Africa Day in London

I just returned yesterday evening from a brief visit to my old stomping grounds, centered around an "Africa Day" conference at my alma mater, the London Business School on Saturday, May 13. The theme was Africa 2020: A Vision for Empowering an Enterprising People, and the event was simply outstanding and inspirational.

The day itself consisted of opening remarks by Baroness Valerie Amos of the British House of Lords, who is of African origin. Then there were 2 panel discussions focused on entrepreneurship and investment. The final address was given by a Coca-Cola executive named Larry Drake, a black American stationed in Nigeria. Then we were treated to a wonderful reception, featuring the motivational speaker René Carayol, a Brit of Gambian origin.

I have attended many similar events at the London Business School in the past, but this was by far the most lively. It was refreshing to see the participants in such good humor, able to laugh about Africa's corruption and poverty, but at the same time confronting the issue head-on. There was no politically-correct BS at this conference.

I was also delighted to see the consensus decidedly against the foreign aid paradigm that has had mediocre results. The emerging generation of African leaders recognize that investment must be made in human capital to allow the entrepreneurial spirit of people throughout Africa to shine through to its true potential. Indeed there are tremendous business opportunities in Africa - Europe and certainly China realize this, but sadly America is missing the boat (if there even is a boat!)

Here are some memorable quotes and discussion points from the Africa Day conference:

"If Bill Gates had looked only at financial models, he would not be the world's richest man." - George Twumasi, CEO of African Broadcasting Network Holdings, a social enterprise

"...invisible capital..." - an audience member, who humorously chided Nigerian tech entrepreneur Bruce Ayonote about the family connections that enable a select few to raise capital in Africa. Bruce and his team raised a significant sum to start up Suburban (a telecom), on the premise that they would pay it back in 1 year, which they did! The audience member suggested that perhaps without the "invisible capital" Bruce likely possessed, he would not have even raised a small fraction of the start-up funds he and partners managed to obtain. Bruce politely countered by suggesting that it was the skills-set of he and his team that was needed in Nigeria to make any use of the new IT and Communications infrastructure. That is why they succeeded in raising the money and becoming very successful.

"Those Coke bottles are used in riots." - an audience member, while asking Coca-Cola executive Larry Drake why the company chooses glass bottles as its primary delivery mechanism. Drake's talk was humble and moving. Often having an "African-American" address proper Africans can be a recipe for disaster. But Drake was simply amazing, talking about learning from falling down and getting up again, with a passion for development in Africa and making a positive contribution. He is the real deal, not a corporate fake by any means.

"Rich. Struggling. Poor. Subsistence." - Coca-Cola Executive Larry Drake, outlining the 4 classes in Nigeria that his company uses to segment the market.

"When self-belief and humility are in equal measure, we are in a very special place." - René Carayol