Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Leading from the Frontier - 5th Oxford Africa Business Conference

Catching up on some blogging backlog.... back on the 18th May I attended a  day conference on Africa at the Said Business School in Oxford.  I've attended many events there over the years and this one was up to the usual high standards.

Here are a few notes and thoughts that I captured during the day.

One theme that came up a few times during the day was how we need to be careful not to think of Africa as a single entity but rather as a set of distinct countries.  One session looked at Africa as 3 distinct regions
  • North Africa, seen a lot of political change in the recent years, growing stability.  
  • Tropics - where most growth is currently happening and seeing emergence of significant sized middle class.  
  • Southern Africa - seeing the slowest growth and also has the smaller population size.
Other sessions stressed how Africa is made up of over 50 separate countries.  This provides a great deal of variety and also a lot of challenge as separate licences, agreements are needed in each.  Especially troublesome if you are trying to provide a service across national boundaries.

There is a need for development of physical infrastructure as well as regional cooperation.

The President of Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, addressed the meeting after lunch.  He talked about changes in Rwanda, I was struck most by the number of references to the importance of investment in the people to grow their capabilities and how that then leads to growth and increased success for the country.

In a session on Sustaining Social Impact there was some interesting discussion on the roles of charities and philanthropic money in helping to support growth.  Importance of working in partnership with other organisations so that you create new markets or ideas but don't distort the existing markets.   One interesting idea was a group that provided support for early stage entrepreneurs.  They worked with the local banks so when then had someone apply for a loan but their business wasn't at the point where they could invest they would refer them on to the program.  Having received the support to help develop their business ideas the entrepreneurs would then return to the financial institution hopefully in better shape to receive and capitalise on a loan.

Liked the comment that most companies fail - question we need to ask is what value did they create while they existed - and that value could be learning gain in some form.

We were also shown the rather wonderful video for Radi-Aid  which is designed to make use reflect on our perceptions of Africa.  As they say on the site imagine if everyone in Africa saw the video and this was their only source of information on Norway - what would they think about the country?

I attended the conference because I knew little of African Business and thought this would be a good way to find out more.  Certainly feel I ended the day a little wiser.

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