Sonia Galat is the CEO of Africa Business Venture. Through this blog, she is describing how her desire to learn more about her African culture led her to the creation of an online platform to support trade development in Africa.
I was born in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire but raised in France. As many executives people coming from the diaspora, I wanted to participate in the new Africa and believed that my two cultures will give me an edge.
I attended all kind of conferences, seminars, galas, conferences, workshops around the world… I wanted to learn everything and to know everyone involved in the promotion of the continent. I realised quickly after all those networking events that (i) I was not more knowledgeable; (ii) that Africa was more complex than I imagined and; (iii) that most of these meetings did not lead to anything but a nice exchange of business cards and general conversations about the state of Africa. Being a legal counsel, I wanted to learn how you make a business successful in Africa and why not more businesses were jumping on the opportunities offered on the continent.
Passionate traveller as I am, I bought a ticket to what I believe is the MECCA of international trade promotion: Singapore. Within two days, I was able to meet EVERYONE that matters and saw how Singapore was present both physically (in conferences and events) and online. The most extraordinary element was that Singapore is a product and is promoted as such. Clean and efficient communication.
With this knowledge, I travelled to Africa alone with just a backpack and a book note. I visited Kenya, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa. In each location, I tested the information I received from local authorities, the welcoming and ease of starting a business in these countries. After this trip, I came back to London and did the same exercise but this time online contacting more than 20 countries; checking their websites and their information. My conclusion was that as Africans we could do better!
We are living in an era of fast communication and quick access to relevant and practical information. If some African countries are more advanced than others, the general feeling is that modern ways of communicating are underused. Getting access to conferences and trade shows is a big investment for many African countries. Representations of African countries in international tradeshows not specifically targeting Africa is very low and sometimes nonexistent.
With Africa Business Venture, I wanted to fill this gap: offering a platform for companies (i) to connect with one another; (ii) provide useful resources to make business happen and; (iii) extending invitations to African countries to use the full power of internet solutions to reach thousands of companies for the fraction of the cost of a tradeshow.
With economies at risk due to low price commodities, I am happy to see that this understanding is now shared by many countries. I believe that modernising the way investment agencies promote Africa is essential and that we still have a long way to go.