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Africa’s Business of Sustainable Development

For the fourth segment of GBSN and Ecobank Academy’s Talent for Africa Virtual Forum, the topic of discussion was on “The Business of Sustainable Development.”  By now, we should have all heard of, if not intimately know, the UN sustainable development goals.  However, what we don’t always consider is the many targets within each goal, especially for and within the Continent.  From gender equality in the workforce to sustainable healthcare solutions, our panelists tackled this very detailed conversation head on.  As always, we remind our audience that collaboration between sectors such non-profit, academic, and government is absolutely necessary to achieve Agenda 2063 and ultimately serve Africa’s wants and needs. This week, GBSN’s Rob Vember presented Tavneet Suri, Editor in Chief for VoxDev and Associate Professor at MIT; Mamokgethi Phankeng, Vice Chancellor for University of Cape Town; and finally, Ecobank Foundation’s own COO Carl Manlan.

As is the theme for these past couple of years, Rob began the conversation by posing to Carl the question regarding truly how much has Covid-19 set us back? Carl, in agreement that this was a proper starting point, noted how the pandemic has actually worked to bring us together, especially since Africa must focus on several building blocks such as education and agriculture (SDG 17). People need to take this opportunity to think about the new prosperity that can come from innovation through these challenges.  Rob then posed a similar question to Mamokgethi, specifically in terms of health and education.  She made it clear that change is developed within the community and that the connection component is how we will make it through the pandemic. “Humans are a revolutionary force and a planet-changing species.  We are changing the destiny of this planet,” said Mamokgethi.  Lastly, from her perspective in terms of technology in the African landscape, Tavneet poignantly noted how remarkable the people of the Continent are, especially in terms of adaptation.  Just as was previously mentioned, community and local relevance is essential to development.

As the conversation continued, Rob asked Carl the following: where is the stumbling block between learning and improving access and change across countries in Africa? In his response, Carl reminded the audience that the majority of Africa’s population that is doing the aforementioned adapting and community-based development are the rural areas.  A lot of energy has been spent on the impoverished urban peoples, but in reality, these rural people are the ones innovating and initiating entrepreneurial endeavors. By taking this into consideration, one of the central problems is that the cost of capital to bring outside improvement into these networks is exponential.  Rural Africa is far too risky for inexpensive capital and that is a huge problem.  On another note regarding equity, Rob turned to Mamokgethi to hear her reaction regarding how equity in education is changing in alliance with SDG goal 5.  She explained that UCT is a member of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), and that alone is providing a network of groundbreaking change within Africa’s most powerful academic institutions, especially in terms of gender and equal representation in the classroom.  Tavneet added to this sentiment by acknowledging, specifically in her work at VoxDev, we need a better way to connect and communicate with Africans in general.  Groups like are developing fantastic research but it becomes irrelevant if it isn’t digested and implemented by the same people it’s trying to help.

After answering a few audience questions, the discussion came to a close as Rob prompted each of the panelists to think about 2030 and beyond as telling us what they think is Africa’s biggest opportunity.  Carl began by once again stressing the importance of SDG 17 and bringing communities together in innovation.  Mamokgethi believes the young people provide the greatest strength and it is crucial to provide them an outlook for them to reimagine the future.  Finally, Tavneet stated that we are missing the quality leadership that Africa needs to make the changes that the world envisions for the Continent.

The Talent for Africa Virtual Forum will continue with its fifth session on Wednesday, March 17th with a discussion on “Powering Digital Transformation.” Please invite your friends, colleagues, and network. We look forward to seeing you there!