The inaugural Women Advancing Africa (WAA) Forum is a new Pan-African flagship initiative launched by the Graça Machel Trust to acknowledge and celebrate the central role women play in shaping Africa’s development agenda and by driving social and economic transformation. The Forum will take place from 9-12 August in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania at the Hyatt Kilimanjaro.
Mrs. Graça Machel says, “Africa has experienced tremendous development in the last few decades, however a significant gap in the economic advancement of women remains a huge challenge.”
“Africa is in a second liberation era – the economic liberation. Women can no longer be secondary or marginal, and through Women Advancing Africa the Trust wants to enable women to take centre stage in the economic advancement of Africa. The Trust is establishing a platform for women to claim their right to sit at the table where the decisions are made and to shape the policies, plans and strategies for our futures and those of the generations to come.”
The Trust is honoured to have H.E. Samia Suluhu Hassan, Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania and member of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment join the WAA Forum to share her insights on issues that will be discussed over the four days. The Forum will consist of interactive sessions organised around three core pillars: Financial Inclusion, Market Access and Social Change.
Inter-generational and inter-sectoral mix of participants attending WAA Forum
With an estimated attendance of 200 participants from across the continent, the WAA Forum will play host to a diverse mix of women and youth representing thought leaders and influencers from the private sector, philanthropy, academia, civil society, government, development agencies and the media who will bring their voices, experiences and ideas to strategize, set priorities and craft a common agenda to drive Africa’s social and economic transformation.
A number of speakers from key economic sectors such as mining & extractives, agri-business, banking, telecommunications, media, healthcare, and goods and services will bring their knowledge and expertise to the Forum. Notable speakers include Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize; Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission; Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Vice Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda; and Sheila Khama, Practice Manager at World Bank’s Energy and Extractive Industries Global Practice.
A Social Progress Agenda
A series of side events will also be held alongside the WAA Forum on variety of issues including Food and Nutrition, Education and Child Marriage, Leadership and Wellness, to drive home the importance of social change as an integral part of addressing women holistically.
We are honoured to be joined by Gertrude Mongella, former President of the Pan African Parliament who will be joined by some of Africa’s leading women giants who have shaped the women’s movement in the past and will bring legacy and the future face to face in a gathering at the side of the Forum.
The WAA Forum will also celebrate the diversity of African culture and creativity in all its forms, from language, to design and fashion, to movie making and dance. This year’s Forum will celebrate African female writers and storytellers who are challenging the status quo, reshaping narratives and developing a deeper understanding and appreciation of the creative industries and their role in driving social progress.
Research looking at the Narrative and Economic participation of Women in Africa
A number of reports will also be launched during the Forum. Together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Graça Machel Trust will be launching a study on “The Female Economy in Africa.” The study analyses the participation of the women’s work in Africa focussing on gender gaps in the economy, participating in national politics, financial inclusion and sectoral segregation. The study provides a baseline to track and measure the progress in women’s economic activity and advancement, with regular updates on the Index being shared.
The Graça Machel Trust’s Women in Media Network will also launch a research report on the coverage and portrayal of women in media entitled: “Women in Media – What is the Narrative?” The session will be broadcast as a Facebook Live event with interactive participation in the post launch In Conversation series to stimulate a broader conversation about the narrative of women in media as well as other storytelling formats and platforms.
Another highlight of this year’s inaugural WAA Forum will be the launch of a coffee table book entitled “Women Creating Wealth: A Collection of Stories of Female Entrepreneurs from Across Africa.” The anthology celebrates women trailblazers in business with a collection of inspirational stories from Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The book features a number of enterprising women from the Trust’s women’s networks and a foreword by Mrs. Machel.
A movement of women focused on economic advancement
What makes WAA unique? Mrs. Machel explains, “Women Advancing Africa provides a space to bring together the energy, innovation and creativity of women from all parts of the continent to share solutions to make us stronger, united and unstoppable. The Forum is really the catalyst to creating a much larger movement of women centred around the economic advancement of women who will collectively shape and drive a development agenda that is measurable and sustainable.” With a Pan-African footprint spanning 20 countries, the Graça Machel Trust will leverage our women’s networks in Agribusiness, Business and Entrepreneurship, Finance and the Media to work with the larger WAA movement to catalyse the Forum’s agenda into actions with measurable and sustainable outcomes.
