Reflections on the LSE Africa Summit 2016
“Africa’s human capital is its most valuable resource.”
As Her Honour Inonge Wina, the Vice President of Zambia and the first woman to hold the position, uttered these words in her opening keynote, the delegates of the third LSE Africa Summit erupted in applause. An idea had been planted, a realisation dawned and a quietly overarching theme for the day had been set.
The 2016 LSE Africa Summit featured a Research Conference, challenging the conventions in fields of higher education and illicit financial flows, including a thought-provoking panel on social media and its power to cross borders and give a voice to millions in a way policy has so far been unable to. The Business Conference challenged business leaders and striking political figures alike to share their perspective on how to develop Africa’s competitive edge by showcasing and leveraging the resources and success stories it is already so fortunate to possess. Ensuring the sustainability of these models is the key to true long-term globalisation, but the process of identifying the future leaders who will lead the continent beyond investing was on everybody’s minds.
The projections of Africa’s population doubling by 2050 have been well shared and discussed, with the continent holding the dubious honour of being home to a quarter of the world’s people by that time. The continent’s accolade of holding the youngest population in the world (with around 40 percent of Africans aged under 14) will still hold strong with Nigeria estimated to become the third most populated country in the world by this time, surpassing the United States. The glaring potential for Africa to go far beyond “strength in numbers” and harness the power of education, inspiration and collaboration among a generation of change-makers is immense.
Throughout the conference there was a strong focus on using entrepreneurship to achieve this at all levels. Ashish Thakkar, founder of Mara Group and tireless entrepreneur, shared his own version of success – “Success is not about personal wealth, it’s about how many lives you changed for the better”. What better vehicle then to use than entrepreneurship to invest in human capital?
“Success is not about personal wealth, it’s about how many lives you changed for the better”
The final panel of the Summit brought together the ideas, understanding and solutions shared throughout by essentially asking the two simplest questions of all: “Who? And how?” Philanthropy: Investing in Human Capital highlighted the passion that leaders and influencers from all walks of life have in elevating people, especially the youth, by providing the opportunity and platform to succeed.
A rousing opening keynote was given on the topic by His Excellency Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President of Nigeria and founder of the American University of Nigeria, where no matter what course one is taking, Entrepreneurship is compulsory. He also addressed the power of the diaspora; “Why should we export our best and brightest?” Abubakar asked. “We need them in Africa. We need you in Africa.”
“Why should we export our best and brightest? We need them in Africa. We need you in Africa.”
It is no secret that sub-Saharan Africa boasts the highest number of female entrepreneurs on the planet and as Dr Jonathan Leape, Executive Director of the International Growth Centre aptly pointed out, “the benefits of women’s empowerment are higher prosperity across the continent”. Atiku Abubakar would later add, “When you empower a woman, you empower an entire family.” Entrepreneurship is already sustaining a large and increasing number of African families. Uganda, for example, is ranked first globally for having the most entrepreneurs per capita. Almost 30% of the population are entrepreneurs, with 40% of all businesses owned by women.
“The benefits of women’s empowerment are higher prosperity across the continent.”
“For an entrepreneur,” Sangu Delle, founder and CEO of Golden Palm Investments, noted, “Africa is like heaven. There are problems everywhere but every problem is an opportunity.” The thread of this unfailing optimism ran through and characterised this panel, which was deftly led by Okendo Lewis-Gayle, the founder and Chairman of The Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance, giving the room palpable energy and focus. Parminder Vir remarked “I am an African and I believe that no-one but us will develop Africa” and as CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, it is evident that she puts her beliefs into action on a daily basis through the Foundation’s continent-wide Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme.
“For an entrepreneur, Africa is like heaven. There are problems everywhere but every problem is an opportunity.”
The 2016 LSE Africa Summit perfectly demonstrated that across industries, research bases and political lines, Africa’s human capital, be they at home or abroad, hold the key to positioning the continent in a global context, anchoring Africa’s global standing. “Africa’s strength lies in our demographics”, the Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode pointed out, and the growth the continent has experienced over recent years is a clear indicator of this. Through encouraging entrepreneurship through education, impact investment and harnessing the power of the diaspora, who keep Africa’s stories awake and alive while she sleeps, investing in those individuals to become the leaders of tomorrow is ultimately what will drive the continent’s bright future for generations to come.
“If we do this right,” Sangu Delle said into an expectant, hushed silence, “If we succeed… One day our grandchildren will look us in the eye and ask ‘You mean Africa used to be poor?’”
Register to attend the LSE Africa Summit 2017 – Built for Africa: African Solutions to African Issues today! This year’s Summit will be held March 31st – April 1st.