Professor Ieva Jākobsone Bellomi Chairs Panel for Italy Africa Business Week
JCU Business professor, Ieva Jākobsone Bellomi, an expert in developing and emerging markets, was invited to take part in the fourth annual Italy Africa Business Week, which was held remotely from November 9 to 11, 2020.
Since its inception, the Italy Africa Business Week, has become the most important and principal economic and commercial forum between Italy and 54 African countries. This year’s edition brought together high level participants, including ministers, diplomats, businesspeople and academics. The discussion focused on the future of the African continent, and its commitment to building sustainable and green economies, to deliberate on the problems and solutions for post-Covid Africa, and to get perspectives and insights in cooperation and business development opportunities between Italy and Africa. More than ten panels were held over the three days, gathering more than a hundred opinion leaders, professionals, and experts on African political, social, and economic affairs.
Professor Jākobsone Bellomi chaired the panel on startups, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The panel of experts included representatives from the World Bank, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and professionals and businesspeople from Italy, Kenya, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Senegal.
The African continent is often described as a potential playing field for a great technological leap forward. It is compared to China and its success of the last two decades rising to the status of one of the two A.I. superpowers in the world, with the other being the United States. Unfortunately, as highlighted by the conference speakers, gaps in knowledge cause Africa to often be portrayed as inefficient in terms of infrastructure capacity, regulatory frameworks, and rule of law. Nevertheless, the World Bank strongly believes in Africa’s future and is persistent in its Digital Moonshot initiative, which seeks to ensure that developing countries benefit fully from new digital solutions. The World Bank in collaboration with the African Union is committed to building and strengthening the digital infrastructure, landscape, and skills across the continent.
Africa has been recognized as the continent of entrepreneurs, with its large numbers of imaginative and creative youth. Young Africans are using technology and innovation in order to contribute to a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit across the continent. In 2018, there were 442 technology hubs in Africa, whereas in 2020 it is estimated that there are over 600. The Burkina Faso home-grown digital hub Ouagalab, for example, was launched in 2011 as a space for young people to access and learn about digital tools. It is also a meeting place and incubator for innovation, prototyping, and collaboration, and it is intended to stimulate ideas for social companies.
The panel presented the case that the African great leap forward is happening already now, such as the example of M-Pesa, a mobile payment app. This inclusive finance tool reaches informal underserved economies such as that of women in rural areas, and has enabled millions of Africans to gain access to safe and secure banking services, without fancy and expensive smartphones.
The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM Association), an industry organisation that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide released a report called “The Mobile Economy: Sub-Saharan Africa 2019,” according to which mobile technologies and services have generated 1.7 million direct jobs (both formal and informal) and contributed to $144 billion of economic value, which accounts for 8.5% of the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Even when it comes to traditional industries like agriculture, Africa is showcasing its competitive nature using A.I., technology, and innovative approaches. For example, Agroplexi, an African blockchain backed investment vehicle for the agriculture ecosystem, was presented by the UNIDO representatives as an example that captures the cross-industrial approach of solving local, traditional problems with innovative technology-based solutions. According to a report by Foresight Africa called “Capturing the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Zenvus, a Nigerian startup, measures and analyzes soil data to help farmers apply the right fertilizer and optimally irrigate farms. Ghana-based companies Farmerline and Agrocentra offer farmers mobile and web technology for agricultural advice, weather information, and financial tips.
In concluding remarks Prof. Jākobsone Bellomi highlighted the specific characteristics of the African great leap forward the world can learn from: social inclusiveness and community feel, sustainability and friendly co-existence with the environment, and solving local, traditional problems with innovative tech solutions potentially applicable on a global scale. Italian companies, on the other hand, have great opportunities in the field of technology transfers and knowledge sharing, such as collaboration in STEM education. A representative from Rome’s Istituto M. Massimo gave the example of students as young as age 9 who have the opportunity to take in-depth engineering courses and work on high tech projects such as drones.
In Spring 2021, Prof. Jākobsone Bellomi will be teaching MGT 310 Organizational Behavior and MGT 426 International Management.