Regardless of the issue you care about, or the industry in which you work, our day-to-day labours preoccupy us and hide from view significant long-term change. We can’t help it. Human nature compels us to look at the path in front, not the horizon ahead. But occasionally, we can’t fail to notice we’ve marched from the plain to the plateau.
I had that experience this week in Addis Ababa, at the World Economic Forum’s Africa Summit. Participating as a member of the Forum’s Young Global Leaders community, I observed some amazing long-term changes.
My “issue” is poverty and my “industry” is aid. I run a social enterprise called Building Markets. We try to reduce poverty and create jobs by connecting local entrepreneurs to global supply chains. When we launched in 2004, the donor community did not take our rationale seriously – that poverty is alleviated by jobs, which are created by business. This summit demonstrated that this has changed entirely.
Ten years ago, when you heard about Africa, you heard from Bono at Band Aid. You heard about the poverty and the helplessness, for which the cure was charity, alms for the poor. Here in Addis, they’re not talking alms, they’re talking investors.
Josette Sheeran, Vice-Chair of the World Economic Forum and former Director of the United Nations World Food Program, said it best, “We are going from hand-out to hand-up to handshakes”. The rapport has definitely shifted: now it is between investor and partner, not donor and supplicant.
The scale of investment in Africa is astounding. Here in the corridors I see corporate leaders from firms like ArcelorMittal and AngloAmerican, which are spending billions on new ventures across the continent and creating millions of jobs in the process.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon explained that their US$ 2 billion investment in South Africa stems from recognition that 34% of the African population is now part of the middle class, and growing.
SABMiller’s Head of Sustainable Development (and Young Global Leader) Andy Wales was enthusiastic about the massive investment opportunities in Mozambique. They have launched a cassava-based beer business, sourcing materials from a thousand previously subsistence farmers. Over 7% of Mozambique’s tax revenues are now generated by SABMiller, providing sustainable income and replacing unsustainable aid donations.
Scott Gilmore is a former diplomat. Founder of the Peace Dividend Trust and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.