This was the title of a fascinating talk given by Serge Borg at Club Eight on March 7, drawing on his 20-plus years of experience doing business in Africa. We had our very own private Indaba, held strategically in the heart of the city. In a very unorthodox but fascinating way, Serge took us through a ''heart and mind'' journey, over the short (or was it long) span of two hours.
The principles were clearly laid out: imagination and a change of perspective are required. The structure was crystal clear: 10 facts and figures, 10 misconceptions, 10 risks and three potential scenarios to create a new picture of Africa.
My key takeaways:
Africa is not a country. It is a continent that can fit all of the U.S., China and India, as well as part of Europe. The potential is clearly gigantic -- but currently poorly managed.
Africa has a rich and diverse history. One needs to fully appreciate it to have even a glimpse of a chance to be really successful in that part of the world. Understand ancient kingdoms and local history, the rules and the culture, to connect with and embrace a population proud of its cultural heritage.
Africa is truly the heart of global natural resources -- from soy to wheat, oil to iron ore, bauxite or cobalt -- but the lack of infrastructure hinders the region's potential to be a player in the emerging new world order.
Africa's average growth over the last 60 years amounted 4.9 percent. That's an inch away from the Middle East at 5.2 percent and "only" 3 percent short of Asia. I say "only" considering that large parts of Africa have been a war zone for about the same amount of time. With the hope of more stability on the way, and with 2012 bringing elections to much of the continent, the speed of growth can only increase.
However, the epiphany for me came from:
One number: $1.6 trillion -- as in $1.6 trillion of aid flowing to Africa in the last 60 years. In the current economic climate, this is doomed to end some time soon. A mix of only direct foreign investment and increased national investment will soon become essential to sustain the continent's needs. China is already moving very fast in that space, securing lands, resources and privileged trade routes.
Facebook's significant penetration in Africa. This shows the rapidly moving use of social media and widespread embrace of the Internet.
Sir Richard Branson awarded Divine Ndhlukula, founder and managing director of Securico the $100,000 grand prize for the 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship. Hers was just one of 3,300 submissions made from 48 countries (out of the 54 located on the continent). Africa's emerging entrepreneurs are ready to shape the future of their countries and participate in sustainability.
What is it we have learned, listening to Serge last week?
As investors, we have to be wise and smart. We have to be active listeners and observers and adjust our perception to develop a different approach. We have to open our eyes. There is a new wave coming already, a wealth of opportunities at our doorstep.
As leaders, we have to scrutinize the past, embrace history, embrace the various national psyche(s) of Africa's individual countries and learn the lessons. Only then will we find priceless insights on how to succeed there.
So do your homework, be humble, be patient, be ready and grow... with Africa. Because it certainly will.