across the entire U.S. Government.

And in closing, I’m really pleased to announce something exciting today for all of you that we’re launching: a Prosper Africa virtual deal room, where both businesses and investors can access really actionable information and actively engage on up to 150 active Prosper Africa deals.  So I will also add that the first set of deals will focus specifically on U.S. investment in Africa and export opportunities from the U.S. to Africa, but there will be more coming soon.  So it’s open for registration now, with the first 30 deals going live in the next two weeks.

I think I’ll go ahead and stop there.  I’d really like to thank you, Marissa, and all of those on the line again for the opportunity to connect today.  And I’m mostly really looking forward to your questions and a really productive conversation.

Moderator:  Now, I’m going to go off-script a little bit here because I just got excited listening to you.  So to our participants out there, my goodness.  There’s so much meat and opportunity to learn about what the U.S. Government is doing in a collaborative way to really increase trade and investment in Africa.   

Thank you, Ms. Whitney.  We will now begin this question and answer portion of today’s call.  For those asking questions, please indicate if you would like to ask a question and then type in your name, location, and affiliation.  We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic today’s briefing:  How Prosper Africa is unlocking billions of dollars of U.S. investment across the African continent, and the initiative’s outcomes at the Investing in Africa’s Future conference. 

All right.  Let’s get started.  Our first question, we’re going to go to a question that was sent in to us by Ms. Esther Rose of AllAfrica.com.  Her question is: “How will the U.S. support and work with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement?”  Good question. 

Ms. Whitney:  A really good question, and thanks to the person who submitted it.  Since I arrived at Prosper Africa and preceding my time, the initiative is firmly in support of and very committed to advancing a successful AFCFTA.  And already we’ve really taken an action-oriented approach to that.  Prosper has already facilitated I believe it’s two advisors at this time for the negotiations and are also considering the best placements for additional advisors.  And we know how important that is, because if it’s not an advisor that is going to represent our values and the U.S. way of doing business, it’s going to be that of a strategic competitor.

We have a wonderful ambassador to the AU, and Ambassador Lapenn will continue to connect closely with her and have her advise on what the needs of the negotiations are so that we can be responsive.  And I should – in closing, I will note that while Prosper Africa is an initiative that focuses on facilitating two-way trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa, we do understand the importance of being able to move goods freely across borders when considering doing business in Africa.  So really appreciate the question.

Moderator:  Thank you.  You talked a little bit about Prosper Africa not doing business as usual.  We had one of your colleagues, the CEO of MCC, on just a couple of days ago on a hub call.  And so he talked about the different model.  He’s CEO of this quasi-U.S. Government agency that has a board of directors.  Adam Boehler is the executive chair of Prosper Africa.  We’re really talking about new models here and how the U.S. Government is doing business.  Can you talk a little bit about that difference, and how this is not business as usual for the U.S.? 

Ms. Whitney:  Absolutely.  Thanks, Marissa.  And wonderful to know that you had Sean on, a wonderful supporter of the goals of Prosper Africa and making really substantive contributions.  And part of building on MCC compacts and threshold programs was a promise that Prosper Africa made, and grateful to have such a close partnership with those over at MCC.  But you’re right.  You touch on a thread – it’s very accurate – to have an executive chairman in Adam, for the initiative at the DFC myself and a separate interagency secretariat hosted at USAID.  This is a blending that we’ve really never seen across the U.S. Government.

And furthermore, there is not a single agency that is a owner of the Prosper Africa Initiative.  This is 17 government agencies engaging and coordinating with each other in a way that has never been done before, that new way of doing business that is providing U.S. and African businesses with a comprehensive support package that can only be comprehensive through this new approach.

And what excites me is that Prosper Africa deploys this whole-of-government toolkit and is making it easier for firms to access.  We are in effect that one-stop shop, and it’s supporting trade and investment flows from Africa to the United States and from the U.S. to Africa.  This way we’re not putting it on companies to learn how to navigate Washington in order to do business between the U.S. and Africa.

Moderator:  Now, that’s a great statement, because people have often commented on the confusion of all the different agencies that work.  And this is a great way to combine those efforts.  

Speaking of combining those efforts, deal teams.  So deal teams are still a little nebulous for people who don’t quite understand their function.  Could you talk about the role of these deal teams?  What are they?  How do embassies use them?  And how would potential clients or collaborators for funding, to get access to this funding, how would they use them? 

