09/09/2013 12:50 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2013

Addressing the African Challenge

Governance broadly is one main challenge facing global thought leaders. More specifically, the fact of an interconnected and very large global economy and the limited capacity of governments and international institutions to govern this economy. This asymmetry can only lead to failing governance, most vividly in much of Africa where the absence of good governance has long been one of the biggest obstacles for its progress. But not only in Africa. I believe global thought leaders can learn from the current focus on social entrepreneurs as a key for progress and sustainable development.

Africa is the world's richest continent in natural resources. It has 50% of the world's gold, most of the world's diamonds and chromium, 90% of the cobalt, 40% of the world's potential hydroelectric power, 65% of the manganese, millions of acres of untilled farmland, as well as other natural resources.
So, what can leaders do to actively promote positive change in Africa?

Development is a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle that is fueled by education, collaboration, good governance, investments and trade. With a flourishing trade sector a country can secure improved rates of long-term employment. Long-term employment means that people have a secure income and so they can afford to spend. When people have buying power the demand for goods and services increases and with it, domestic and other production rates rise. And this supports capital formation as well as more government capacity for services delivery. In order to achieve this nexus of positive process we should:
  • Support and reinforce the Education sector in Africa
  • Help train incumbent and future leaders across all sectors and disciplines to imagine old problems in fresh ways and to bring innovative capacity to recurring challenges
  • Encourage the triangle of collaboration between the public sector, the private sector and civil society
  • Create results-driven projects that will attract investment, which benefit all stakeholders and in turn will change the basic parameters
  • Nurture social innovation via entrepreneurship and other mechanisms
  • Open new pathways for Africa to use its commodities, to add value, new services and technological capabilities
  • Create additional, relevant opportunities for knowledge exchange and collaboration
  • Stop looking at Africa as a 'tragic story' trapped in a vicious cycle and instead rediscover the potential and a more hopeful narrative
No doubt that Africa suffers from a number of endemic problems which are very difficult to address. We already know that. Poverty, corruption, AIDS, ethnic genocides, civil wars, slavery to name but a few. No doubt that there are issues such as a large infrastructure gap, there is a need for development of an efficient banking system, and it is necessary to improve the investment climate and regulatory environment. But as I noted at the start, it is also a continent of 1 billion people and 54 countries each with its own strengths and challenges and with a strong base of natural and other resources waiting for infrastructure and local imagination. Africa' is not one thing but many countries, geographies, and economies.

We can't ignore the fast-growing potential and that the necessary expertise and talent to address the above does indeed exist.
What about the rising number of Africans who study abroad in the best global universities such as Oxford for example? The Oxford University Alumni Network counts almost 2,000 alumni across the continent, a small number of the total but a substantial base. Add to this alumni from other top universities and from distinguished African universities, to recognize this human capital and its potential.

Africa is a continent with numerous alumni spread at great distances, from Madagascar to Morocco. The Oxford University Society and the Oxford-Cambridge Society have an organized presence in eight African nations with groups based in Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
For the past five years Said Business School has been actively harnessing the potential of its Oxford African Network by organizing an annual Africa Business conference which gathers important African thinkers, experts, entrepreneurs and investors. And many recent alumni are heading to African countries to build business in oil and energy industries, to develop ecotourism, to contribute to growing presence in financial services, etc.

And why wouldn't investors be interested in Africa? The rate of return on foreign investment in the continent is greater than in any other developing region. I recognize there is variation across different countries and in different time periods, but the basic fact is high potential for growth

I will get back to two points that I made before: a) that civil society must join forces with private companies and governments to promote education, training, knowledge exchange, social innovation, collaboration and monitoring of reforms and b) that if we want to support reforms and positive change to happen in Africa we must nurture a new generation of visionary leaders who will be able to lead the way ahead.

Many colleagues in Africa and elsewhere recognize this. In the last ten years, there are extraordinary initiatives to build pan-African universities, Africa-centric graduate programs in management and leadership and many other fields, programs that connect secondary schools across the continent, new global initiatives that link leading western universities with partner programs in Africa, etc.

Africa needs competent leaders who will promote more participatory governance and transparency. They will promote sound investments that will lead to capital stock increases, and this will lead to high output, along with equitable distribution of income and, in turn, savings and more investments. This is how sustainable development can be achieved.

Africa needs visionaries who recognize how collaboration accelerates initiatives for progress and sustainable development and who will seek partnerships with obvious and also unexpected stakeholders. It needs leaders who know that people have primacy and that they will serve ideas and values for a large vision. It needs leaders who will take steps to achieve extensive impact and will also look to develop new leaders in communities and cities as well as at the national level and across all sectors in order to foster growth. Africa needs inspiring leaders who can create an ecosystem of trust for progress and development by communicating openly in order to achieve engagement and high performance.