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Creating The Africa of Our Dream: The Harvard Africa Business Confenfrence

The Harvard Africa Business Conference was a can’t-miss event this past Winter. From February 28 to March 2, leaders and innovators from a wide cross section of industries took over Harvard Business School to discuss

The Harvard Africa Business Conference was a can’t-miss event this past Winter. From February 28 to March 2, leaders and innovators from a wide cross section of industries took over Harvard Business School to discuss the theme Africa Accelerates: Equipping a Vibrant African Economy. With a mix of sobering truths, success stories, and mostly boundless optimism, the event was a booster shot for all who love, care about and see opportunities on the Continent.

“Creating the Africa of our dreams,” was the mantra that founder and CEO of African Capital Alliance, Okechukwu “Okey” Enelamah, repeated in his opening keynote address. Fittingly, the conference provided an opportunity for attendees to do some collective dreaming about the African Continent we want to see.

Some ingredients for achieving this dream, as laid out in the conference schedule, included an environment where people invest in innovative ideas and young entrepreneurs; technology propels advancement in various sectors; infrastructure investments empower the private sector; women realize their full potential as leaders; education is priority and is responsive to Africa’s human resource needs; journalists are empowered to demand accountability; and artists and cultural workers are recognized for their economic and social contributions. Each of these, among several others, were panel topics that offered informative, engaging, and interactive discussions led by some of the most eminent contributors to these fields.

A microcosm of the broader conference was the New Venture Competition, where ten entrepreneurs competed for a $10,000 grand prize and a $5,000 people’s choice prize. The ventures spanned industries such as educational technology, agricultural technology, human resource development, personal finance and solar energy. After a round of pitches and judging, three finalists advanced to deliver a final pitch and appeal for popular support. The winner of the $5,000 prize, determined by audience applauses, was Save & Buy, an online savings platform in Nigeria.

The grand prize winner, represented by CEO Misan Rewane, was West Africa Vocational Education (WAVE). WAVE is a youth development organization in Nigeria that offers skills training and job placement to talented, underserved youth. Their first program, WAVE Hospitality Academy, focuses on preparing youth for jobs in the hospitality and retail industries. The program has been featured on sites like Hemsol and Applause Africa Magazine.

AfricaBusinessConfenfrence

The passion, ingenuity, and tenacity Rewane and her fellow competitors showed were precisely in keeping with the spirit of the event, and more importantly, with the energy pulsing all across Africa today.

“It takes only one committed generation,” were among Mr. Enelamah’s parting words in his keynote. One generation to solidly take the reigns and do the hard work of bringing a shared prosperity to the continent. And so many have heeded this call. People like David Osei, Ato Ulzen-Appiah, Dr. Catherine Adeya, Michael Onyango, Walter Lamberson, Lolu Adubifa, Olubumni Otegbade, Nancy Barry, Lohini Moodley, Kwaku Fokuo, Jr., Ibukun Awosika, Nkemdilim Begho, Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Ory Okolloh, Ameto Akpe, Dayo Olopade, Jackson Muneza M’vunganyi, and so many more. Look them up; be inspired!

A final takeaway from the event, sobering as it may be in the highly charged “Africa Rising” atmosphere, is that Africa is not about the quick windfall. Harvard professor Catherine Duggan in her opening remarks aptly contrasted youth’s desire for “a quick sprint to wealth” with the recently departed Nelson Mandela’s “long walk to freedom.” The latter is what we need, she taught.

“The road is not going to be easy,” she added.

Edefe Ojomo, an international law lecturer at the University of Lagos echoed a similar sentiment. Faced with the reality of poor infrastructure, overcrowding, and low faculty salaries, she is adamant that Africa’s future won’t be determined by the brightest and cleverest, but by “the people who are most willing to sacrifice.”

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