Ms. Whitney:  All very good questions, and I’ll try to be really targeted and specific in my response, while also remaining brief because I suspect I could go on on this one.  But think of that team at an embassy in every single country that is made up of the myriad of agencies that makes up the Prosper Africa Initiative.  So we have a presence of 17 government agencies sitting around the table talking about deals every single day in Washington, and for the first time, we are putting that infrastructure dedicated at every embassy across Africa.

Now, of course that footprint is going to look different at different embassies.  But you’re going to have everyone’s equities represented so that the analysis of an opportunity, support to an opportunity is receiving that very in-country whole-of-government approach.  And we’ve really laid the groundwork so that now whoever you contact in the U.S. Government, you’re going to reach someone who can quickly and effectively direct you to the right resources, tools, advisors, and provide you with the right support.

And of course our ambassadors are our greatest champions.  That staff at post working with our ambassadors – Ambassador McCarter comes to mind, Ambassador Marks – sitting through a list of opportunities specific to their country and working with their teams and us in Washington, to advance them.  I think it might be helpful to offer a tangible example of what can a deal team do, and then I’ll make sure to close out by responding to, well, how do you access them, and how do you contact them?

But a really good example I’ll turn to is work out of Dakar.  Chicago’s Weldy-Lamont recently won a $100 million grid extension contract in Senegal.  That deal team in Senegal supported Weldy-Lamont’s bid with that whole-of-government approach that I outlined earlier, incorporating the tools from the Department of Commerce, USTDA, USAID, and EXIM.  And with that contract, Weldy-Lamont will provide energy access to more than 300,000 people in Senegal while also supporting 500 American jobs across 14 states in the United States.  So that’s the kind of really synchronized, well-coordinated U.S. Government effort at the embassy that will – that we aim to replicate moving forward and are replicating.

Now, in regards to, well, how do you reach them?  So I promise I’m not avoiding the answer to the question.  But if you come in at any entry point in the U.S. Government, one of the very first things that’s going to take place is we’re going to engage the embassy team in the field and that ambassador.  So you can do so by reaching out to your embassy, and they will connect you.  In addition, you can reach out to ProsperAfrica@USAID.gov.  You could reach out directly to the DFC or to EXIM or to USTDA, who’s going to immediately link up with that in-country team.

And then I am pleased to say that we are working with our colleagues at the State Department to establish direct email addresses and a corresponding contact list for all participating embassies and do expect to have more information on that soon, really in the coming weeks.

Moderator:  I love it.  I love it.  Great information.  Thank you. 

Next we’ll go to Botswana, a question that came in to us from Keletso Thobega of the Botswana Guardian.  The question is: “How do Prosper Africa funds trickle down to communities, particularly marginalized and rural communities?  What capacitation systems are in place to ensure the most deserving people benefit?” 

Ms. Whitney:  Thanks, Marissa, and thanks to that thoughtful question out of Botswana.  It’s an important one.  And the intent of the Prosper Africa Initiative and our work across the U.S. Government is really to advance that goal of shared prosperity that I did reference early on, and that doesn’t happen unless you’re reaching those in rural communities.  And we’re very committed to supporting small- and medium-sized African businesses.  Those SMEs are really the engines of our economies, strong job creators, and a major focus for us.

I’ll get a little bit more specific.  We have tools in that Prosper Africa toolkit dedicated to supporting social enterprises that directly support marginalized and rural communities like USADF and their grant capital, capacity-building assistance, and opportunities specific to African enterprises that serve those marginalized and rural communities.  In addition, you have USAID and DFC that offer a wide range of services that support businesses with a development impact – financing, technical assistance – to help the businesses grow, become investment-ready, find other forms of financing, do matchmaking with potential buyers, attend trade shows, and those are resources that the U.S. Government is providing that otherwise it would be unlikely that those small or medium-size enterprise would have access to.

I can give sort of a good example of this where I really believe that the mission of Prosper Africa, the resources of Prosper Africa are – I’ll use the wording of the question – trickling down to where you really want to see that investment paying off.  A woman, Eugenia Akuete, first started a shea cosmetics company, and she turned to USAID for technical assistance as well as some market intelligence, matchmaking, and networking support.  And then she also received seed capital and technical assistance from USADF, both Prosper Africa leading partners.  And she attended numerous USAID-sponsored training sessions and conferences.  And then this year, with a follow-on grant from USADF, her company is now exporting to over 1,000 Target stores across the U.S. and supporting 10,000 shea pickers in the process.  So I really think that’s impact at work reaching those who need it.  This is just the kind of U.S. Government support package that small African businesses can tap into through the Prosper Africa Initiative.

