We went to the Convergence Africa conference last week in Nairobi, Africa’s Premier Conference for entrepreneurs and investors where we had the most incredible time. Sir Richard Branson was one of the Keynote speakers along with Tony Elumelu and Fred Swaniker. We were privileged to hear talks and have questions and answer sessions from great and inspiring people who are making a huge difference in Africa and the world.
The first keynote session was by Tony Elumelu, an Entrepreneur and Philanthropist. Tony is widely acknowledged as one of Africa’s most influential businessmen. Through Heirs Holdings Limited, a private investment vehicle, he has investments across Africa. He has also created the Tony Elumelu foundation. He has played a big part in shaping the African Financial Services industry as a driving force behind the United Bank for Africa Plc. During the session, he raised some very interesting points and we have summarised them below….
- Currently, Intra-Africa trade as a percentage of total African trade is only 10%. He encouraged Africans to start openly trading with each other
- He encouraged African business leaders to invest in Africa
- Africans manage to run successful businesses under very difficult and adverse conditions which makes them great entrepreneurs and able to compete with businesses across the globe
- As Africans in business, we need to help our fellow Africans by mentoring, training and networking so that business in Africa can grow and boom
- In Africa we have to remove corruption from our societies
- An interesting point was discussed about getting more entrepreneurs involved in leading Africa.
- He mentioned the need for an Al Jazeera type news station in Africa to increase awareness of what is happening on the continent.
The second keynote session was by Sir Richard Branson. When he came on stage we were shown an inspiring, energetic video about Virgin and what the company stands for. He is the founder of Virgin Group and Virgin is one of the world’s most recognised and respected brands and operates through more than 200 companies worldwide. Virgin Unite was started in 2005, a non-profit entrepreneurial foundation which works with partners to create new approaches to social and environmental issues. Virgin Unite is about uniting people to tackle tough social and environmental issues in an entrepreneurial way, drawing upon all the resources from across the Virgin Group. It has also helped to incubate a number of global leadership initiatives, including…
- The Elders (members include Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Graca Machal and many more amazing people). The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.
- The Carbon War Room which aims to harness the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change.
- The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship which is an independent centre of entrepreneurial expertise where it trains entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are making a huge difference not only to their immediate families and communities, but as the business leaders and employers of the future, they will also contribute significantly to economic growth.
A summary of key points raised in his session were…
- Africa should be a booming continent as it has great people and great commodities. It is the responsibility of our leaders to become great and help the continent’s economies boom.
- He made a strong stand against bribery and corruption and said that any perpetrators should be reported. Unethical businesses create an adverse and unfair business environment
- He mentioned that in business, employees should have more freedom and flexibility so that they can live a great life as well as working – that includes having the option to work from home, having the option to take longer amounts of leave etc. Everyone needs a good work/home balance.
- He introduced his new book, “Screw Business as Usual” which has a caption that says “Can we bring meaning to our lives and change the world at the same time?”
- He believes that the entrepreneurial spirit can tackle the world’s problems.
- He encourages everyone to start businesses that make a difference to other people’s lives.
- At the end of our life, we must all be proud of the life we lived.
We were lucky enough to get to ask Sir Richard and question in the Q&A session. We asked him “What keeps him going and what drives him?” The summary of his answer was that he will always keep going because he feels that he needs to make a difference to the world. He mentioned that although Zimbabwe has had adverse business conditions, it has made entrepreneurs stronger and more resilient.
Virgin is doing so much to improve the world and improve people’s lives and everything they stand for is all about living a better life and looking after the planet. Did you know that 100% of the profits they make on the Virgin transport (trains and aeroplanes) go into research and development of Green Fuels?
Thanks to Sir Richard for being at the Conference and sharing his knowledge and teaching us entrepreneurs some GREAT LESSONS. It was a very uplifting experience!!
The next keynote speaker was Fred Swaniker, a Zimbabwean educated leader who is the founder of the African Leadership Academy. Fred Swaniker is an entrepreneur with deep experience in education and leadership on the African continent. He also founded Global Leadership Adventures, a youth leadership development programme, and was recognised as one of 15 “top emerging social entrepreneurs in the world” in 2006 by Echoing Green, and was chosen as one of 25 TED Fellows in 2009.
A summary of key points raised in his session were….
- He emphasised how it is time for all Africans to make a difference to the continent now
- He noted that the enemy of Africa is poverty and we need to all work towards eradicating it
- He believes that entrepreneurship will win the war against poverty
- At the African Leadership Academy, they are actively training the future leaders of Africa so that they can tackle problems on the continent in new and effective way.
- He spoke about one of his students, “They Boy who Harnessed the Wind”, William Kamkwamba. In a very emotional and moving video, he showed us the story of William and how he made a windmill in his village in Malawi to generate electricity. What an incredible, innovative genius and one of the future leaders of our continent
- He spoke about the fact that throughout history, big changes have occurred when people born in a certain period of time end up being in the right place at the right time to change the world. He highlighted that fact that there are a few rare moments in history when a number of different factors and people come together and the world changes. Certain people born in a special time in history get to capture incredible opportunities. The Industrial revolution in the 1800s was initiated by a few key leaders, all born in the 1830s. Then there was the computer revolution in the 1970s which was initiated by a few great minds, namely Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and more, all born in the 1950s. From there we had the Internet revolution, which was initiated by incredible people born in the 1960s. He spoke about how it is now time for people born in the 70s to stand up and change the world. These people in Africa have all been well educated and they have had about 10-15 years of work experience, a lot in first world countries. He calls it the African revolution and asked “What will YOU do to contribute?” He asked us what we will tell our children when they ask us “Mum and Dad, what did you do to help in the African Revolution?” We all have the chance to make history now. Greatness is possible; we all have to get involved.
Thanks so much to Mr. Swaniker for such an inspiring message and a huge call to action for Africans.
Throughout the conference, we were lucky enough to meet the most amazing, inspiring people. All the people that we met are people who are working their hearts out to make a difference in Africa and to improve business and economies. Everyone we met has huge dreams and high aspirations for our continent and we felt so privileged to be part of a movement in Africa to grow economies, eradicate poverty and banish corruption. There seems to be a new breed of entrepreneurs in Africa with an incredible spirit and huge drive, and it is so inspiring to talk to these people who all have such optimism and high hopes about the future of Africa. There was a strong flavour of Social and Environmental responsibility throughout the talks and conversations that we had. It is becoming more and more important for businesses to take these two areas seriously. Social responsibility is an ethical ideology or theory that an entity, be it an organization or individual, has an obligation to act to benefit society at large. A new social stock exchange is being created in London by Pradeep Jethi and Mark Campanale. The money being raised to start the global stock exchange will allow investors to trade exclusively in companies with social and environmental goals. Environmental responsibility is an ideology that people have an ethical responsibility for the impact of their business on the environment.
A Zimbabwean lady, Divine Ndhlukula, took the top prize at the Africa awards. We were privileged enough to meet this incredible business woman and her colleague from Securico in Harare. What an achievement. Below is a picture of us with our new found Zimbabwean celebrity.
By Sally Palmer, Sabre Business World