Forbes recently announced Isabel Dos Santos as Africa’s first woman billionaire, while other sources including BusinessDay and Huffington Post, reported that Nigerian oil tycoon Folorunsho Alakija was in fact the Africa’s wealthiest woman billionaire, making her the wealthiest black woman in the world. These claims, if true, would effectively dethrone Oprah Winfrey. While this news may have raised a lot of eyebrows, those in the know have been aware of the seismic shifts that have been happening in Africa’s economy over the past two decades, creating unprecedented wealth and evolving Africa’s position on the global stage.
The 2013 Africa Business Conference, hosted by the Africa Business Club this upcoming weekend, February 15 – 17th, plans to further encourage the re-defining of how Africa is perceived worldwide. It plans to expand the conversation to include discussion around less traditional sources of wealth on the continent (think something different than oil, finance and infrastructure), to talk emerging trends in luxury goods, TV, media and consumer products.
The Harbus spoke with Fopefoluwa Adelowo, (OC), a member of the organizing team, to learn more about what’s got her excited about this year’s conference. If you are interested in business in Africa or doing some work there at some point in the future, this is the conference to attend.
Q&A With Fope
LL: So, tell me. Is this really the largest conference about business in Africa in the world?
FA: It is the largest student-run conference in the world. Most student run conferences focused on business in Africa are held by business schools and when you look across the business schools, the HBS Africa Conference is the largest of them. We attract over 1,000 people. The Harvard brand helps. It’s actually one of Harvard Business School’s largest conferences as well.
LL: How is this conference different from those held in the past?
FA: This year, we want to showcase more industries where the continent is thriving and which have received less focus in the past, particularly from the international community. We are expecting business leaders in technology, media, entertainment and luxury goods.
LL: What are you most excited about at this conference?
FA: Three things: I’m excited about the film screening of “Half of a Yellow Sun,” which features Thandie Newton.
LL: Thandie Newton?!
FA: Yes, and this is the first time we are doing a this! I’m nervous and I hope it is a good reflection of the book and of Nigeria.
FA: I’m also excited about the panels – the Entrepreneurship panel, the Luxury Goods panel and the TV and Film panels. It’ll be exciting to hear from the entrepreneurs who have tried different projects in these emerging industries in Africa. And, the keynote speakers!
LL: Who is the most interesting Keynote?
FA: They’re all really great. The finance minister of Nigeria is especially interesting. She recently implemented the removal of fuel subsidies in Nigeria and that caused a lot of outrage. To the masses, they felt it was unjust. I respect her a lot, especially given her years at the World Bank. It’d be amazing to hear some of the policies she is looking to implement in the future.
LL: And, I hear there are parties?
FA: Yes! First, there’s the banquet, which is already sold out. We will have two of our platinum sponsors, Standard Chartered Bank and Bridge International Academies present to the audience during the banquet. We will also present the ABC Leadership Excellence Award for this year to Fola Laoye, Chairman of Hygeia Nigeria Limited, promoters of Hygeia, the largest health maintenance organization In Nigeria. After the banquet will be the closing party where we have one of Nigeria’s foremost hip hop artists perform.
Harbus: On the website, it says the conference provides some of the best networking?
LL: (laughs) Well, yes. A lot of networking goes on at the Friday night networking session, in between panels, at lunch and at the banquet and after party. This year, we are also introducing a new app for networking. Download the Conference App, create a profile, pick the panels you’ll be attending, and you actually have a chance to network with others interested in the same panels that you are even before the conference.
LL: That’s pretty sweet.
FA: And, there’s a career fair.
LL: Do most conferences actually have career fairs as well?
FA: Most conferences try to, but it can be difficult. We have good representation from consulting companies, banks, consumer products and various social enterprises.
LL: Wow, that’s great. Okay last question. What will make this event a success to you?
FA: A few years from now, when I’m hearing stories of entrepreneurs and business leaders say what changed their mind about Africa and what they wanted to do was a conversation, a discussion or a panel they sat in on at the Harvard Africa Business Conference.