The Trust would like to thank our generous partners who have helped make our vision a reality. Special thanks to The UPS Foundation, the Intel Foundation, American Tower Corporation, and UN Women. Media partners include: the ABN360 Group, incorporating CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa; the Nation Group and locally based Azam Media Group. The WAA Forum’s convening partner, APCO Worldwide has worked closely with the Graça Machel Trust, providing expertise and insights to develop this one-of-a-kind women’s network. These partners share the Trust’s belief that advancing women economically is crucial to the health and prosperity of African families, communities and nations.
The Graça Machel Trust is an organisation that works across the continent to drive positive change across women’s and children’s rights, as well as governance and leadership. Through our support of local initiatives and connecting key stakeholders at a regional, national and sub-national level, we help to catalyse action where it is needed. By using our convening power the Trust seeks to: amplify the voices of women and children in Africa; influence governance; promote women’s contributions and leadership in the economic social and political development of Africa.
With a current population of more than a billion people and a growth rate of about two and a half percent per annum, Africa is going to experience tremendous booms over the coming decades. By 2050, there will be 2.5 billion people living on the continent, and after 50 more years it will go up to 4.4 billion. So, by 2050 about 26% of the world’s population will reside in Africa and by the year 2100 it will contain 39% of the total.
To help cope with this tremendous increase, the countries of Africa need to form alliances with each other to start putting in futuristic infrastructure throughout the continent. They need more schools to train local citizens, thereby better empowering them to succeed. Like any other place in the world, independent innovation is going to be the key to modernizing Africa. This means local governments need to be restructured on better electoral systems. So, Africans need to have zero tolerance for improper governance. They need grassroots efforts to guarantee human rights.
Africa contains huge percentages of the global reserves of precious metals like magnesium and platinum, but so many people live in extreme poverty. This vast repository should transfer into the health and wealth of the people, but it doesn’t. Furthermore, farmland is becoming an increasingly rarer global commodity, but more than a quarter of all the fertile soil in the world is found in Africa. In reality, the continent has so much arable land that it should be exporting tons of food, however many areas are unused so countries end up needing to import vast quantities of edible goods, instead. This is a terrible waste of resources.
Foreign invested large-scale farming could help deal with this, but it’s not really the best solution. Although this would provide jobs to natives and allow for roads to be built and electricity to be harnessed, the problem is that it would make local populations dependent on foreign capital. Plus, vast mono-crop plantations cause tremendous harm to the planet, and the profits from things like palm oil don’t even really benefit local populations.
Food insecure countries don’t need overseas companies coming in and taking things over in vicious land grabs. There is a tremendously high demand for locally produced food that needs to be met. Plus, there are a number of exportable products throughout Africa — like cocoa, as well as sheep and goats. Everything is just being mismanaged, so very few people gain anything from all of this.
Granted, Africa’s food challenges are highly complex. They’re also very different from one country to the next. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, and all of the other African nations each need locally tailored solutions to their own locally specific problems. Although, the continents relentless growth means that it also needs to foster shared prosperity in order to flourish. This is quite a dilemma.
Inadequate infrastructure, erratic border policies, and weak input markets make it nearly impossible for the vast majority of countries in Africa to successfully modernize. They need enhanced irrigation and diverse crop varieties, but have no way of acquiring these things. This is terribly unfortunate because something like poor grain quality impacts every facet of daily life. So, the overall goal is to get lower production and transport costs on higher yields throughout the continent.
In addition to this, rampant deforestation is negatively impacting the lives of native hunter-gatherers more and more. So, to offset this, urban jungles need to be built to house these displaced communities. Strong public and private partnerships need to be made in order for this to occur. Simply put, there needs to be massive investment in the agribusiness sector to make more food locally available and to boost exports.
To make matters worse, along with widespread malnutrition, the growing threat of climate change will also negatively affect more and more people in Africa as time goes on. So, urban planning in the underdeveloped continent needs to move away from the concept of coastal living to prepare for the coming climate change inundations by setting up inland megacities. There needs to be massive investments in basic amenities like providing water to everyone by installing more plumbing.
