A crowd of overdressed business school students and thousands of business people in their element can be a little intimidating for a freshman in a pair of casual slim fit khaki pants and a semi-formal shirt with sleeves rolled up. The Harvard Africa Business Conference (HABC) was my very first formal business conference and it was quite the experience. It was eye-opening about the plentiful potential that lies in the continent. More specifically, it was eye-opening about the plentiful potential that lies in young people who are driving economic progress throughout the continent in their respective countries.
There were three speakers who particularly stood out to me at the conference, namely, Khanyi Dhlomo of Ndalo Media, Ashish Thakkar of Mara Group, and Former Nigarian Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Khanyi spoke about the importance of stretching oneself, something that seems to be second nature to those who are successful in business. However, resilience and grit are characteristics that must be cultivated and nurtured. In addition, they must be constantly reinforced by exposing young minds to trail blazers in their industries such as Dhlomo. Platforms like the HABC foster connections between individuals at different stages of entrepreneurship development and ensure that resilience and grit in young people are reinforced through mentoring and sharing of experiences and wisdom. Thinking back to my experiences growing up in Swaziland, I find the need for more platforms of that will cultivate and those that will reinforce.
Meanwhile, Ashis Thakkar, a great mind that has literally earned the title of Africa's Youngest Billionare, demonstrated a shifted paradigm of viewing the continent. Many speakers in events like the HABC that I have seen still ride on the rhetoric of undoing the previously existing narrative of an Africa that is doomed to poverty corruption and political unrest. This rhetoric is normally accompanied by efforts to try to demonstrate to the West that Africa is not a country. As much as this is an integral part of rewriting the African story, I feel that it is also a part that we must move on from. I believe that in the attempt to demonstrate diversity lies the danger of inciting disruptive competition and resentment between nations. I applaud Thakkar in his embodiment of a Pan-African approach to business as it allows his company to access a wider market and impact more people. Thakkar inspired me to view entrepreneurship in Africa not as a new wave that will bring change but as the result of a wave that swept through the continent over a decade ago. This is in contrast to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who continuously emphasized the need to redefine Africa, something which I believe that has already happened. This is not to devalue the extraordinary work that she and others in her age group of innovators have done. However, it demonstrates progression in mindset frrom generation to generation which I interpret as evidence that African entrepreneurs are increasingly becoming less reactive to an existing narrative and more proactive in writing their narrative.
I am grateful to the Rockefeller Centre for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference. It was a positive experience which has given me a perspective on doing business in Africa which will be invaluable to me this summer as I embark on a journey with comrades of mine to start a business in Kirinya, Uganda that will offer micro loans to women.
-Submitted by Sandile Dube '19