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JUL 28, 2010

My (Business) Trip to Tanzania – Part 6: Africa, Believe in Your Strengths!

By Yoshito Hori

“I’m leaving my hotel now. I will finally take part in a panel discussion in Tanzania organized by the World Economic Forum today. I’ve completed my preparations. All I need to do now is to speak with confidence on the panel. I am the only panelist from Japan, however, I’d like to do it in a relaxed manner.”

I left my hotel room after making this tweet in Japanese.(By the way, if you tweet in Japanese language with 140 characters, you can convey meaningful messages). I had mobilized Globis research staff members since yesterday to gather the data I needed.

I would have felt more at ease, if I were to talk about how to start a business or how to educate people, which are my areas of specialty. But on this occasion I needed to talk about something else. I had no experience in “Growth Strategies for Companies in Developing Nations.” This was my first trip to sub-Saharan Africa. I had to discuss the subject in English. More than half of the people in the audience would be Africans well-acquainted with local circumstances. Though I’m not someone who becomes nervous easily, I began to feel the tension arising inside me.

The time for me to take part in a panel finally drew near. I moved to the room where the session would be held with me on the panel of speakers. I exchanged greetings with the other platform speakers. After confirming the arrangements for the session, I took a seat and waited for a signal to start the session. Ms. Kumi Fujisawa of SophiaBank sat in the front row of seats. She kindly took the following picture of me.

http://twitpic.com/1lpofb

Ms. Lee, who is to the left in the photo, looks young, but she is the Managing Editor of CNN. She acted as the moderator for this panel. Our panel discussion began with her signal. Mr. Robert Greenhill, Managing Director of the World Economic Forum (WEF), spoke first.

My turn to take the microphone as the third speaker came. I started my points with a mixture of English and a little of local language, saying, “Good morning. Jambo? (How are you?)” I made my position clear at the beginning of my talk, saying, “This is my first visit to this region. I’m not an expert in African affairs. So, I’d like to contribute to this panel from a different perspective as a Japanese.”

The key point I made in the talk was as follows. “To think of a way to produce Fortune 500 companies from Africa, we must understand worldwide trends from a historical perspective. Looking back on history, North American and European companies always took the lead. Then, Japanese caught up with them. Companies in South Korea and Taiwan have followed. Companies in the BRICs are now on the rise. Companies in other emerging countries are achieving rapid growth, too. It’s not impossible for companies in Africa to join this list.” I took a pause after throwing one question to the audience. “So what should African companies do to achieve that?”

“It’s important for them to develop an original business model that takes advantage of regional and national strengths. That’s the bottom line. Companies in Japan developed their original business model drawing strength from R&D and production by emphasizing human resources, in other words, education, as Japan had no mineral resources at all. Brazilian companies expanded their operations with their country’s mineral resources, such as iron ore, as an advantage. Resources such as oil and gas enabled Russian firms to achieve growth. India achieved national growth with outsourcing services and software technologies, using English proficiency to its advantage. Export-oriented manufacturers realized growth in China”. I asked my second question to the floor and paused. .
“ So what will be the business model for Africa?”

“I believe the following four fundamentals are necessary for achieving growth in any country or region:”

(1) Investment in education. Both elementary education and higher education.
(2) Establishment of infrastructure (such as electric power service, gas service, waterworks, transportation networks, telecommunications networks and port facilities)
(3) System that ensure free flows of capital, human resources, technologies and management knowhow.
(4) Political leadership is important to establish laws, and to advocate the strong will to achieve growth while advancing deregulation.

“So what does an ‘African model’ need? I asked this question to African students at our graduate school of management before taking this trip to Africa. Their answer was ‘placing the emphasis on underground resources and agriculture, building a regional bloc, and creating markets that attract technologies and capital from overseas.’ I have no doubt this region will produce next-generation Fortune 500 companies if and when initiatives are taken in these areas.” With this statement, I closed my opinion.

I expressed the following view in response to another panelist’s opinion when my second chance to take the microphone came.

“I can understand your expectations towards central governments, but it’s essential for the private sector to make own efforts under the prevailing conditions, demonstrating originality and ingenuity, and displaying a spirit of entrepreneurship. In the field of education, too, it’s important for all people to try to learn from each other at home, in communities, in companies or at conferences like this one, instead of relying on educational institutions such as universities to do it for you. African leaders who have gathered here can immediately move things forward without depending on their governments if they their minds are put together.”

I had three more chances to speak to people on the floor during the question-and-answer session. Things went quite well. I was relaxed enough to make a joke when the electricity accidentally went off in the middle of the session, saying, “That’s why infrastructure is important.” I made the following statement as my last contribution to the panel discussion when the time to conclude it drew near.

“I just returned from safari yesterday. Africa is a wonderful place. I have fallen in love with this continent. Africa has great potential. Take your time, instead of trying to do things in a rush. I recommend you to start on a small scale, take your time and move things pole pole (a Swahili word, meaning “slowly”). Let’s take steady steps forward, looking at how things will be 10 years, no, 30 years to 50 years from now.”

With that, I ended my last contribution as a panelist. After the session, one participant in the floor came to me with a broad smile. “What you said was wonderful,” he kindly told me. “You gave me courage. Your message that we must know Africa’s strengths to think of an African model reached my heart.” I left the room after expressing my appreciation to the moderator and fellow panelists on the podium.

I received feedback from Ms. Kumi Fujisawa as well. I found the following tweet on her Twitter account:

“Many panelists spoke a little arrogantly. Mr. Hori was the only one who took an African standpoint. He spoke from his heart. I felt very proud.”

Yes, that’s the point. I paid more attention to speaking from my heart than bettering the contents of my discussion. Words spoken by panelists lose their everyday power when the speakers take a formal attitude. I noticed that at other sessions. I wanted to deliver the message from my heart with passion. “African people don’t need to take a formal attitude or imitate others. All they need to do is take note of their strengths and develop a model of their own.” Reading Ms. Fujisawa’s tweet, I felt very happy.

Many people approached me for a chat during the recess after the panel discussion. Before I knew it, the final session for the World Economic Forum on Africa had started with the presidents of South Africa and Tanzania on the podium. After standing there for a while, I decided to leave the venue.

At that point, I tweeted the following:

“It’s over!, Went well!!, Well-received!!!, I’m happy!!!!”

May 9, 2010
Yoshito Hori
Written at an airport lounge in Doha