The EU-African SME Summit 2021 Sets the Framework for Collaboration between SMEs in Africa and Europe

PUBLISHED: Wed, 24 Nov 2021 11:00:53 GMT
EU African SME Summit
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The EU-African SME Summit 2021 took place on October 21 and 22. It was a hybrid event that saw the participation of top-level speakers from different parts of the world: Rome, Dakar, Brussels and Berlin. Through digital means, decision-makers, entrepreneurs, financial experts and trade associations came together to establish a framework for strengthening the trade, investments, and collaborations between small and medium-sized enterprises in the two continents.

The event was opened by Mr Paolo Magri, Executive Vice President and Director of ISPI, the Italian Institute for International Policy Studies. Mr Magri set the scene by highlighting the significant opportunities for growth that would stem from enhanced cooperation between African and European companies.

The President of European Entrepreneurs and our Italian Member CONFAPI, Prof Maurizio Casasco, offered the first keynote speech of the event where he emphasised that recent difficulties only strengthened the need for an SME alliance between African and European companies, built upon the rationale of a path to shared success.

He was followed by the President of the Pan African Chamber of Commerce (PACCI), Mr Youssouf Moussa Dalaweh, who echoed that SMEs have resisted the recent global crisis by demonstrating flexibility and they have the potential to grow more through cooperation between Africa and Europe

We then opened the series of impulses by decision-makers from Europe and Africa, each providing unique insights and perspectives.

Our first speaker was the Minister of Economy, Planning and Cooperation of Senegal, Mr Amadou Hott, who remarked that there are new challenges connected to climate change in areas like agriculture and energy and that the cooperation between African and European SMEs is a fundamental step in our shared response.

Mr Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture, followed and provided the complementary perspective that exchanges, both cultural and business-related, are vital to our shared success and overcome prejudices and differences. It is, of course, true for small businesses and medium-sized companies as well.

The importance of broader international cooperation for businesses, backed by governments and with SMEs at its heart, was the focus of the speech of Mrs Marina Sereni, Deputy Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Mr Yacine Oualid, Algerian Minister for Knowledge Economy and Start-ups, brought us the message that companies are essential for success, as they create new jobs and bring forward innovation. To help them scale, we must strengthen relationships between the two continents.

Representing the European Commission, European Commissioner for International Partnerships Mrs Jutta Urpilainen reminded the audience that the private sector is at the heart of international cooperation and that the EU provides tools to strengthen the collaboration between SMEs.

This sentiment was also at the core of the intervention of the Minister of Small Business Development of the Republic of South Africa, Mrs Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams. She flagged that SMEs are the drivers of higher and inclusive growth and brought her country’s experience with an ecosystem approach of partnerships between government and private sectors.

Mrs Anna Cavazzini, Chairwoman of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection at the European Parliament, stated that we need to build a continent-to-continent relation to face future crises, like climate change, that will impact both Africa and the EU. She identified the European Green Deal as the chance for SMEs to develop this cooperation

Mr Charles Chiumya, Acting Director of the Directorate-General for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining of the African Union, took a broad view, looking at the importance of SMEs in the global recovery.

The last impulse was then offered by Mr Robert Dussey, Togolese Minister for Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and African Integration, who took a different approach to the system we aspire to create as he connected the growth of SMEs to the legal framework they operate. He concluded that we must prioritise policies that allow for development and international partnerships between Europe and Africa.

The event continued with our first panel, “Session 1 – Which Future for Africa and Europe after COVID?”, which was opened by a letter sent by the President of the European Parliament Mr David Sassoli and included Mr Dimitris Avramopoulos, former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece and European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Mrs Tiekie Barnard, Founder & CEO of Shared Value Africa Initiative, Mr Kebour Ghenna Desta, Executive Director of Pan-African Chamber of Commerce and Industry PACCI, Mr Francesco Rocca, President of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and Mr Sergio Arzeni, President of the International Network for SMEs INSME. Mrs Esther Awoniyi of CNBC Africa moderated the panel.

