06/29/2010 06:34 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

From the World Expo to the World Cup: Field Notes From the New Economy

I started the week at the World Expo in Shanghai and ended it at the World Cup in Cape Town. Both events offer a spectrum of perspectives on what is really happening in the world economy today.

The New New York

First, the Expo in Shanghai truly was a showcase for a city and country whose time has come. The city has never looked better in the 15 years I have been traveling there. The reported $50 billion invested in infrastructure and construction shows well; Shanghai is now a bustling metropolis of 19 million people every bit the equal of New York in its economic and cultural clout. In addition to the Expo, the city has come alive with modern hotels, restaurants, fashion boutiques and artist enclaves. If you aren't already deeply immersed in the Chinese market, get moving. China is no longer an option, but a necessity.

The China Price

There is a great awareness that doing business in China is different than the West, but some of this is pure mythology - by design. Every market has its nuances of course, but there are far fewer differences than we think in China. In many ways, China is a freer, more capitalist system than our own. The Chinese are natural entrepreneurs and culturally industrious. Much of what we believe is wrong because it serves someone's purpose for us to be wrong. Internet censorship is a good example. Sure, the Chinese government has a giant parental control system in place to curtail access to certain websites. They want that idea broadly accepted, because the reality is there is no way to totally scrub the web. I was amazed to find out that my wife's lifestyle blog, Under a Pink Moon, was blocked for example (perhaps "pink" is a politically-charged word in Beijing), but was more amazed to find out that any Chinese teenager knows how to get around the blockades (for their sake I won't repeat the process here). The Chinese will always find a way to overcome roadblocks. So, like our government-perpetuated myth that keeps Americans from traveling at will to Cuba, it serves the government's purposes to perpetuate a myth that the Internet is censored in China.

World Cup Winner

Whether Brazil takes it all or not, the real winner of the 2010 World Cup is South Africa and the entire African continent. At the Fortune Global Forum yesterday, I had a chance to talk with Danny Jourdaan, chief executive officer of South Africa's World Cup Organizing Committee. Above all the challenges any host country faces in putting on such a global spectacle, Jourdann says South Africa had to deal with a particularly perniscious breed of naysayer. "They said we could not build the stadiums in time: we did. They said we could not provide the infrastructure in time: we did. They said we could not deliver the TV broadcast capability to the rest of the world: we did." There were stories of crime and terrorism and even an outbreak of giant snakes, he said. There was even a rumor that a big earthquake would hit on opening night. All this fear-mongering was aimed at suggesting that South Africa was too unsophisticated to host the games. The fact is, the South Africa World Cup is a huge success, among the best run in history--and possibly the most profitable for FIFA ever. Take that, naysayers.

Cape Town Races

This is my first visit to Cape Town but it won't be my last. This is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with some of the most beautiful and kind people I have ever met. I can't wait to get back here with my family.

The African Economy

In my book Jump Point, I predicted that Africa would arrive as a legitimate global economic player after the "jump point" year, 2011. I was off by a bit. While the coming decade will belong to Latin America--Brazil--the way that the past 10 years belonged to China, Africa's emergence will take place much faster than you can imagine. These are hard-working, focused people. There is capital here--the Chinese financial community particularly were everywhere here this week at the Global Forum. And while parts of the old world economy languish in the transition taking place, Africa will springboard ahead. As one UK speaker at the Forum put it, Europeans want to work 30-hour weeks; Africans want to work 30-hour days. Can't stop that.

The Next African Leadership

I was fortunate to meet and converse with some of the great and venerated leaders of South African history this week--including spending time with Archbishop Desmond Tutu (a real joy and now my favorite photograph); Nelson Mandela's wife, Graca Machel and national hero (and Mandela's fellow Robben Island inmate) Ahmed Mohamed "Kathy" Kathrada. I also met some of the up-and-coming leaders of the country. None of them impressed me quite as much as Francois Pienaar. Pienaar is a national hero in South Africa and has lately become better known worldwide for being played by Matt Damon in the Clint Eastwood-directed film, Invictus. Pienaar was captain of the Springboks, South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup winning team that united the nation at a very critical time in the young country's history. Pienaar joined with Mandela to use the World Cup opportunity to bring whites and blacks together in a new spirit of nationhood. That the under-rated Springboks would go on to win the whole thing only added to the magic and myth of the event. Most significantly, Pienaar, educated as a lawyer, remains close to Mandela, and is an articulate and passionate advocate for South Africa. And he is a good man. While President Jacob Zuma still has more than two years left on his term, I believe it is not too early to start seeing Francois Pienaar as a legitimate contender to be South Africa's next president. He would be a transformative figure for South Africa in much the way that Barack Obama has been for the U.S. We should start helping him raise funds in the States. I know I will be.