Back in 2007 when I attended the first East Africa Investment Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Dr. Mo Ibrahim speak. I remember then being in awe of his vision for East Africa’s business potential. Even then he was preaching the benefits of businesses building socially conscious business models. I didn’t know much about him and in fact had never heard of him. I’d just started blogging for PD and hadn’t really caught on to the impending technology boom. I am quite sure he has no recollection of me handing him my business card and him promising to keep in touch.
So it came as a pleasure when I actually opened up my email this morning to find that one of my favorite newsletters to receive, Business Call to Action, had the featured interview above.
The discussions on aid vs trade have been raging for a while now in the aid blogosphere. I’ve chimed in here and there and debated the issue on Twitter (the world’s new discussion board). But I think the Dr. Ibrahim puts it quite succinctly here that, in essence, business is a form of aid. For all that ills that aid tries to eliminate. Business can achieve with just a shift in business model. Dr. Ibrahim states that businesses shouldn’t be afraid to make a profit.
According to Dr. Ibrahim, there’s progress being made. “Business people are realizing more and more that we cannot succeed when our societies are failing. We are part of society.” He also states that
“the main objective of business is profit. Businesses are not charities. Let’s not confuse the two. We expect business to really work for profit. The fact that they are investing and creating jobs, they are creating wealth and that’s important for development. We say thank you very much. Do that ethically. Continue to do that ethically. We don’t ask you to turn from business to charity.”
I couldn’t agree more here. I think the debate over aid vs trade shouldn’t be centered around one or the other as the de facto mode operandi for eliminating poverty. I think the debate should be how aid and trade can coexist more effectively.
Elevating society shouldn’t be a divisive responsibility. It should be a collective effort. Let trade create wealth, but do so ethically so as to enhance the efforts of the aid community, who’s responsibilities should be more focused on filling the gap in civil services. Put another way, both should compliment each other instead of canceling or ignoring each other.
One more thing that Dr. Ibrahim touched is one that I think we as members of the Diaspora need to continue to embrace. Continued investment in Africa needs to be powered by real-time information. Dr. Ibrahim’s recounting of his American counterpart who was wholly ignorant about Uganda’s leader is what I am talking about. We need to continually speak up and represent our continent. Idi Amin is not longer Uganda’s president and hasn’t been for more than 2 decades. Yet, there isn’t a year that goes by where I don’t run into several people asking about him. For once I’d like them to me about mobile internet penetration, or how Diaspora remittances are fast outpacing bilateral aid and what that means to our economies. That’s the story we should be talking about and selling. Because doing so, creates an appetite for investment. Investment begets wealth creation, wealth creation begets a middle class. And I am sure you know what happens when we have an empowered, educated middle class? Change happens.