The discussion looked at the global context of the pandemic crisis. It focused on how stronger cooperation between businesses in Africa and Europe could lead to a faster and more robust recovery. The analysis started with considering that there is a need to take action, for example, through investments, to make sure we can stop the pandemic, and SMEs have a part to play. This consideration led our panellists to consider all aspects, starting with the fact that stronger cooperation would also require reconfiguring our understanding of migration. It would be intimately connected to creating new jobs, produced mainly by small and medium

companies today, and sustainable business growth, which requires intelligent solutions to support it. Those are most likely to be built up through sharing ideas and learning from each other.

Within this understanding of the opportunities entailed, our speakers agreed that the COVID crisis is an opportunity to re-launch the cooperation between African and European SMEs, based on a commitment from governments on both sides with a long-term view.

“Session 2 – New entrepreneurs for Africa: imagine, create and thrive to success” gave the stage to businesses who have already thrived through successful cooperation between Europe and Africa. It was opened by Mrs Caroline Hauptmann of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation Dakar Office, who posed the crucial questions of creating work for young people in African countries. Mr Luc Bonte, President of Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs OVO, engaged in the discussion by raising the need to identify the reasons and motivations of SMEs conducting their operation in Africa. These are the factors that will make EU-African cooperation possible and sustainable.

A panel of entrepreneurs recalled their experience to answer these questions: Ms Ifeyinwa Kanu, Founder and Director of Intellidigest; Mr Laurent Assembe, Director Business Development and Sales at Aerodata; Mr Timon Herzog, CEO at GRIPS Energy GmbH; Ms Khadidiatou Ba, CEO & Founder of Afro Feewi Corporate; Mr Antoine Ngom, President of OPTIC Senegal (Organisation des Professionnels des Technologies d’ Information et de la Communication); and Mr Enrico Mazzon, Vice President at ETC Group. Guided by the moderator Mrs Wincate Muthini, Programme Manager of PACCI, they collectively identified factors like investments, stability, and skills to be the core of a company’s success in a framework of international collaborations.

Mr Giancarlo Giorgetti, Italian Minister of Economic Development, opened “Session 3 – Launch of the Italian-African SME Alliance” by stressing the importance of stimulating entrepreneurship, especially in the rural areas both in Europe and Africa. He underlined that sustainability, social inclusion, political and economic stability are dependant on this.

His opening was followed by the Signature of the Memorandum of Understanding between CONFAPI, represented by President Casasco; COLDIRETTI, represented by its President Mr Ettore Prandini; PACCI, represented by President Dawaleh; and by the Conseil National du Patronat du Sénégal, represented by its Vice-President Mr Adé Diran.

Mr Prandini and Mr Diran offered their perspectives following the signature. The former presented the Italian business model and reminded participants that it is up to them to create the conditions required to invest in strategic elements. The latter expressed great hope for future cooperation with a view of Senegal’s role in the African economy and looked at the Summit as the starting point for collaborative endeavours.

The next panel, “Session 4 – Work-based professional training makes competitive & resilient SMEs”, moderated by Mr Stefan Moritz, Managing Director European Entrepreneurs CEA-PME, was opened with the speech of Mr İlker Aycı, Chairman of the Board and the Executive Committee of Turkish Airlines. He remarked on the importance of growing a stable business in Africa even when faced with COVID- 19. Furthermore, he shared his views that the Summit is announcing a sustainable post-pandemic landscape.

Mrs Raffaella Sadun, Professor of Business Administration in the Strategy Unit at the Harvard Business School, Mrs Linda Onyango, CEO of SME Support Center Kenya, Dr Stephan Kunz, Programme Manager of GIZ “Special Initiative on Training and Job Creation – Invest for Jobs”, Mrs Blessing Ebere Achu, Director & Founder, 360 Creative Innovation Hub, Mr David McKenzie, Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank, and Mr Costantino Chessa, ENI Head of procurement, formed the panel for discussion.

