On January 27th and 28th, the Desautels African Business Initiative (DABI) held its third annual business conference, “Africa: The Final Frontier”, at Thompson House and EVO Centre-Ville. This student-led conference brings together a diverse group of students, entrepreneurs, professors, and experts to discuss the emergence of Africa in the global arena and its implications on business, technology, agriculture, education, and the media.
Through various workshops, panel discussions, keynote speakers, and networking opportunities, the conference aims to engage and inspire attendees with a greater understanding of recent developments in Africa. Natasha Alani, the President of DABI, told The Bull & Bear that the conference allows the African diaspora and individuals interested in Africa to connect with one another and discuss pertinent issues that Africa faces today. “[The conference] is an opportunity to talk directly to entrepreneurs, investors, bankers, social workers who are currently working in Africa,” Alani explained. “And to talk to me about opportunities, get feedback, get advice, ask questions, and start to work on projects that might interest us.”
The conference began on Friday afternoon with a focus on African media and culture. Attendees at Thompson House were treated to a panel discussion on An African City, the hit African television show based in Accra, Ghana. The panellists consisted of the executive producer of the television program, Millie Monyo, and one of the cast members, Marie Humbert-Droz.
The conference continued on Saturday morning with a workshop that focused on applying the principles of design thinking – a methodological process to solve problems using creative resources – to the issue of career and project opportunities based in Africa. Led by Mike Ross of Juniper Consulting, workshop attendees engaged in a variety of activities including group-work, interviewing, reflecting on ideas, and listening to one another to help understand and solve pressing questions regarding career and entrepreneurial opportunities in Africa. Ross told members of the workshop, “Design thinking is a methodology to allow you to reconnect with that creativity. It allows you to break free from the orthodoxy of the ‘right way of thinking’ or the ‘right answers.” He went on to explain that “we can no longer function with a literal, historical, fact-based thinking. That doesn’t work anymore because it doesn’t move fast enough and doesn’t allow you to predict the future, or even better, to ‘create’ the future.”
On Saturday afternoon, DABI hosted a number of different panels on the various aspects of African development, from finance and entrepreneurship to educational and agricultural systems. A particular highlight was the “Education in Africa” panel, which focused on the issues of education, capacity building, and globalization. The speakers included Dr. Nii Addy, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Organization at Desautels; Erfa Alani, Executive Vice President of theQTM; Yves Abanda, founder of SymBioSyn; and Marjolaine Génot, consultant of Driven Entrepreneurs.
Addy emphasized the importance of Africa’s role in globalization, asserting that the continent’s lack of integration in recent decades is an asset rather than a failure. “Africa has been at the center of globalization from time immemorial…[but] the fact of the matter is that there are some things Africa has not been as integrated as other parts of the World,” Addy explained. “Being a little disconnected is an advantage… it is a question of what we want to do, what is the role that each of us has to play in this global system that we are faced with now.”
Génot advised audiences on the dangers of exploitation, warning that despite its positive implications for Africa, globalization could also herald exploitative practices. “Africa is a pull for so many things, resources, human capital … in terms of sources of opportunities, we have to start thinking about the problems that arise as Africa becomes a key focal point in the world” Génot asserted. “You will find Africa everywhere, but you also have to think about the little complexities and the things we have to start caring about to grow as a continent and be able to share but no be exploited.”
The “Entrepreneurship and Technology” panel was another long-awaited event of the conference, as many young entrepreneurs in the crowd were excited to listen to the valuable advice of African business leaders. The panellists included the likes of Daniel Gad of Omega Farms, Didi Kpelly Pan African Council Ambassador, and Felix Vancol, general manager of Powertrack and SportsNetwork.
Daniel Gad told audience members of the importance of being adaptable and resilient when engaging in business in Africa. “Be flexible. If you go home and you say that you are going to start a rubber-tire company and you find yourself making a movie, be flexible. You will not be doing the first thing you started to do,” Gad said. “[Make sure to] stop whining. You will go to Africa. There is no shortcut. There are no burger shops. There is no overtime pharmacy. The roads are filled with potholes, but guess what, the opportunity for you to make a million dollars is thousand per cent greater than it is here or anywhere else…the opportunity is in Africa.”
Similarly, Didi Kpelly advised attendees to have faith when establishing a business in Africa. “As soon as you have an idea, that idea might not be the same idea that you have at the very end, but still do something with it. Take the risk, take the leap of faith. Entrepreneurship is all about faith,” Kpelly explained. “You have to try to take that vision from where it is in your head and put in in action. Start to do something with it.”
The Desautels African Business Initiative will continue to organize future events, programs, and activities in the coming months as they also look towards recruiting potential new members for their conference planning team.