Moderator:  Thank you for mentioning that example because I think people think a company needs to be the size of Coca-Cola.  It needs to be something that’s humongous and big and already doing exceptionally well in the economy.  But your answer and that wonderful anecdote of the shea growers and passing things to Target in the U.S. is absolutely incredible. 

That leads us to a question that we just received in the Q&A chat from Allana Foster-Finley.  Allana, I’m not exactly sure what media outlet you’re in; you didn’t put that in there.  But I’ll ask your question.  “Can you let us know if the arts – cultural, artisanal design, and fashion sectors are eligible to apply to Prosper Africa?” 

Ms. Whitney:  Absolutely.  I mean, we see great opportunity in the creative sectors.  There’s strong opportunities in the media sector and in creative industries across the entire African continent – media to film, gaming, fashion – and these are areas where U.S. businesses and investors can tap into new high-growth markets in Africa while also bringing really large pools of capital, a commitment to creating those local jobs, and support for the integration of new technologies that really draw on both U.S. and African expertise.  And this is also an area where the U.S. and Africa can build on further strengthening our cultural ties.

So I think it’s an exciting industry, one – a colleague in Washington recently wrote on this.   Now, I think we’ve always been clear that the Prosper Africa Initiative doesn’t bring priority sectors, priority countries.  The initiative is committed to responding to the market, to responding to where businesses want to go.  However, part of what we’re trying to solve for is this sense of perceived risk doing business in Africa, so we are taking the onus on ourselves to provide better information, robust information about opportunities that U.S. firms might not even be considering, and we see the creative sector as one of those sectors.

Moderator:  Thank you.  Next question we’ll go back to our Q&A from Mr. Kevin Kelley of Nation Media out of Kenya: “Please say more about the Kenya Pension Funds Initiative.  How big are the funds’ investments in infrastructure projected to be, and what sort of projects would benefit?”

Ms. Whitney:  Absolutely.  And I’m glad someone did pick up on the pension fund thread because I was fearing I had said it too much.  But if you didn’t pick up on it my comments, this is something that we’re really particularly excited about because of the potential to unlock those really high dollar values, and doing this in other markets besides Kenya as well – so with that for some more specifics on that deal, if he has it available, but a look at sort of what opportunities this work opens up, I’d love to hand the floor to my colleague Dave Cohen for just a few comments in response – additional comments in response to the question.  Over to you, Dave.

Mr. Cohen:  Hey, everyone.  Thanks, Tori, for handing it over.  So the USAID pension work that we’re doing is incredibly exciting because really what it’s doing is it’s not only increasing the capacity of pension funds in countries to better identify and sort of scale their investments locally, but it’s also unlocking – it’s sending market signals to U.S. pension funds that investing – that pension investments in their country makes sense.  Right?  And so the Kenyan Investment Pension Fund Consortium project is going to be investing in some small-scale infrastructure projects.  It’s going other start off in the $15- to $20 million sort of level.  But the idea is that it will eventually scale up and start looking at much larger-scale investments beyond 100 million, even up to several billion dollars.  Right?

So it’s really an effort to try to sort of kick off the – kick off – get pension – get Kenyan pensions comfortable with these types of investments and then scale from there.

Ms. Whitney:  Thanks so much, Dave.  And Marissa, I’ll turn it back to you.  But I just have to commend the incredible team of people that are really in at the technical level facilitating these opportunities in the investment sector, and just the huge results that they’re going to yield.  And so excited about that Kenya announcement that we got to share with the group today.  And more to come.

Moderator:  So we may end up having to bring David – Dave back in here because I want to go back to those pension funds since you’re excited to talk about them.  And I think people sort of – at least on the American side you think pension funds, ugh, that’s outside sort of a scope of someone thinking, and maybe even more so when we talk about developing countries investing in these.  

So we’re going to back to Kevin Kelley out of Kenya’s Nation Media.  The other part of his question was why is it necessary for Prosper Africa and other U.S. agencies to launch this initiative with pension funds?  And couldn’t it be done by the Kenyan pension funds on their own?

Ms. Whitney:  Sure.  I’ll offer a few comments and have Dave continue to speak to his incredible work.  But when I think about what the mandate of Prosper Africa is, to significantly increase two-way trade and investment between the U.S. and Africa using the tools inside the U.S. Government to do that, right – these are U.S. Government valuable taxpayer dollars, their resources going towards important development outcomes and increasing prosperity – our approach is, okay, what are the fastest tools to unlock that, to unlock success and our commitment to do this?  And really, institutional investment and pension funds is the answer.

