World Economic Forum Africa

Dar es Salaam. hosted by Jakaya M. Kikwete, President of Tanzania and Klaus Schwab

WEF is a unique organization because it brings together high level heads of state, business leaders, non profits, and innovators. This event was a regional event focused on Africa. Although Africa was a topic at Davos, it couldn’t get much airtime when all the global issues are under discussion.

One of the themes this year was A New Vision for African Agriculture. There are many sessions on various interesting topics. But experienced WEF attenders know that the sessions are truly optional. The key to WEF is the networking – who you meet and what you talk about. These can be chance meetings on a bus, in the hall, during a session, at a party, or at a meal. You also have online access to everyone who is registered and you can reach out electronically to be sure to connect. Almost everyone you connect with is doing incredibly interesting work as well as has a fantastic background.

This WEF I met quite a few African bank CEO’s from various countries. I also connected with technology providers operating in the region. Got to spend time with the head of Vodacom (Vodaphone) Tanzania – we were on a panel together discussing the mobile multiplier effect.

Our panel had great speakers including Ajai Chowdhry, Founder, HCL; Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, HCL Infosystems, India. I was taken aback by the lack of attendance at all two of the technology sessions I attended. During the mobile multiplier effect panel, the President of Zimbabwe decided to make a surprise visit.

But I suspect most of the leadership in Africa is focused on fundamental issues – like stable open government, basic infrastructure – therefore it is hard for them to focus on the big wins like job creation, education, and innovation.

That being said I believe there is so much potential as the continent gets wired and universal internet access via mobile. In a session on social networking I notice there are a few young innovators using social networking for really innovative business and social applications. In our session, we talked about Africa’s leadership in mobile banking and it is no accident since it is also the place where traditional banking had the poorest reach. Africa has a real opportunity to show the world what the next generation of banking is all about. The bankers understand that and are all excited about it. Still the governments need to get engaged to help create the regulatory structures to make it happen.

Not really discussed openly in the sessions, but definitely talk about in the halls was the issue of “cronie” government leadership. There are “families” that run the government for generations – and it is nearly impossible to break in. One Kenyan told me over the past years there have been exciting young leaders entering the scene – only to be murdered before they were able to make it into top government leadership roles. Let me say, I am not at all an expert on Africa. So I am not trying to pretend I understand all the dynamics of the continent.

I did notice a sense of hope in the air. The World Cup being held in South Africa inspires all African countries. South Africa being seen as a player similar to Brazil on the global scene is uplifting. India and China leaders attended the conference and were clearly engaged in how they participate in Africa’s future.

For those of you that haven’t been to Africa, it is a beautiful country. I stopped in Zanzibar for 20 minutes on the flight in – what an amazing place – I must go back. The people are gentle, the landscape is breathtaking. My hotel was next to the water and a church. At 6am every morning I awoke to the sunrise on the water and song coming from the church. A highlight of the trip was when the president of Tanzania invited all 1200 of us into his home for a dinner and cultural celebration.

I love Africa.


About Carol Realini

Serial Entrepreneur, Mobile Payments and Banking Pioneer, Author, Board Member Carol Realini is a successful Silicon Valley executive and expert in financial service innovation. She has worked with leading financial institutions including MasterCard and Citi, as well as numerous multinational and regional banks, to change the way banking is conducted. In 2011, as a Technology Pioneer attending the World Economic Forum, she led discussions on alternative banking at their meeting in Davos. A serial entrepreneur, she has been recognized as one of the 50 Top Women in Technology by Corporate Board Member magazine. Carol is a huge believer in the potential of mobile banking and payments to create financial inclusion - where everyone with a mobile phone has access to affordable financial services that empower their life and work. To understand Carol's vision please watch the WEF video (click on the link below). Carol also mentors entrepreneurs providing wisdom and lessons learned from her four successful startup experiences.
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