BusinessDay

Will Africa’s young entrepreneurs turn the summit in France to economic gains?

“I am the only black, Nigerian wine export consultant in Bordeaux,” this is how Chinedu Rita Rosa, director, Vines by Rosa introduced herself. Nigerian by birth, but now part French and now also married to a Frenchman, she describes herself and her business as a bridge between France and Nigeria.

“What I do is try to find the right partnership between Nigerian and French businesses. My Nigerian partners who import wines, they want to make sure that the wines come at a good price, know the source of the wine, and that there is continuity,” she said. “So my job is that I get the right partnership, the right winemaker from farms and pair them.”

Rosa was one of 1289 delegates at the Africa-France Summit held last month, with official data as shared with BusinessDay showing 63 percent came from Africa (805 delegates) and 37 percent from France (484). From Africa, 47 countries were represented with top ten by delegates being; Ivory Coast – 80; Tunisia – 77; Senegal – 73; South Africa – 62; Cameroun – 60; Nigeria – 47; Rwanda – 42; Morocco – 32; Mali – 28; and Ghana – 24.

Apart from participating in plenary sessions to table concerns that were to be later presented to President Emmanuel Macron on the kind of partnerships required to drive growth on the continent, young (mostly business inclined) Africans had one of the biggest platforms to network. As dozens of young people met for almost a week in France, starting in Paris and then Montpellier, it was an opportunity to forge alliances across the continent on moving businesses across borders, and of course across the Atlantic to France too.

“The beautiful thing about this summit is that I have managed to connect with people from Uganda, Ethiopia, and from Cameroon,” said Rosa who has been in the wine business for 22 years, starting in Lagos before relocating to France where she now helps both importers and exporters understand what the market wants.

“I need their contact so that I can help them create brands because a lot of them do not even know that it is possible for you to create a Made in France brand for an African,” she said. “They think they have to buy a brand that’s already created by the French.”

As young people exchanged business cards and discussed opportunities across borders over cocktails, one message that could not be overlooked was that many of these entrepreneurs needed opportunities to expand, not aid.

“Africa has moved on beyond aid to the kind of entrepreneurial spirits that you see forming in young people today,” said Kola Oshinowo, chief commercial officer for JUMIA in Ghana. “With the kind of investment coming into the startup ecosystem in Africa today, you see it has moved way beyond the days people used to get aid.

“Now we are seeing that a lot of young people are doing great stuff; why not partner with them? Why not invest in them so that they can scale across Africa. And that for me, is the most important conversation here,” said Oshinowo, who was among 100 young laureates of the French Africa Foundation at the summit.

Read Also: Africa-France summit kicks off with focus on young entrepreneurs

Papa Amadou Sarr, the Minister general delegate for entrepreneurship in the government of Senegal, told BusinessDay his job entails supporting young entrepreneurs, giving them access to financing and non-financial services. Within four years of operations, since starting in 2018, he says more than $150million has been deployed to more than 125,000 start-ups. Apart from that, they have also been able to support them with training, coaching, mentoring, and access to marketing.

For him, attending the summit is first of all, a networking opportunity to see how they could share experiences between Senegal and other African countries.

Sarr particularly has his eyes set on the Nigerian market and its investors, saying, “Today, the textile industry, the creative industries, are some of the areas we are supporting and promoting to be able to tackle the Nigerian market.

“It is huge – 200 million consumers. This is something any African country would dream of addressing, first of all and secondly, we also would like to attract Nigerian investors to come to the country and help transform the economy in order to export more,” he said.

For him, Nigerian investors can play better in Senegal in the Oil and gas sectors considering experience in the Nigerian industry and also in agriculture, which he says requires “the transformation of agriculture, not only the production.”

Abisola Oladapo, CEO and founder of Agnes by Mumspring, a healthcare start-up that uses technology to educate low-income women on their health during pregnancy and the postpartum period also has her eyes set on Africa and beyond.

As she explained, Women on Agnes are four times more likely to survive pregnancy than women that are not. So far, the platform has been deployed in over 57 communities in Nigeria and plans to scale in the coming years.

Like others, her expectations were to network, saying “at the end of the day we need to be global businesses especially now, with technology. It’s important that we don’t isolate ourselves.” The summit, would allow her reach this goal faster, she says, and after meeting people from countries such as Mali, Uganda noted they were already talking about potential pilots for her company’s projects in their nations.

“There is no African country today that has even met the SDG goals for maternal mortality and we can help accelerate this. We are applicable in all African countries, and additionally we’re looking beyond Africa even in for example the UK, where minority women are four times as likely than non-minorities to die during pregnancy. And using solutions like ours, we can reduce this metric,” she said.

The solution as Oladapo explained, provides stage-specific education to the women in their local languages. It leverages basic Artificial Intelligence where every week of pregnancy, a woman gets just the information and just the tips that she needs. In addition, she has 24/7 access to a midwife that she can ask questions from and deal with any issues they might be having. This level of support helps women engage more with the health system.

For Jackelene Arinda, 30-year-old CEO of Jada Coffee, Uganda, the summit has offered a rare opportunity to meet different people in the coffee sector. From sharing problems to learn solutions that have worked elsewhere, it was also an opportunity to find distributors in France, emphasising that Ugandan coffee was ranked the third in quality worldwide, and seventh among top producing countries.

Beyond networking, she met people from different companies in terms of packaging, which she says is a big problem when it comes to agriculture products and African products in general.

“Most of our products are denied in the (western) markets because they think they are poor quality because of poor packaging yet we have the best organic foods,” Arinda said.

Aisha Yesufu, a Nigerian businesswoman, also known as an activist, was also at the summit, where she expected deliberations that would be two-way and participatory.

“It is very important for everyone to take responsibility, understand what their roles should be and not just bringing up solution and just pushing it down people’s throats,” she said. “Therefore, they must understand that there must be mutual respect, and people must be recognized for who they are and also people must take responsibility. And hopefully, we get something out of it.”

Having been in business for 21 years, she thought the summit would offer her opportunities to expand. “It is about opportunities, it’s about meeting other people, it’s about learning, it’s about seeing what are the kinds of things that you would see here or the ideas that you would get from people and you are able to take it back home and improve upon it. So that’s the biggest gain,” she said.

As Oshinowo explained, the conversations have started and the next thing is to have engagements that would culminate in concrete projects happening across the continent, beyond the rhetorics of the summit and its plenary sessions.

What matters he said, “Is the action that actually takes place in the continent and the impact that we continue to see over time, and most importantly, sustainable impact.”

The summit has been over for almost a month now, and the millions of Africa’s youth represented at the summit by over 800 delegates, wait with bated breaths to see how the continent’s future and businesses are transformed in the coming weeks and months.

This matters as captured by Axel Baroux, managing director for Sub-saharan Africa at Business France, the French development agency for enterprise, because; “In terms of demographics, one in four of the World’s population will be African in a relatively short term. Half of those two and a half billion Africans will be under 25. This is an incredible resource but it is also a major challenge.

“We are going to have to find jobs, create wealth and establish added value in each country,” he said in an interview.

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