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Georgetown’s First ABC Conference Exceeds Expectations

On February 5, Georgetown University hosted its inaugural African Business Conference themed: Africa Rising: Business in Action. Strategically positioned in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia region, with a large population of African professionals and a strong

On February 5, Georgetown University hosted its inaugural African Business Conference themed: Africa Rising: Business in Action. Strategically positioned in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia region, with a large population of African professionals and a strong presence of international bodies, the venue teemed with enthusiasm and chatter about the state of our rising continent.

Why another African-centered conference? David A. Thomas, Dean of the McDonough School of Business promptly answered:  “the point of this conference is to find someone who has an idea that excites you and connect with them.” Even before he took the stage, it was obvious that attendees were genuinely connecting. Conferences such as these always present African diasporans with the opportunity to connect with like-minded people with a passion for the continent, hence they remain relevant, necessary, and popular.

Why did guests attend? They told us:

“It’s a great opportunity to professionally grow your network without worrying about blending in.”

“The media doesn’t always give us the big picture of what is happening in Africa, so I figured I’d come out and learn about it from people who actually know what they are talking about.”

“It’s easier to pitch a business set in Africa to someone who truly understands Africa, so I am here to find potential investors.”

 

The diverse careers of African Diasporans was a lovely discovery for me. Many of us seem to have dual lives, like superheros. I met a Financial Data Analyst who moonlighted as a soul singer. She attended the conference to publicize her music, which she likened to artists like Asa and Layori. Then there was the engineer who was an activist against poverty by night. Throughout the day, I encountered dynamic people whose goal was to learn how to harvest their talents into their various home countries.

Attendees learned  a lot from the dynamic panelists who shared their deep knowledge of their subject matter expertise and practical examples that one could easily follow. An attendee joked that “everything presented at the conference could be compiled into a handbook!”

What was most valuable to attendees is the practical advise and insight panelists shared in regard to how the development of Africa. Rather than giving cliche and common reasons (corruption, lack of governance etc) for slow progression in some parts of Africa, panelists gave practical solutions to barriers that seem impossible to navigate.  Notable quotes and advice include:

  1. “We invest in companies, not countries or cities.”- Tom Speechley, the Abraaj Group. He explained that often times, when foreign companies set out to complete business intelligence analyses on African countries, several factors are given enormous weights e.g. governance, infrastructure, security. While those factors are indeed valid, Speechley explained that such weights are not always relevant to the success of companies. Rather, attendees were urged to filter through the irrelevant factors when deciding if ventures are worth the pursuit.
  2.  “Focus helps you de-clutter your mind, so that you can recognize distractions when they come.” – Ayotade Oyinola, IHS towers. Diasporans were urged to ignore the excess noise that seems to cloud our judgement when we think of starting ventures in our home countries. Attendees were reminded that there would always be obstacles to getting to the finish line, but remaining focused would be the determining factor for success in the end.
  3. “Friends, Foes, Faculty, and Family” – Pardon Mukumbe, CRE Venture Capital. As expected, several attendees sought to learn where one could get capital to start a business. Mukumbe’s short answer of the “4 F’s” was a crowd-favorite, succinct answer.

By the closing of the conference, I overheard people discussing potential business endeavors, plans to meet up, hopes of partnering up, and goals of following-up. Even hours after the conference had ended, new friendships had been formed, folks had learned about the true impact of private equity on the continent, Fuse explained what inspired the creation of the “Azonto” record, and most importantly, Georgetown succeeded in articulating how Africa is truly rising and practical ways in which the diaspora could partake. Attendees were reassured that the is was more than a theme, but a true phenomenon. One takeaway from this conference is that Africa is indeed rising, and there are million practical ways you and I can partake in this growth.

Morenike Ayo-Vaughan

By day, Morenike is a healthcare consultant and by night, she is a fiction writer and recipe developer who is also interested in the impact of entrepreneurship on the African Continent.

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