“Our greatest resource is our people”, that’s the message Ivor Ichikowitz founder and executive chairman of Paramount Group wants us to know and that is the message he will be driving as a speaker at the New York Forum Africa in Libreville, Gabon this weekend.
The New York Forum Africa 2015 will be a platform for business and political leaders to engage in collaborative sessions to come up with ideas for individual businesses and national policy-makers. The aim is to build on previous discussions and focus on the concrete measures that are necessary for driving Africa’s development.
“Invest in the energy continent”, Ichikowitz appreciates the theme for this year's forum as it deviates from the usual African narrative of resources.
“The title is a really interesting one, it’s investing in Africa's energy economy but it specifically is not about oil and gas,” said Ichikowitz.
“You know everybody defines Africa by its commodities, on the raw materials it can provide to the world but the truth is that Africa’s greatest asset is its people and the energy that comes from its people,” Ichikowitz added
The continent is facing a new challenge and it’s struggling to rely on its most reliable reputation of resources as prices drop dramatically and global influences continue to navigate our growth – but Ichikowitz sees a silver lining
“It’s a very interesting time in the development of the continent because we are having to rethink what the continent is about, the commodity crisis, the drop in the oil crisis actually contributed, very positively to innovation because we have to become more creative, we have to find other ways to stimulate our economies,” said Ichikowitz
The message Ichikowitz wants to emphasise at this forum is the need to prioritise African people and minimise the amount of professionals emigrating.
“Our greatest resource is our people and interestingly enough one of our biggest exports is in fact our people,” Ichikowitz states referring to the amount of professionals the continent loses to the rest of the world.
He adds: “If you look at the statistics - far more professional Africans are working outside of Africa than are working inside Africa”.
Ichikowitz worries that certain countries on the continent that have windfalls might be at a disadvantage because it “suppresses” innovation, something the continent may need in this changing phase.
“We have to create industry, we have to create innovation opportunities to bring those people back to Africa,” Ichikowitz said, as well as find ways to keep the next generation in Africa.
“The key element that take countries from emerging economies to established economies is skill levels and in the past we have had very high levels of education in many African countries but this has slipped,” said Ichikowitz.
He believes education is becoming a challenge but that South Africa is starting to get it right.
“We are doing this very successfully in South Africa and a number of other African countries are investing more and more in education,”
But that has to continue and the private sector has to invest more for that to happen, to invest “in creating industry in Africa to use that labour and to use that intellectual resource”.
Ichikowitz explains that the role of the government and private businesses are different and we should first establish who can provide what.
“Everybody believes that in the African context, it’s the responsibility of governments to provide, that is not the case, it is the responsibility of government and policymakers to create an enabling environment - the private sector has to provide.
"That way the continent can create stability, security, and invest in securing people’s assets," Ichikowitz said, and thereafter “the innovation that is culturally inherent in Africans will come to the fore”.