In 1998, Nelson Mandela aptly identified Africa as the last major untapped market. As his successor South African President Thabo Mbeki, in partnership with other African leaders, prepares Africa’s “Marshall Plan” for economic resurgence, Harvard Business School’s Africa Business Club (ABC) hosted the 3rd Annual Africa Business Conference from March 23-24. The conference, one of the largest events of its kind, brought together over 500 attendees, including current and prospective Harvard MBA students, students from other MBA programs, HBS Alumni, corporate sponsors, business, political and community leaders, and educators from around the world.
The theme of the conference was “Entrepreneurial Ventures in Africa: Creating, Growing, and Running the African Company.” Through keynote speeches, interactive panel discussions, case discussions, and several other activities, participants discussed entrepreneurial opportunities, and the political, economic, and social initiatives required to encourage entrepreneurship, and offered guidance to entrepreneurs. The conference provided attendees with a broad view of the risks, rewards, and opportunities for starting a company in Africa, and served as an important opportunity to network with like-minded individuals. Last year’s conference, “Africa In The New Millennium: Invest In The Future,” focused on current investment and business opportunities in Africa and the necessary policy initiatives required to attract continued investment.
The HBS Africa Business Conference was born out of concern for Africa’s loss of intellectual capital, lack of direct investment, weak infrastructure, and institutions to support businesses and entrepreneurs. Despite these obstacles and like Mandela, participants shared a deep conviction in Africa’s future potential. As the winds of democracy spread like wildfire across the continent, hitherto inaccessible markets are opening up to create vast opportunities for business, economic, and social development. What do the Information Age and Internet revolution mean for Africa’s development? How can Africa prepare for and benefit from the globalization of the world economy? As the AIDS epidemic significantly reduces the average life expectancy, how can Africa harness its vast resources for sustainable development? Experts and participants, committed to Africa’s development, addressed these questions and many more at this year’s conference.
This year’s conference was unique in several ways. The quality and depth of experience of speakers was simply amazing, thanks to the tireless effort of Beth Shiferaw (OB) and Tebogo Skwambane (OC), the speaker committee chairs. This year also witnessed the debut of a case discussion during the conference. HBS Professor Walter Kuemmerle led a discussion of the HBS case “Capital Alliance Private Equity: Creating a Private Equity Leader in Nigeria” to showcase the world-famous HBS teaching style. The 100 participants in the case discussion received the case a few days before the conference, resulting in a high quality class discussion.
One of the highlights of this year’s conference was the Les Nubians concert. Founded by two sisters from Bordeaux, France, inspired by the conscious rap of Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Arrested Development, as well as the smoother but no less exhilarating sounds of Soul II Soul and Des’ree, Les Nubians are a new breed of Afropean-styled hip-hop. And of course, we used the conference to proudly show off Spangler.
The conference received rave reviews from participants and by any standard, it was hugely successful. This would not have been possible, however, without the hard work and effort of members of the conference committee, support from our corporate sponsors (thanks to Pete Kihara, OB), keynote speakers, panelists, and moderators, including HBS Professors Debora Spar and Robert Kennedy. As conference co-chairs, we are indebted to them all. The level of energy and enthusiasm with which participants left will hopefully lead them into creating, growing, and running African companies as a positive step towards Africa’s economic renaissance.