In January, I was at the World Economic Forum in Davos as a Global Shaper representing Ethiopia and the Addis Hub. This meant a very rare and unique opportunity to meet and share experiences with amazing young people from all corners of the world, with impeccable achievements ranging from leading corporations to leading revolutions. It also meant unlimited access to more than 2500 corporate, political and civil society leaders that were gathered in Davos.
While in Davos, out of the hundreds of sessions, I attended four sessions on Africa. Surprisingly, the usual grim and gloomy topics of poverty, famine, drought, food insecurity, corruption,.. etc were not on the agenda. Nor were Bono or Bob Geldof leading the discussions. All the sessions were exclusively looking at the business and investment opportunities in Africa, with themes such as “Africa’s Frontier Markets”, “Africa: from Transition to Transformation”, “The New Context for Africa”, and “Climate Sustainability”. Five African heads of States, the largest in Davos history, had made their way to make a collective case for Africa. The conversations were not about aid, rather about economic policies, business models, and investment opportunities.
It was indeed refreshing to witness a change in the dominant narrative of Africa, at least among the political and corporate elites, as Africa the “forgotten and dark continent” to Africa – a destination of opportunities.
This week, Addis Ababa will host the World Economic Forum Regional meeting on Africa. World leaders and corporate executives are expected to grace Addis with their presence.
With the stable economic growth that the continent has achieved in the past decade, African countries and their leaders have started to use different rules of engagement with partners like China and India. Nowadays, the dialogue between Africa and the rest of the world is along the lines of doing business with specific returns for both sides. Africa is now a continent that is looking for partners not donors.
From the perspective of the corporate world, and a world that is increasingly becoming socially and environmentally conscious, investors are searching for business models that are both lucrative and socially rewarding. Driven by the crisis in the global financial system and China being the sole beneficiary of African opportunities, there is a growing interest from Western countries to do business in Africa using a business model that promises success and significance. Investors are on the lookout for business opportunities with higher returns not just in profit-terms but also the impact on society and the environment.
Africa offers just that.
It is a continent that not only has the highest return in agriculture, mining and livestock but also a place where investment in infrastructure and industries potentially offers millions of people the opportunity to go to school and save millions more from dying of hunger and preventable diseases.
The WEF meeting in Addis Ababa will be one of those rare occasions where policy makers, corporate big-wigs, decision-makers, civil society leaders and business communities will all be in one room talking business. This is the time to exploit the current global business dynamics to lure investors as well as removing the hungry poster child and rebranding Africa. It is also an opportunity for us to contribute and influence global economic conversations, design our own strategies for innovation and new models of transformation using our own tools and resources. This is an opportunity to bring solutions to our own problems, in a way that benefits our continent and our people.
It is exciting that investors, corporate heads, civil society leaders and politicians will get to experience the real story of Africa, one that is rich, diverse, and resourceful with abundant natural resources and most importantly, an active and productive workforce. In Addis, they will also get to enjoy a beautiful tropical weather.
Addis Hub is looking forward to welcome a big group of shapers from all over the continent who will be participating in the forum. This is also a good opportunity for shapers to learn from each other and engage with high level policy and decision makers in influencing the future that is Africa. This is an exciting time to be an African working in Africa.
As my friend Simi (Salewa Fajemirokun), a Global Shaper from Nigeria rightly said:
“When History is being made, the participants sometimes do not recognize it. When History is being made, it at times happens unknowingly and can be easily passed off as an ordinary affair initially. All in all, it is incumbent on the partakers of history to recognize the crystal moment that fate has brought upon them, to harness that moment and provide the opportunity for it to have a lifetime effect.”
We know. We are ready. Addis is ready. Let’s do it.
Mekdes Mezgebu Medhane is a Programme Officer at the United Nations Development Fund and a Global Shaper from the Addis Ababa hub. She can be reached on Twitter @Mekmz
Photo Credit: Mekdes Mezgebu Medhane