Africa Business Club | The 4th Annual Africa Innovate Conference held at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Posted April 22, 2014 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Events ~ 4,161 views


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By Ronnie Mayanja — The 4th annual Africa Innovate Conference was held on April 12th at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School with the theme “What’s Your Big Idea?” The conference hosted by the Africa Business Club at the MIT Sloan School is an annual event.

Among this year’s keynote speakers was Ashish Thakkar, who has roots in Uganda and is the founder of the Mara Group. Ashish, an inspiring speaker, shared his experience of how he started out as an entrepreneur.

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Other keynote speakers included: Alex Cummings, originally from Liberia. He joined Coca-Cola as a Regional Manager based in Nigeria. In 2001 he was named President and Chief Operating Officer for the Coca-Cola Africa division.

Hakeem Belo-Osagie, a Nigerian petroleum economist and lawyer. He is founder of a leading energy consulting firm in Nigeria and has also served as Chairman of the Board at the United Bank of Africa. Currently he serves as Chairman of the board of directors — Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Ltd (EMTS), a mobile telephone operator.

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Folorunso Alakija, a businesswoman from Nigeria, ranked as one of the richest women in Africa with interests in oil, fashion and printing industries. She serves as a National Trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria and is also Executive Vice Chairman of her family oil production business.

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Among the topics discussed by panelists were: Energy and how to light up Africa, Healthcare innovations in Africa, Africa as the new investment destination, the role of technology in transforming Africa, venture incubators operating within Africa’s ecosystem and women as Africa’s secret weapon.

The conference is a great way to showcase Africa and her potential. This year the conference was dominated by speakers from West Africa and we did not see any entrepreneurs from South Africa, second only to Nigeria as the biggest economy in Africa. A broader approach in the selection of speakers and topics would be ideal to help grow the conference. Another suggestion would be to introduce talking points and have invited speakers submit copies of their presentations in advance to ensure a more focused in-depth approach. There is also a need to cater for a networking session that allows for participants to interact with panelists outside the formal forum setting.

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New England is home to a large African diaspora community and much can be done to embrace and engage their professional expertise in a conference like this. Many of these professionals working in US-based positions can be a great resource and some of them may be willing to relocate to Africa, bringing their needed expertise.

With a few tweaks the conference can easily grow to become a leading Think Tank model on issues relating to Africa given some of the speakers the conference attracts.  Overall the organizers delivered getting some movers and shakers on the continent to attend but a broader regional representation of all Africa would be ideal for next year!

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This year’s sponsors included Access Bank of Nigeria, Coca-Cola, The Corporate Council on Africa and Chevron. Ugandan Diaspora News was invited to attend the Conference for the second time and is pleased to bring you some of the highlights and pictures from the event.

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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