Signing Off …

August 11th, 2014

This is the last post for Touch Points blog which was launched in 2007.  In my book, seven years is a long time for a writing project.  This one served me, particularly well from the standpoint of learning.

My new writing project, to be launched later this month (August,, 2014), will be Nexus, referring to the junction of global markets and technology, and the players that are having an impact in that space. Please join in what I hope will be a brisk and insightful conversation.

Thank you.

Steve

 

 

A President’s Business Trip to Africa

June 27th, 2013

Cape Town on the Ground cx1The U.S. president and first lady on the ground in Cape Town

President Obama’s second trip to Africa signals the administration’s renewed commitment to the Sub-Sahara. At stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania this week the president is expected to highlight, as he has before, his over-arching focus on food security and global heath. He’s also expected to present new programs aimed at strengthening commercial ties with African countries, particularly democracies like the nations on his itinerary.

The administration wants to make it possible for the US private sector to play a more vital role in Africa at a time when other countries — notably China, Malaysia, India and Brazil — are stepping up their investments across the continent. Joining the president along the way will be some 500 US business leaders, sending a message to both African and American audiences that the US is hereby rolling up its sleeves.  The critical question about the president’s trip is whether the US is serious and, if so, what substantive policies will follow the anticipated rhetoric.

Read the rest of this entry »

Africa: The Best Guess

May 16th, 2013

Sometimes a thesis comes along that’s so incisive, it upends the orthodoxy. Morten Jerven’s proposition is capable of that. His book, Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled By African Development Statistics and What To Do About It, presents an eye-opening case for changing how Africa’s economies are measured and understood.

Measuring the economy’s performance, particularly gross domestic product (GDP), is critical to African governments and the donors that provide them with financial aid. Jerven shows that econometric models used to inform critical decisions about African countries are based on irreconcilably faulty data.

Read the rest of this entry »

China’s “Lewis Turning Point”

January 8th, 2013

Looking to the year ahead, what big economy-shaping issue should we be thinking about? A growing number of analysts will say that it’s China’s economic transition and its far-reaching implications. China rebounded in the fourth quarter after slowing in the prior three quarters, but the recovery appears to be in response to stimulus spending.

The crucial question is what comes next? What’s in store for China’s once-a-decade new government, and how will global markets be affected?

Read the rest of this entry »

Speaking Up for Immigration Reform

November 23rd, 2012

Timing is everything

It’s time that we in the business community speak up about the pressing need to reform America’s broken immigration policy.  For the country to compete in a global economy, it has to become easier for talented people from around the world to come here and stay, bringing their ideas with them. Mounting studies have shown that immigrants contribute disproportionately to the nation’s economy, creating businesses and jobs while forging ties with their countries of origin.

It should also be possible for illegal immigrants who’ve been here to have a reasonable path toward citizenship. The country’s social capital is replenished by the inclusion of newcomers, and we’re a more resilient society for it. Comprehensive immigration reform is needed to achieve all of these goals.

Read the rest of this entry »

What The Map Tells Us

October 21st, 2012

The impact of geography is profound, benefitting some countries, handicapping others. To understand global issues, we must first look at a map. That’s the theme of Robert D. Kaplan’s new book, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate.

Kaplan spins the globe explaining how mountains, rivers and coastlines shaped social and political history.  The veteran foreign correspondent knows the terrain well having reported from ramshackle towns and backwater villages in conflict zones for nearly three decades.

His approach to understanding the landscape is based on the premise that “a good place to understand the present, and to ask questions about the future, is on the ground, traveling as slowly as possible”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Africa — Looking Back, Looking Ahead

September 10th, 2012

Bend of the Nile, Khartoum

This month (September, 2012) marks the 25th anniversary of my first trip to Africa. Wandering the souqs and dusty streets of Khartoum, I discovered that Africa was too complex and beguiling to fit the labels often used to describe it.

Struck by its diversity and fierce beauty, I’ve been in Africa’s thrall ever since. Writer Richard Dowden warns, “Africa can be addictive.” The French have a term for people who become mad about the place: fous’ d’Afrique. At times, I’ve wondered if that term applies to me.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Revolution Is Being Televised

August 7th, 2012

Africa has arrived

Have you noticed the recent uptick in media coverage on “Africa Rising”? It seems like every week, another column is published mentioning that six of the ten fastest growing economies are in the Sub-Sahara. And, thanks to The AtlanticThe Economist, and BBC specials, Africa’s mobile revolution is now an icebreaker at cocktail receptions; Africa has arrived.