So we can’t do this on our own.  Our tools are only going to go so far.  But by addressing these barriers to investment, by facilitating increased investment via pension funds, by supporting additional exports from Africa to the United States, we’re knocking on every door that we have.  And Dave, I’ll go ahead and see if you’d like to offer anything additional in response to the question.

Mr. Cohen:  Yes.  So I personally think that this pension work is some of the most exciting and innovative work that the U.S. Government’s doing now in this investment space because it unlocks a pool of capital that globally represents over $70 trillion, right, which is just infathomable [sic] in many ways.  And what’s fascinating about the pension work is that because of current global markets and current demographic shifts, you have low returns on investment in Western markets, right, in Treasury Bills and things like that – the sort of safe, traditional investments – and you have fewer workers paying into pension funds than are drawing down because of, like I said, demographic trends.  Right?

So what pension funds globally really need are higher yielding investments.  They can find those in Africa.  They can find those in emerging markets.  But what we – what the challenge has been is that African pension funds lack the capacity.  They have traditionally invested in those very safe U.S. Treasury Bills or European T-Bill-type investments.  They really don’t have the capacity to be valuing and understanding the risk and how you invest in sort of infrastructure projects and things like that on the ground.  Right?

And on the U.S. side, U.S. pensions aren’t familiar with African markets, right, so they need that partnership with African pensions so that they can identify where the good opportunities are.  And the African pension funds are really benefitting from the technical capacity that the U.S. pension funds bring.  So I mean, it’s really sort of a beautiful matchmaking effort that we’ve put together, and it’s benefitting both sides of the equation enormously.

Moderator:  Incredible.  It sounds like physics and advanced math, but somebody figures it out and understands how to do it.  Thank you so much, Dave.

So we’re going to go right now to Nigeria, to a question we received from Mr. Emeka Eke from Upstreaminsider.  His question is: “Is Prosper Africa open to partnerships with trade and investment organizations that are promoting trades and investments in Africa?”

Ms. Whitney:  Thanks, Marissa, and thanks for the question out of Nigeria.  So I’ll give a broad answer, which is:  We’re interested in exploring all sorts of kinds of different partnerships.  And in this case, I’d be most happy to connect the gentleman who inquired with a direct member of my team –  I actually believe we are familiar with the organization – and to further discuss what partnership, what collaboration could potentially look like in this case with this organization, as well as others.

Moderator:  Thank you.  So we talked about the – sort of the process of Prosper Africa bringing in these 17 U.S. Government agencies into a really new initiative and a collaborative approach.  How do you work to ensure that cohesive strategy?  You keep going back to this two-way refrain that’s really important, but a cohesive strategy that highlights these agencies while focusing on the combined U.S. brand.  How do you do that?

Ms. Whitney:  We do our best, Marissa.  [Laughter.]  It’s a great question.  What I think is special about Prosper Africa and our approach to this initiative is because the goals and mission of what we are working towards are so shared that it is much easier to convene and bring people together than other instances where perhaps there is more disagreement around the ultimate goal or mission.

But Prosper Africa’s real power is in leveraging the capabilities and tools of those 17 different government agencies and departments and making sure that the right marriage of support mechanisms are in place across the U.S. Government, opportunity by opportunity by opportunity.  And this is implemented effectively through consistent engagement and collaboration with the interagency.  All 17 participating agencies understand our shared mission and prioritize our shared efforts.

And through our combined efforts, we have all demonstrated the impact and success that we can and will continue to achieve, and that we wouldn’t be able to achieve if we didn’t do this together.  And thanks to that – I gave the Weldy-Lamont example, right, of that deal team in Dakar coming together in this cohesive way to show that this works.  There are more examples:  a whole-of-government support package was provided to Nebraska’s CR Energy Concepts or CREC, who is building a $190 million renewable energy park in Djibouti.  And again, sort of that synchronized, harmonized effort, and that resulted in what will be the first infrastructure project in Djibouti built by U.S. business.  Ninety percent of the equipment in the plant will be American made and will support 115 million in U.S. exports.  And the park will support Djibouti in the power grid and create more than 100 local jobs.

So, again, I can’t say it’s a perfect process, but what is these days?  We do our very best.  And I think that that effort is proving to be worthwhile and wonderful to do it around such a shared goal and mission.

Moderator:  It’s funny because there’s such a sea change from February until now.  In February I was in Tunisia for sort of this Prosper Africa launch when things were still new.  People were trying to figure out – it’s an initiative.  What have they done – and to see in literally between six to eight months the concrete examples, the amount of money that has flowed, it’s incredible.  It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.  So thank you so much for those really hardcore examples of how Prosper Africa is working.

