The journey to Remake Africa was triggered in 2011 by a puzzling question, “Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?” This was the title of a report authored by more than 50 experts on African development and a set of institutions including the African Development Bank (AFDB), the African Economic Research Council (AERC), the World Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
This report on Africa at the turn of the century showed that Africa was the poorest region in the world with average real income per capita (PPP) one-third less than that of South Asia and with dwindling average output per capita. Africa had less than 2 percent of world trade with exports less diversified and primary product based. The continent was highly aid dependent and hugely indebted with net transfers from foreign assistance averaging 9% of GDP and almost half of public spending. Foreign debt constituted over 80% of GDP in net present value while savings declined to 13% of GDP. Even as investments remained low, the continent had high inequality and social exclusion with more than 40% living below $1 a day and with average income of $0.65 a day in PPP terms. Furthermore, the continent offered low access to health, education and infrastructure. Consequently, 200 of every 1,000 children died before the age of 5 while more than 2 million children died a year before their first birthday due to poor nutrition. More than 200 million Africans lacked access to health services; more than 140 million African youth were illiterate and less than one-quarter of Africa’s poor, rural females attended primary school. Also reported was low social spending with $50 average education spending compared to $11,000 in more developed countries. Furthermore, the continent had 165 per 100,000 annual deaths from malaria and 70 percent of the world’s cases of HIV/AIDS. In addition to these, the African continent was strewn with conflicts with at least one African in five living in a country severely disrupted by an ongoing war at the time.
By 2021, 21 years into the 21st century, with the century almost a quarter gone, despite some progress recorded, the data did not indicate that Africa’s pace of progress matched the velocity that is required to claim the 21st century. I therefore decided to do something about it. Without prejudice to the role of governments, I was convinced that businesses and brands were essential to facilitating the continent’s transformation. My journey inspired a rare perspective that could potentially position businesses and brands as the catalysts of the continent’s transformation. This is why I see opportunities in Africa’s problems.
As global competition is fast shifting towards the impact ecosystem, businesses have a rare opportunity to build competitiveness around impact. With the momentum around social innovation championed by such movements as the B-Corp as well as the increased attention to sustainability driven by such coalitions as the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), business leaders are increasingly embracing corporate social innovation in building competitive advantage. The launch of the B-Team Africa Project at the 2018 Africa CEO Forum signified the institutionalization of this trend in Africa. As brands evolve their social impact positioning from the philanthropic intent of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the strategic intent of Corporate Social Innovation (CSI), the Remake Africa thrust seeks to position Africa’s brands as leading social innovators while facilitating their navigation through the changing dynamics of the global geopolitics of business.