Despite how fashionable Africa has become in some circles, misconceptions abut the Sub-Sahara abound. The degree to which well-traveled Westerners underestimate Africa’s ethnic, cultural and topographic diversity is stunning.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ghana’s Unremarkable Transfer of Power

July 25th, 2012

Smooth and swift 

President John Atta Mills of Ghana, 68, died unexpectedly of throat cancer yesterday in the capital, Accra. His vice president, John Dramani Mahama, 53, was sworn in as his successor within hours of the president’s dying.

What’s remarkable about these events is Ghana’s unremarkable transfer of power. The country has become a paragon of good governance in a region where democratic institutions are in short supply. There’s no telling what might have transpired had an event like this occurred elsewhere in West Africa or in Ghana only twenty years ago.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Great Expectations Game

June 3rd, 2012

Place your bets

Amid this summer’s bumper crop of books on global economics, one title is generating exceptional buzz, and deservedly so.

The book is Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles, by Ruchir Sharma, who leads Morgan Stanley’s emerging markets practice. He’s been a columnist at Newsweek and the Economic Times of India.

At his day job, he places bets on potential winners – a task that was easier in the past than it will be in the future based on his outlook. Traveling regularly to the countries he analyzes, Sharma brings a valuable, on-the-ground view to his work.

Thoughtfully composed, Break Out Nations takes readers on contrarian’s tour of the world where macro forces lift some economies while hindering others.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brazil’s Siren Call

May 21st, 2012

Rio morning

New day in Brazil

A popular joke about Brazil of the ’70’s and ’80′s went: “It’s the country of the future, and it always will be.” Today, Brazilians wryly retell the joke as a reminder of those painful days when inflation reached 80 percent monthly and their country was adrift.

The future has arrived for a growing number of Brazilians. Thanks to soaring commodity prices and a government committed to avoiding the mistakes of the past, the world’s sixth largest economy is on a path toward sustained growth.

Brazil now has an investment grade rating given only to stable, growing economies. Many investors and entrepreneurs view the country as the emerging market that’s most likely to succeed. In a recent survey of 1,258 global chief executives, Brazil ranked highest, after China and the USA, in importance to their companies’ growth prospects.

Is the exuberance founded? Do the facts support the sanguine forecasts about Brazil?

Read the rest of this entry »

A New World Bank Leader for a New Era?

April 13th, 2012

A gentleman’s agreement

Since its inception in 1946, the World Bank has had 12 presidents, each of them an American. The practice of choosing an American for the job has gone unopposed given that the U.S. has been the world’s biggest donor nation. Similarly, the Europeans traditionally pick one of their own to run the IMF. This arrangement is known as a “gentleman’s agreement”.

But this year there’s a wrinkle in the World Bank process. A battle is underway among three candidates vying to succeed the incumbent president, Robert Zoellick, whose term ends in June.

Read the rest of this entry »

MENA 2.0: The Arab Digital Market

April 4th, 2012

A new engine of economic growth is quietly emerging in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Demographics, rising purchasing power and a burgeoning private sector are fueling economic development in a region where markets have been fragmented for too long.

Stretching from Morocco to Oman, MENA’s population tops 350 million, making it the world’s ninth largest market. But trade barriers among countries in the region have constrained market growth. Until now.

Today, an emerging trend is disrupting MENA’s traditional market patterns: a growing segment of urbanized, tech-savvy Arab youths is devouring on-line entertainment, gaming and social media, creating demand for digital services that are delivered across borders. Here comes the Arab digital content market.

Read the rest of this entry »

Africa’s Great Boom

March 3rd, 2012

City Bowl – Cape Town, South Africa

Cause for hope

Another sanguine feature story came out about Africa’s economic growth. The Economist ran a cover story in 2000 headlined, “The Hopeless Continent”, reversed course in December 2011, dubbing Africa, “The Hopeful Continent”. A new African narrative is emerging, finally.

In the last decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest growing nations have been in the Sub-Sahara, and that trend is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. The continent rebounded quickly from the global recession reaching 6% growth last year, surpassing East Asia.

Africa is too vast and diverse to be handled in a broad brush treatment. Each of its economies is affected by a unique and dynamic set of drivers.

However, on the whole, the Sub-Sahara is being shaped by converging forces: global demand for resources, burgeoning consumer markets and government reforms are placing the continent on a path toward sustainable growth. Regional trade and foreign investment are increasingly important. There’s cause for optimism and for a closer look at Africa’s Great Boom.