They focused on the fact that cooperation is about conducting daily business and knowing that growth and scaling are skills to be learned. This view is based, among other things, on recent World Bank’s research that tells us that the most important things that can be understood to make your business genuinely resilient are in the domain of soft skills. It entails that if we have the goal to help SMEs persevere and grow, it’s essential to create a place to connect and communicate and integrate it into the creative process of running a business. Furthermore, panellists agreed that asking SMEs is the only way to know what they need. In this light, ENI provided the example of their experience creating a cost-free platform with their suppliers to help all the SMEs in the value chain.

Our audience then has the chance to witness the Official Launch of the Africa IP SME helpdesk, organised by the EU-Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the Directorate General International Partnerships (DG INTPA) of the European Commission and the EU-Africa Business Forum (EABF)

Mrs Sandra Kramer, Director for Africa at the Directorate-General for International Partnerships (INTPA) of the European Commission, opened the session by explaining the importance of intellectual property protection to build trust between SMEs in Africa and Europe. She was followed by Mr Andrea Di Carlo, Deputy Executive Director of EUIPO, who explained the view behind the Africa IP SME helpdesk: to support the focus on the importance of excellent customer service for SMEs and facilitate investments across the two continents. Finally, Mr Sandris Laganovskis, Director of the Institutional and Cooperation Department of EUIPO explained how the helpdesk works in practice and why it helps SMEs.

Mr Alberto Boldrin, CEO of the Boldrin Group, and Mr Eric Burkel, Co-founder and Head of International Development at HYDRAO, shared their perspectives as SME entrepreneurs on the importance of new opportunities for digitalisation and of entering new markets for SMEs, protected by the support of tools like the Africa IP SME helpdesk, also offering practical examples based on their personal experience.

Mr Kamil Kiljanski, Acting Director for Investment and Chief Economist of the Directorate General for Single Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs of the European Commission, concluded the panel by framing the helpdesk as part of a broader portfolio of instruments to help SMEs in the trade between Africa and Europe.

“Session 5 – New financial tools for sustainable SME growth in Africa “was the moment when the event focused on the financial support that SMEs can receive for starting cooperation with partners in the other continent. The session was opened by Mr Stefano Barrese, Chief of Retail & SME Banking Division of Intesa Sanpaolo, who framed the scene by arguing that, as SMEs are the backbone of our economy, financial instruments can help their internationalisation and help build relationships through international investments.

The following experts then joined us: Mrs Maria Shaw-Barragan, Director of Lending in Africa, Caribbean, Pacific, Asia and Latin America at European Investment Bank – Focused

on development impact; Mrs Sandra Kramer, Director Africa at DG INTPA, European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Tchatchouang, former Executive Director of the World Bank, responsible for 23 African countries, Mr Emmanuel Agha, Managing Director & CEO of Innovectives Group, and Mr Brian Mangeni, CEO Einstein Rising & OVO Portfolio Manager East Africa Office. They were moderated by Mrs Diana Battaggia, Head of UNIDO ITPO Italy.

The panel started by looking at the challenges, including the new ones like the recession caused b the pandemic in African countries and agreed that international cooperation is one of the solutions if investments back it. The point is not financing for its own sake but to provide the foundation for sustainable growth and job creation. To do so, the panellists discussed, SMEs need to build a relationship with financial institutions locally. Business organisations are required to ensure companies can talk to all actors. They are complementary to the programs that are helping companies in Africa to learn how to access more funding and interface with international financial institutions.

The first day of the event was closed by the European Entrepreneurs Co-President and Executive Director of BVWM, our German Member, Mr Markus Jerger, who perfectly summarised the say with the sentence “A dialogue between the EU and Africa is more important than ever. During this pandemic, we have learned how important it is to stay connected”.

As an ending to the first day, our audience could listen to the words of the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Luigi Di Maio, who closed on a high note by stating that Africa and Europe must work together to overcome challenges like the pandemic and that more opportunities will come to work together.

The second day, dedicated to business, opened with the Keynote Speech of Mr Jens Spahn, German Federal Minister of Health, initiating a conversation about the importance of robust and resilient health systems as a necessity in these times of pandemic and the role SMEs can play in helping build them up across continents.

