19 June 2014

Africa is on the move - Transforming itself - How to put the Intentions into Reality?

Africa is on the move - Transforming itself
Last week I attended the Global Compact events hosted in Addis Ababa, co-organized by UNDP AFIM and other UN agencies, entitled "Africa: Advancing Partnerships and Responsible Business Leadership". It was an interesting event - held for the first time in Africa - bringing over 300 participants together from business, Global Compact networks, UN and government.

One of the key topics was on the role of business in Africa's Economic Transformation which is a hot and complex topic. One of my key observations was that Africa is transforming itself, partnering with various actors from China, Europe, US etc... while multinational companies do play a role it is increasingly clear that it's African policy makers and business people in setting the continents own agenda. 

Inclusive Growth requires Jobs, Inclusive Business and Social Entrepreneurship
The new mantra that economists and development practitioners are reciting to tackle inequality and achieving development goals is "inclusive growth".  As UNDP's Eugene Owusu stated "inclusive growth needs to be job rich, and the private sector has a major role to play".

UNDP AFIM sees inclusive growth (macro) achieved by inclusive markets development (meso) and inclusive businesses (micro). Participants also mentioned social entrepreneurship and responsible investment - next to inclusive business - as key ingredients. "Jobs don't fall from heaven, they need to be created by responsible entrepreneurs" said UN Global Compact's Georg Kell.

Overall there is agreement that business needs to go well beyond philanthropy and CSR, towards making its core business better for societies and the environment. Owusu concluded that "responsible and inclusive business can transform poverty into prosperity for all." 

Transformation is much more than Growth
Africa is expected to be one of the world's fastest growing regions, with 4.8 percent growth in 2014 and over 5 percent in 2015, according to the recent African Economic Outlook 2014. However, while this transformation entails growth it goes well beyond it.

Transformation is much more fundamental and usually more leap-frogging and disruptive as incremental growth. The African Union Vision 2063 is an attempt to visualize how a continent with so much potential could transform itself. The jury is still out and to predict Africa's transformation requires more soul-searching and observing.

Addis Ababa, as Africa's diplomatic capital is an interesting example in this transformation process. People who visited it some year ago, hardly recognize the city with its tall buildings and all present construction sites including a new light rail, ring roads and express way.

How to put the Intentions into Reality?
Most of the discussions were interesting with largely agreeing participants on what is needed (such as we need more and better infrastructure, education, skills, infrastructure, jobs, policies etc...). The WHAT was well articulated but less the HOW.

So this question of the moderator Peter Ndoro (SABC) resonated with me: "How do we turn intentions into practice?". Unfortunately this question came in the closing and I wish it to be a starting question for future meetings. Less wishful thinking but deeper reflections on getting to the core of making it happen.

What role does Attitude play?
A similar 'game-changing" question arose in a special session on education. UNICEF stated rightly that "education is not an expenditure but an investment". And the discussion continued with diagnosis of what is and what is needed.

Then one participant asked: "What role does attitude play?" Attitude of the educators, of the students, of the various people in the system. To me this question is going down the rabbit hole and would lead to real insight. I would add some more questions:
  1. What role does our thinking and awareness play? (as thinking leads to decisions and actions).
  2. What role do attitudes, aspirations, passion and 'inner' side? play (as inner creates the outer)
  3. How to see development more holistically, from personal to societal?
Let's take some young entrepreneurs as an example. Will they do better or worse with a "can-do" attitude? With being open-minded, self-motivated, passionate, pro-active, solution-seeking? (even if all other environmental and support factors would be the same). If so, then how can we empower people and entrepreneurs, how can mind-sets and inner attitudes be shifted? These dimensions do matter and can be developed if taken into account.

Otto Scharmer calls the 'inner' side our blind spot. Unless someone has tried meditation or a a similar practice it is a difficult topic for economists and development practitioners to grasp. But until we learn from the personal development, coaching and psychology fields, I feel we are scratching the surface and could do a much better job with a more holistic 'inside-out' development approach.
"Development is not something that we do for people. Development is what people do for themselves. It must start and end from within. Our job is to facilitate the process."
- IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze, Addis Ababa, May 2014

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