The 26th World Economic Forum on Africa took on the feel of the country in which it was hosted: Rwanda. In this way, there were three over arching themes that were explored throughout the meetings: 1) Growth in Africa: rising or falling?; 2) The Fourth Industrial Revolution; and 3) Social entrepreneurship.
GROWTH IN AFRICA
On the topic of whether Africa is rising or falling, the sentiment is that Africa is rising, but has encountered some bumps along the road. The decline in commodity prices, which is not altogether independent from the slowdown in China, have both been major contributors to the stall that many African economies are experiencing. The mood among WEF Africa participants, who one might argue are self selected African champions by virtue of their participation in the conference, was still optimistic. Helmut Engelbrecht, Head Client Coverage for Africa, Investment Banking at Standard Bank, offered the following insight on the topic:
“If you deal with people in the know, [who are] on the ground everyday, it’s a most stable mood. While you realize there’s new challenges that did not exist a year or two ago, you also realize the opportunities that there are in the long run.”
THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
The second major theme, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, is the title of a book authored by WEF Founder and Executive Chair, Klaus Schwab. The transformative power of technology lies at the core of Schwab’s vision. This revolution is characterized by a range of new technologies that fuse the physical, digital, and biological world’s, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging what it means to be human. The theme of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been explored globally starting at WEF in Davos in January, and at other regional WEF gatherings throughout the world.
In his opening address at WEF Africa, Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, said that Africa should use the opportunities presented by the Fourth Industrial Revolution to transform itself into a full partner on the global stage. “Africa should not be still playing catch up when the fifth revolution comes around,” he said. At the same time Kagame called for a “continent free of pity and apprehension, a place of opportunity and partnership.”
In addition to the plenary sessions and panel discussions, the power of the the digital economy was explored through a ‘Transformation Hub’ that hosted intimate conversations among 10-20 participants on a range of topics including transformation of financial services, mobile connectivity, and a focus on the creative industries.
Lastly, the theme of social entrepreneurship was woven throughout the agenda. The Schwab Foundation, in partnership with the Motsepe Foundation led by Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe of South Africa, hosted a dinner to honor leading social entrepreneurs from across the continent. The former first lady of South Africa,Graça Machel, representing her trust which focuses on women’s rights, had a large presence at WEF. She spoke of the power of social entrepreneurship to create jobs and profits. One such social entrepreneur that she highlighted is Joy Ndungutse of Rwanda. Joy has created an enterprise that employs 4,000 women weavers who make traditional baskets that are exported to the United States and Japan, and sold through leading department stores in those countries.
WEF Africa 2016 reflected its host country, Rwanda: it was thought provoking, inspirational, well managed and graceful.