What does it take for an idea to seed? What are the specific conditions that must be met, what mind-sets cultivated, what context needed to achieve mass adoption?
Two weeks ago I spoke at the UN’s General Assembly in New York City alongside Prime Minister Theresa May, Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau, Rwanda’s President Kagame, and Ghana’s President Akufo-Addo as part of its ‘Call to Invest’ in jobs for young people across Africa. To create jobs, Africa must first create the conditions for foreign investment, and entrepreneurialism, and thriving markets. This requires a specific set of expertise, which Britain has in spades. Critically, it also requires a recognition, after many years, that the instruments of charity and the isolated ambitions of the private sector have not been able to achieve the necessary impact, and a new approach must now be taken to harness the true catalytic power of business to fuel prosperity.
I was therefore delighted, as Chairman, to officially launch the City of London Corporation’s Sustainable Development Capital Initiative (SDCI), backed by DFID, the UK government-owned development finance institution CDC, and several private sector partners. Our mission is to position London’s financial markets to help mobilise the investment and innovation required to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
In doing so, the Initiative will foster a new approach that harnesses Britain’s rich expertise – coordinating the private and public sector and working with partner countries to develop products and vehicles that help capital flow from London – and ensures the British private sector is equipped to take the lead in investing the billions that will see developing economies growing by trillions.
A key part of any sustainable economy is a strong private equity and venture capital industry, and we will also be focused on developing this in real partnership with fast growing nations across Africa. Our three major areas of focus will be to champion London’s offer; to build an enabling environment – for example working with developing markets on how to structure opportunities; and to address market barriers – such as regulation and risk mitigation – as well as judging the opportunity to use the SDGs to create new economic opportunities.
When I began arguing for the idea that it must be business, not aid, to transform African economies, it was a fringe concept drenched in novelty. Now, fifteen years later, it is being embraced by world leaders. When I established 8 Miles with Bob Geldof to be a new private equity fund in Africa, I was met with much the same response. So what has changed? How does an idea take root and finally blossom into action?
As with most answers of this kind, the answer is not clear cut. The idea has not changed, but its context has. Throughout the last fifteen years and in particular in the last five , the fast moving world we inhabit has dramatically shifted. In 2013, the growing role of African nations as our engine of youth and our future partners in trade was still theoretical; and even today, Britain’s exports to Africa still stands at only 3%. But the awareness of Africa’s ‘youth bulge’ – and the limited time its governments have to pluck opportunity from impending disaster – is now absolute; and with it the consensus of global leaders that a new way is needed to ensure our collective success as a global community. Yet notable at the UN, despite this backdrop of urgency, was the absence of definitive solutions. The SDCI remains one of the only practical and systemic responses to the challenge ahead, and we’ve been overwhelmed by positive responses from the business community. We look forward to delivering our first set of outcomes at the UK Africa Investment Summit in the summer of 2019.