Archive for the ‘What’s Next? (WILD CARD) ’ Category

A President’s Business Trip to Africa

Thursday, 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.

(more…)

Africa: The Best Guess

Thursday, 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.

(more…)

China’s “Lewis Turning Point”

Tuesday, 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?

(more…)

Speaking Up for Immigration Reform

Friday, 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.

(more…)

What The Map Tells Us

Sunday, 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”.

(more…)

Africa — Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Monday, 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.

(more…)

The Revolution Is Being Televised

Tuesday, 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.

(more…)

Brazil’s Siren Call

Monday, 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?

(more…)

A New World Bank Leader for a New Era?

Friday, 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.

(more…)

Kenya Delivers Open Government

Thursday, 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.

(more…)

Blazing Trails in Africa

Wednesday, 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.

(more…)

Best Books

Monday, 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.

(more…)

The Disruptor: Dr. Ngozi Oknjo-Iweala

Tuesday, 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.”

(more…)

Song of Africa

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Mapping the Fiber Revolution 

Most everyone interested in Africa’s connectivity revolution has seen the handiwork of Steve Song, a South African social entrepreneur who wants to make telecommunications accessible to more Africans. His iconic map of Africa’s undersea fiber optic cables is a visual narrative of the continent coming “on-line”.

When Song began the mapping exercise three years ago, his intent was to document the continent’s two or three existing cables in order to aid his work. Since then, the number of new undersea cables encircling Africa has burgeoned, and Song has faithfully revised his map.

(more…)

Summer Reading

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Two conversation-shaping books

Here are my Summer Reading picks for those who go for both engaging narrative and penetrating insight. I’m recommending two distinctly different books by writers who don’t want to merely inform their readers; they want to shape the conversation. Both authors accomplished what they set out to do.

Tim Harford | Adapt – Why Success Always Starts with Failure

“Today’s challenges simply cannot be tackled with ready-made solutions and expert opinions; the world has become far too unpredictable and profoundly complex. Instead, we must adapt—improvise rather than plan, work from the bottom up rather than the top down, and take baby steps rather than great leaps forward.” ~Tim Harford

(more…)

Planning for What’s Next

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Scenarios are the most powerful vehicles I know for challenging our “mental models” about the world and lifting the blinders that limit our creativity and resourcefulness. ~Peter Schwartz

Using a longer lens

It’s been twenty years since the publication of Peter Schwartz’s insightful primer about scenario planning, The Art of the Long View. In the book, Schwartz makes a convincing case for using scenario planning in approaching strategic challenges of various kinds.

Schwartz, who led scenario planning efforts at Shell, Motorola, and Pacific Gas and Electric, concluded that the technique could be applied to handling the emergent complex threats that companies were confronting in the 90’s.

Since then, the world has grown radically more complex, more uncertain. Globalization and the Internet have woven together our institutions so that a crisis in one corner of the world can spread virally with far-reaching consequences.

(more…)

Wicked Problems, A Defining Challenge

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Reverberating events

The uprisings in the Arab world are capturing worldwide attention not only because we’re witnessing history in the making, but because the changes are bound to affect us all. We live in a world that’s interconnected in ways that were hard to fathom only a few years ago. Interconnectedness is creating new challenges with social implications that traditional institutions and leaders aren’t equipped to handle.

The clashes across the Middle East and North Africa are only the latest example of unforeseen events that reverberate across regional boundaries. Before that, the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the U.S. sparked a deep global recession that affected more sectors than anything economists had seen before. As some economies began recovering during the following year, Europe’s mounting debt crisis triggered  a cascade of new problems in distant economies.

Today’s challenges, geopolitical or otherwise, are more difficult to predict, understand and handle than the kinds of problems we’ve seen until recently. As the world grows more interconnected, we become more exposed to what design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber called “wicked problems” which are substantially harder to define and solve than so-called “tame” problems.

(more…)

Unleashing a Coalition

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

High stakes, high pressure

As our society debates the need for more civil discourse, we’re underplaying the value of competing perspectives among our leaders. I’m a fan of rival leaders who can come together despite their differences to redefine their company’s mission.

For institutions grappling with deep change, there’s no better way to start than by assembling a coalition of leaders and entrusting them to set a new direction. When the stakes are high, a team of diverse, tough-minded leaders reaching a consensus can yield resoundingly productive results.

(more…)

Lessons From Emerging Markets

Sunday, December 19th, 2010


Turning the page

Another interesting year is rapidly winding down. This year, I had the chance to work with many gifted business and tech leaders, but it was particularly satisfying collaborating with innovators in developing regions — the Sub-Sahara, the Middle East and South Asia.

It’s time for Western multinational companies — especially those in the customer-facing sectors — to enter developing markets where consumer-led growth is robust but capital and resources are in short supply.

(more…)

Africa’s Latest Asian Wave

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

India’s top mobile carrier, Bharti Airtel, is bringing its ultra low-cost services to the sub-Sahara. Can it adapt its managed services model to penetrate  Africa’s under-served, low-income markets? What are the implications?

Out of the East

Asia’s growing influence in Africa is receiving worldwide attention. China’s investment in Africa will top $100 billion dollars this year making it the continent’s biggest trading partner. There are 800 Chinese companies with over 4 million Chinese people living and working there. China’s impact on Africa, as author Richard Dowden observed, is the biggest economic shift of the twenty-first century.

Now, the story of Asia’s push into Africa is being revised to highlight players from India. In June, Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile carrier – the 5th largest telecom in the world – bought Kuwait-based Zain’s operations in 16 African countries for $10.7 billion in cash.

Bharti has been eager to grab a piece of Africa’s growing mobile market for some time. In 2009, it tried to buy MTN, Africa’s largest carrier, but the deal failed due to regulatory roadblocks. Undeterred, Bharti pivoted quickly setting its sights on Zain.  By June, Bharti bagged its African trophy, though some analysts thought it paid too much for Zain’s assets.

(more…)