Read the rest of this entry »

Kenya Delivers Open Government

February 2nd, 2012

Leader of the pack

Last July, Kenya became the first sub-Saharan country to launch an open data government site, enabling its citizens to gain access to vital information. After only six months, the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) is still a work in progress, but it’s already reshaped Kenya’s culture of government.

When KODI was launched, Kenya was only the 22nd country with an open government portal. Today, 30 countries have live, open government sites, though dozens of other countries are in some stage of developing their own. Kenya’s early adoption is due in large part to the efforts of open data advocates both within Kenya’s government and among its influential technology community.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blazing Trails in Africa

January 4th, 2012

Accra, Ghana

In reflecting on the year ending, my thoughts turn again to Africa, home of six of the world’s top 10 fastest growing economies. Africa’s mobile revolution is spawning exciting, new opportunities for entrepreneurs and engineers. For practitioners eager to experience the impact of their work, there’s no more dynamic and interesting place to be than Africa today.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three short but inspiring talks given in 2011 by three of Africa’s best and brightest pioneers. These trailblazers all began their careers in technology, but now they’re developing “platforms” in the broader sense, enabling a new generation of Africans to reshape their future.

Each speaker offers their unique perspective, but a common theme from all of the talks is that Africa is rising rapidly. Through their courage and determination, Africa’s trailblazers can inspire us all to persevere, whether we work on the continent or not.

Read the rest of this entry »

Best Books

December 12th, 2011

Global businesses faced unprecedented opportunities and challenges in 2011. In a year that ushered in the Arab uprisings and a fracturing of the Eurozone, the world grew more interdependent and fragile.

Yet markets are demonstrating surprising capacities for resilience. Engineers and entrepreneurs in places like Nairobi, São Paulo and Doha are beginning to build export-worthy technologies.

This is a momentous time for anyone engaged in cross-market projects. It’s only fitting that the year’s top books match the scale of the changes we’re witnessing.

This is a year-end roundup of books that define our times and guide practitioners with a global perspective.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Tale of Two Economies

November 15th, 2011

Booming São Paulo

The West and the Rest

This is a tale of two economies with interlocking features. One has excess supply; the other has gnawing demand. In the West, economic growth is slowed while emerging markets are busting at the seams. An explosion in the number of urban, middle class consumers and related factors is powering growth in emerging markets.

The World Bank estimates that, on average, emerging nations will grow by 4.7 percent – double that of developed countries — through 2025. That growth isn’t only evident in the so-called BRIC nations, but in Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea, and across the developing world. Some of the fast growing regions are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Read the rest of this entry »

Designer. Sui Generis

October 6th, 2011

His true legacy is that he made the digital analogue. He turned ‘stuff’ into enduring delight. And what one business would have seen as irrelevant, expensive design detail, he made glorious, emotional connectivity. ~Richard Seymour, designer

His Legacy

In countless tributes to Steve Jobs, Apple devotees are understandably praising him for redefining several consumer electronics categories — the computer, the mouse, the MP3 player, the smartphone and the tablet.

Apple’s sleek devices resonate with users through all the noise and clutter of their lives, whether they’re in Johannesburg, Shanghai or São Paulo.

But Jobs’ impact extends beyond Apple’s wildly successful product line. Jobs not only raised the bar on consumer electronics, he transformed the discipline of design. Due to the universal appeal of his work, he revolutionized the way designers everywhere approach their work.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Disruptor: Dr. Ngozi Oknjo-Iweala

September 13th, 2011

An African Narrative

The misdeeds of Africa’s despots get plenty of media attention because they fit a Western “plug-n-play” narrative about the region. Conversely, the work of Africa’s exemplary leaders is often overlooked.

I’d offer the story of an extraordinary African leader determined to improve the quality of life in her nation. She’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was recently appointed Nigeria’s Finance Minister.

In her previous stint in that role, she compiled a stunning record of economic reform. She was the first woman to serve as her country’s Finance Minister and as its Foreign Minister.

Okonjo-Iweala is an inveterate disruptor of the status quo who is guided by her vision for what’s possible and a zeal for instigating change.

Stories like hers give rise to an emergent narrative that’s being written by Africans. As she puts it, “This is the Africa of opportunity. This is the Africa where people want to take charge of their own futures and their own destinies.”

Read the rest of this entry »