Africa 2018 is an annual conference bringing together the public and private sector to drive change across the African continent.
The Young Entrepreneurs Day (YED) kicked of the Africa 2018 conference today in the coastal Egyptian city of Sharm el Sheikh, with an opening conversation on how to strengthen regional market ecosystems on the continent. Phillipe Le Houérou, CEO, International Finance Corporation (IFC), began the address by complementing Africa’s innovative spirit. “The word entrepreneur; there is something happening in Africa, it’s not just talk – it’s happening,” he says.
He underlined his executive priorities in guiding the corporation by saying that both the African and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region will be a key focus of IFC activity. In fact, Le Houérou revealed that the organisation have increased their efforts to finance venture capital firms supporting start-ups within the MENA region. On the sidelines of the conference, the IFC invested $1m in Vezeeta, an Egyptian technology company that operates an online platform that allows patients to quickly find doctors in three Middle Eastern countries.
As for markets Houérou spoke of the importance to stay ahead of the market in Africa, raising the point that supply can drive demand: “I did not ask for an iphone but now I cannot do without it,” he jokes. For Africa’s entrepreneurs and indeed his organisation, leapfrogging will come to be defined by staying ahead of the market, by being proactive and not reactive.
Youssri Helmy, CEO, Eonite Perception, an Egyptian start-up, joined in the discussion by echoing Houérou’s praise of Africa’s entrepreneurial energy. Yet, he adds, access to finance remains a perennial problem. “As it stands today funding today in Africa as compared to GDP is one tenth of the average,” he states.
Moving to the panel discussion with members of the private sector, all panelists highlighted a need for improved access to market. “Tech is a very powerful way to build the ecosystem,” Fatoumata Ba, CEO, Janngo, a firm investing in pan-African digital enterprises, offers as a solution. For Ba, companies like Jumia, a rapidly expanding tech-based online marketplace, are the way forward as they provide easy access to market.
Chirstina Sass, Co-founder and President, Andela, finishes by lamenting that is easier to buy goods from companies like Amazon in Europe, and ship them to Africa as opposed to buying the same goods within Africa. She underlined the importance of connected markets and argued that governments need to concentrate on policy implementation, particularly with regard to the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).