With the pandemic in the midst of its second wave in Europe, the Africa Business Day (ABD) had to innovate its way into our home offices. Ironically, Covid 19 has enabled the Africa Business Day, ran by the Swiss African Business Circle (SABC) and hosted by Roche, the chance of widening their audience. This year, their theme of Emerging Business Models, was beamed not just to people residing in Europe, but across Africa and other continents as well.
Over 300 participants tuned in to watch H.E Erwin Bollinger, Ambassador for State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and Verena Utzinger, President of the SABC board, open the event with their welcome addresses. The Ambassador reiterated that we are living in uncertain times and that we are living through challenges that we have not been through before. “In the new framework, companies have been coming up with alternative business models, and cross sectoral collaboration. These changes pay off in the long term, for the private sector and the world in general” he added.
With regards to the African situation, Ambassador Bollinger suggested that the current pandemic crisis could “unlock Africa’s potential and foster more sustainable investments. Leading to a new form of stakeholder capitalism in which businesses take an active part in the creation of long-term value.” He also stated that “Switzerland works together with selected African partner countries, support growing entrepreneurship in Africa, create more jobs for young Africans, contribute to the development of an efficient and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa, address the financing gap at the earliest and riskiest stages of enterprise creation and develops and strengthens skills with young entrepreneurs.”
Setting the stage for the day’s keynote addresses and breakout sessions Mrs Utzinger also talked of how the “new way of attending events like this is part of the adaptation and new business models that the crisis is forcing us to revisit ‘how do I set up my company in a rapidly changing business environment’ and how can partnerships and collaboration overcome limited resources.”
The first speaker of the day was Alexander Osterwalder, inventor of the Business Model Canvas. His role was to set the scene and explore emerging business models. He covered how the most successful and resilient companies worldwide reinvent themselves and compete on superior business models and transcend industry boundaries. The latter point is a nod at companies like Safaricom in Kenya, who traditionally focussed on telecommunications but in recent years has moved over into fields such as financial tech, health care solutions and insurance. His enlightening presentation was punctuated with exercises for the participants to keep everybody focussed.
He urged companies to explore innovation as well as managing what has made it a success to date, by bringing in outside business models, improving existing business models and removing models that don’t fit the strategy, a company can continue to grow and become more resilient.
The African perspective was delivered by Emilia Chisango, of Cassava Smartech Zimbabwe Limited. Initially, Chisango pointed out that worldwide there are many misconceptions with regards to Africa. She highlighted this by polling the participants on how many companies in Africa they believe earn annual revenues of $1 Billion per annum. 44.4% of participant chose the correct answer of more than 400, but it was clear that with over 50% of those with a current interest in Africa were not aware of the facts. In terms of Zimbabwe she also pointed out that the country has over 90% mobile phone coverage and urged that people do not “hang on to old news” and keep up to date with current trends in Africa.
Chisango pointed out that many focus on the challenges in Africa, rather than the opportunities. She conceded that there is an infrastructure gap in much of the continent, especially with regards to energy, pricing, communication and water. “A pessimist will say there is no infrastructure in Africa so I am not going to go there, but an optimist will say there is limited infrastructure and Africa is pushing to close the gap, so they will aim to come in and work with a new business model. “Whoever is going to come up with a properly defined problem statement and solution is the one that is going to make it in terms of defining their business model”, she encouraged the audience.
Of course, the Swiss perspective needed to be covered, and this was presented by Padraic Ward, the Head of Pharma International for the hosts, Roche. After introducing Roche and their pioneering role in personalised healthcare, he talked about the company’s long presence in Africa. On the continent around 750,000 patients were treated with Roche medicine in 2019.
He also pointed out that they are one of the biggest sponsors of clinical trials in Africa, with a focus in South Africa where there have been 150 trials over the last 10 years. Roche are “aware that the African genome has been massively under researched” and therefore want to increase the scope of trials across the continent as well as collaborate with African healthcare systems and empower them to take advantage of health care innovations.
Ward placed importance on telling participants that it is possible to get “over 90% of the population covered by health care insurance, 90% of patients with a disease like HIV access to high quality treatments, or 90% of children vaccinated for common communicable diseases,” even in Africa. Whereas many may think that this is something only possible in the so-called developed world, Rwanda has in fact achieved these impressive figures, and therefore it is possible across the continent. Ward then showcased some of the partnerships Roche has in Morocco, Ivory Coast and Kenya, before wrapping up.
Before the breakout sessions, Andre Hoffman, Vice Chairman of Roche, was interviewed by Ana Maria Montero. He opened by expressing his passion for Africa and its biodiversity and stated that during this time, “where specialisation is getting less and less supportive of our humanity, we have a lot to learn from the diversity of Africa”.
“Africa is a pragmatic result oriented society in which it is has solved difficult survival issues over the years and have shown great resilience which is the sort of mental ability we need to rebuild after the pandemic. Africa’s time has come,” he enforced.
In terms of business models, Hoffman started by talking about how people have developed across the continent with different approaches and cultures and in different environments. He does not believe that Africa will follow the Chinese approach and in fact “should not follow it”. It is too difficult in terms of natural resources and human systems. He believes that each country, or even region should follow their own paths.
After inspiring talks, the afternoon followed with breakout sessions and case studies of innovation in African markets. There was a focus on testing and adapting business models, collaborating with disruptive start-ups and transcending industry boundaries to develop in new markets, all which had vibrant discussions and audience participation. These were followed by a look into talent moving from and too Africa, co-creation with African stakeholders and innovation in social engagements.
Throughout the day, participants were able to book meetings on the platform with other participants, and also virtually visit the desks of the participating country representatives. The successful event showcased how virtual conferences can in fact play a role in our life and bring different insights and different people to events worldwide.