Ms. Whitney:  I’m grateful for your comments on that, Marissa.  I think it’s fair.  I think it’s fair to acknowledge that Prosper Africa was referenced and discussed with perhaps a certain amount of – lacking clarity in regards to what is this and what does it do and what is it doing?  And I just have to credit the incredible team across the entire U.S. Government, the core Prosper Africa team as well as our colleagues across many of the agencies that we’ve referenced or discussed today, who have really, under incredibly challenging circumstances – obviously, the global pandemic that we’ve navigated has affected our operations, but not in regards to slowing us down.

And I think that when you thought about how important it was to increase two-way trade and investment before COVID, it only became more important when we were navigating the economic impact of this pandemic.  And so just a real testament to the work of our colleagues across the U.S. Government to really, I think, just demonstrate some incredible progress in recent months and really tee up just a big pipeline of opportunity that we will be focused on closing in the coming months.

Moderator:  So the U.S. is not the only game in town and it’s very interesting to see how Prosper Africa is coming in.  How does Prosper Africa compete with the many projects that many African countries have with China?

Ms. Whitney:  That’s a fair question, Marissa, and of course a very relevant one.  It’s been said that in some ways it’s not a competition. We’re not playing the same game.  We’re not playing by the same rules.  And I think what I come back to time and time again – I’ll reference that 1 percent of U.S. pension funds coming at over $120 billion.  Well, that’s more than double China’s so-called commitment to the continent, and that’s with no strings attached.

So Prosper Africa is really demonstrating the power of U.S. capital markets, which bring not only the largest and deepest pools of capital in the world, but also a commitment to local job creation, the highest standards of quality and transparency, and deeply held values in support of economic freedom, sovereignty, and individual rights.  That is not the approach of our competitor.

So I want to reinforce that Prosper Africa’s goals are about strengthening our ties with countries across the African continent and to letting our relationship really evolve from what has primarily been an aid-based focus to a true trade and investment partnership based on equality, dignity, and mutual respect.

Moderator:  So I think we only have time for one more question.  But I want to ask you about what’s important for the media to really know about Prosper Africa, to help audiences understand the significant change that this initiative brings to how the U.S. does business in Africa?

Ms. Whitney:  Thanks, Marissa.  And thanks to all the members of the media that joined today.  That was previously a part of my background, and so to have people telling the story of the impact of what’s being done is so critical to ensure that people are aware and can access these resources that we’re bringing to bear for the first time.  But if I had a message that I wanted the media to hear – well, I hope you’ve listened for the previous 40 minutes, but I will say that we at the U.S. Government see just tremendous opportunity and are capitalizing on that opportunity for greater economic engagement between the U.S. and Africa, and in this case, because our conversation oriented around it and our efforts are focused on it, driving that U.S. investment in Africa in particular.

The U.S. is home to those capital pools, and the biggest in the world.  And we believe that greater U.S. investment in Africa and greater economic engagement between our continents is a win/win.  It’s going to drive economic growth, foster shared prosperity for both the American people and people across the African continent.

And honestly, a core challenge remains that some U.S. companies aren’t seeking out opportunities in Africa because of perceived risk.  We want to take on some of that burden, addressing that perceived risk.  We’re committed to raising awareness about the African markets of today with U.S. businesses and investors.  We want to show that the U.S. Government is prioritizing trade and investment with Africa.  I believe that the incredible U.S.-Africa Investment Conference held just a few weeks ago is a tremendous reflection of that and our commitment to that across the highest levels of the U.S. Government.

And I think I’ll close with just, of course, trade is not a one-way street.  Through Prosper, the U.S. is doubling down on its commitment to a two – a true, excuse me – two-way trade and investment partnership.  So whether you’re an African company looking to attract investment, a U.S. buyer looking to source products from Africa, an African company looking to export to U.S. markets, Prosper Africa has tools that are ready, available, and are eager to support those efforts.

And it was just a real pleasure to be with you today, Marissa, and to speak with all of our journalists on the continent.

Moderator:  Thank you so much.  And I am definitely going to ask you to come back again at some point when there are more deals that we need you to talk about and to discuss as Prosper Africa moves into existing into a year or into a couple of years when we really are starting to see the growth and the seeds of what you all have planted.  It would be great to be able to have you back.

Ms. Whitney:  It would be my pleasure.

Moderator:  Thank you.  That concludes today’s briefing.  I would like to thank Victoria Whitney, Chief Operating Officer for the U.S. Government Prosper Africa Initiative, for speaking to us today, and thank all of our journalists for participating.  

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