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There are more babies being born in Nigeria today, just one of Africa’s 55 countries, than there are in all of Europe. Or so says Dominic Barton, grand poobah at McKinsey. What Mr Barton highlights is the growing importance of Africa in any global dialogue and in the life of any future business leader (read: Wharton MBA).
The first continent has spent the last 50 years being the oft-maligned continent, but Africa is well and truly on the way back and The Economist, with its cover article, agrees. Since 2000 sub-Saharan Africa has been, by many estimates, the fastest growing region in the world. According to the IMF, more than half of the 20 fastest growing economies in the world this year are in Africa, with exactly zero in the Western Hemisphere.
This impressive recent economic record has been accompanied by improved governance. Botswana, Ghana and South Africa for instance have had less disputed national election results since 2000 than the USA, while Sierra Leone has increased life expectancy roughly ten years over the last decade.
The question thus arises, what does Africa’s emergence mean for the enterprising non-African Wharton MBA? This is something that will be addressed at the 21st annual Wharton Africa Business Forum, which commences November 15th and is focused on illuminating the journey of individuals seeking to translate opportunities into growth on the continent.
As someone who is clearly non-African, one thing I believe often escapes the conversation about Africa is the opportunities it affords us. I’ve had the pleasure of living in Sierra Leone and also working for a few months in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Kenya. Africa has already provided me with professional opportunities that I could never otherwise have expected to enjoy at this point in my life and there is no suggestion that the possibilities open to those of us who have had access to elite education are going to narrow anytime soon.
Working in Africa, at least in my experience, also provides ample opportunity to find meaning in your career. You may find yourself questioning whether spending 70 hours a week developing a strategy to sell an obese, probably drunk, Australian another slab of beer is really value additive to our universe. However, the impact of a successful business model delivering increased access to capital to smallholder farmers in remote villages in Nigeria is immediately apparent and quickly reaffirms ones belief in capitalism.
In addition to these two important points, my time in Africa was punctuated by amazing people, exposure to a gigantic cultural heritage, frighteningly immediate questions about equity in our world, a renewed sense of gratitude and optimism, and probably a few too many G&Ts.
If you are interested in finding out a little more about Africa, and the opportunities on the continent, then get along to the Africa Business Forum. If there is one thing I’m sure of, it’s that Africa is a beautiful, life changing place, with boundless potential and well worth any time invested.