The following keynote saw Mr Mor Khoudia Gueye, Secretary-General of the Ministry for Youth of Senegal, stress the emergency and importance of creating and maintaining initiatives for solving the socio-economic problems of the young through the opportunities offered by companies cooperating.

Mr Jens Schmid-Kreye, Deputy Head of Division, Special Initiative on Training and Job Creation, at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, used his opening keynote to guide us through the practical issues the business sector is facing, especially SMEs, as they are the key to creating successful employment.

The critical issue of how to cooperate better to serve the global needs of humanity during the pandemic was brought up in the keynote speech of Mr Karim Bendhaou, Head of Merck Africa at Merck Group.

The last opening was provided by Mr Jorge Portugal, Director General of COTEC Portugal, who flagged that we need to identify the best actors in the field and learn how to mimic their success and who are the facilitators of this process for the SMEs.

The roundtables dedicated to specific business areas were then started with the first one on the topic of the Digital Economy. It saw the participation of Ms Nafissatou Tine, Founder of Sunulex. Africa, who explained the importance of understanding the African context and how setting up the African legal database to provide support for everyone seeking reliable information is helping initiate this process; Mr Ibrahima Sissoko, CEO of HILT Technology, who stressed the importance of delivering digital solutions to facilitate sustainable learning processes in the situation of unstable infrastructure in Africa; and Mr Klaus Dellmann, Regional Director at Mühlbauer ID Services GmbH, who highlighted that, as a business providing security solutions to governments in Africa, they understand this is the essential component for creating a safe environment for SMEs. Our Managing Director Mr Stefan Moritz chaired the Roundtable.

The Roundtable on Renewable Energy included Mrs Sabine Dall’Omo, Chief Executive Officer Siemens Southern and Eastern Africa – she flagged that there is a need for a broad network of renewable energy infrastructures if we want Africa to participate more in the global economy and leave up to its potential; Mr Bart Minsaer, Co-Founder and CEO of Hello Solar, that introduced the possible solutions for renewable energy that could come out of the collaboration between SMEs in the two continents, like microgrid; and Mr Ruggero Arico’, Head of Institutional Affairs for Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania at Enel Green Power who argued for the inclusion of business models for renewable energy of the impact that they will have on the general society and the African territory. Ms Wincate Muthini of PACCI moderated the Roundtable.

The third and final Roundtable was dedicated to the Agricultural Renaissance. Our participants were Mr Michael Walleter, Head of Sales and Board Member at KTI-Plersch Kältetechnik GmbH, who focused on the need for the exchange of technological solutions between the two continents to ensure food preservation and minimise spoilage; Mr Cheikh Amadou Bamba Fall of COPEOL, who discussed the importance of proper legislative frameworks for the international trade of local agricultural products, like oil, so to support local SMEs that produce and transform these products; and Mrs Ajola Jallow, Founder of GrowHer Africa Ltd, who identified as a businesswoman in the field of agriculture and explained why it is a business that requires infrastructure and expertise, to be considered innovative work and based upon a full-on inclusive industry overall. Our moderator for the session was Mr Gilles Olakounlé Yabi, Founder and Executive Director of WATHI.

Mr Gerd Müller, German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, is now providing the political resumé for the second day, reminding the audience we need innovation and investments to support SME to address the consequences of the pandemic, which can be done more quickly and efficiently through the cooperation between the two continents.

Our Managing Director Mr Stefan Moritz then closed the EU-African SME Summit 2021, leaving participants to an afternoon is fully dedicated to one-on-one networking business meetings that happened on our multilingual platform African European Entrepreneurs.

This year’s Summit was a great event that created momentum to recognise and support the cooperation between SMEs in African and Europe as part of our global strategy for recovery. We will continue to work to ensure this idea is brought forward. In addition, we will continue to collaborate with our partners in international discussions, like the EU-African Summit, to ensure that companies are recognised as the engine of the recovery.

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