By having better means of irrigation as well as access to electricity through renewable sources, Africans will experience quality of life increases unlike anything they have ever known before. Of course, this is going to require a great deal of commitment from the UN and the World Bank, as well as a number of other groups. Luckily, Africa’s workforce is developing faster than any other continent, so they will also be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, in many ways. If all goes well, by the turn of the century Africa will be completely new, with the fastest growing economies and the strongest middle class on the planet. That’s why we can’t afford to get this wrong. Africa simply has to modernize. The fate of the world depends on it.
While the jury is out on whether Africa is really different or rather like everywhere else, some general points have emerged from research that are well worth reflecting on, whether or not a company plans to do business there.
Beware of Faulty Perceptions
Africa is full of contradictions. On the one hand, it is perceived as suffering from political instability, corruption, poverty and conflict. On the other hand, it counts many of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with a high proportion of early-stage entrepreneurs and fast-expanding multinationals. Africa is a reminder not to fall prey to negative stereotypes — they can lead to missing out on attractive market spaces.
Pay Attention to Outliers
Related to the previous point, companies that eschew new market spaces because of perceived downsides, will also miss out on unexpected opportunities that defy traditional logic. In many respects, African countries are outliers, and outliers are something to learn from, not dismiss out of hand. Kenya’s M-Pesa is a case in point: this mobile payment system was launched in 2007 to deal with a unique set of market conditions; by 2013, 43 percent of Kenya’s GDP flowed through M-Pesa. Now, companies everywhere are looking to replicate it.
An “outlier” today may end up being the disruptive standard tomorrow. Africa forces the question: Are we paying attention to emerging ecosystems that could disrupt our business models? What novel approaches can be leveraged to overcome conventional problems in unconventional ways?
Follow the Informal Economy
The informal economy exists everywhere, but in developed economies, it tends to pass under the radar, whereas in Africa it is much more present. An example would be entrepreneurial individuals who run several poorly defined businesses simultaneously, shifting attention from one to the next as demand dictates, acting almost like portfolio managers. Doing this would be alien to most of the rest of the world, but in parts of Africa, this is common and it works.
Moreover, entrepreneurs may start out in the informal economy, and then incorporate after a period of growth, or formalize part of their business while keeping the rest in the informal economy. How the informal economy and the companies operating in it transition is something all managers need to watch, as disruptive competition may originate there.
Question Received Wisdom
An overarching lesson from Africa is that we need to constantly rethink the usefulness of existing management theories.
- Are ownership, location and internalization advantages — known as OLI theory — the only considerations for determining which type of foreign investment to make? In Africa, for investment and cross-border economic activity to work, there has to be some societal advantage, too, which serves the greater good. It is crucial to ensure that socioeconomic development and social responsibility, not just exploitation of resources, inform our strategies.
- Is it always the case that a firm’s performance is contingent on having highly developed human capital? As Africa shows, maybe, maybe not: there are times when a lack of skilled human capital can be overcome or ameliorated without negative consequences on performance.
- Does internationalization depend on the presence of strong institutional frameworks? Not necessarily: South African Breweries confirms it is possible to turn weak institutional environments or voids into an advantage.
- What about the holy grail of sustainable competitive advantage? What would happen if that did not exist? Could temporary competitive advantage be a viable alternative?
Research on Africa presents managers with big questions such as these, which lead us to reconsider whether current predictors are sufficient and how complex relationships — between business and politics, between strategy and performance — can be optimally balanced. Perhaps in the pursuit of universal theories, managers have lost the nuance of context. In Africa, context is arguably all that matters. And in that sense, Africa is a call to bring context back into strategic management practice.
Advice for foreign companies willing to invest in Africa:
- Do not come with solutions but ready to engage with others to find solutions: reengage the minds of the African population to solve their problems.
- You need local partnerships: coming from the outside, you’ll find a few things that will challenge your business model.
- You can’t have a short-term goal: you need patience for the investment to mature or for the industry to settle – in fact, you may need to help shape the industry.
- Know the values of where you are: if you want to build for the long term, you can’t just focus on the economic factor – you also need to facilitate social engagement.
To create economic value, create value for the people, and then they will support you.