Emerging Ethiopia

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Precise Consulting International PLC (PCI), a premier consulting firm operating in Addis Ababa and New York City intends to organize a link between Ethiopian business Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and leaders of global multinational corporations and foreign investors at the World Economic Forum scheduled to take place in Addis Ababa from May 9-11. Henok Assefa, Managing Partner, Precise Consulting International talked with Capital’s Solomon Bekele about the plan to bring together the Ethiopian business CEOs with leaders of global multinational corporations and foreign investors.

Capital: Your company Precise Consulting International PLC is helping organize the world Economic forum. You also expect to organize a meeting between Ethiopian business CEOs with leaders of global multinational corporations and foreign investors. Will you carry out this meeting side by side with the World Economic Forum?
Henok Assefa:
Yes, there’s usually a number of side events organized around the World Economic Forum (WEF).  The WEF event encourages these because they can greatly enhance the experience of their participants. So, in the Ethiopian case, while the official dates for the WEF are from May 9-11, the main part of the WEF program is really taking place on the 10th and 11th.  May 9th on the other hand is reserved for side events. The Ethiopia Investment Summit 2012 will be the biggest event on May 9th and fully dedicated to business and investment issues at this year’s WEF.
Capital: You say this is once in a life time opportunity to seal meaningful business deals with Global Multinational Corporations and Foreign Investors here in our midst. If this opportunity has never been available in the past for Ethiopian business CEOs, how do you plan to persuade the Ethiopians to take advantage of it?
Henok:
What makes this opportunity unique is the number and types of people expected to come to Addis Ababa, all at the same time and meeting in one room. Therefore, convincing Ethiopian CEOs and business leaders has not been so hard at all. We have already received intense interest from leading businesses who wish to participate. The Ethiopian private sector is in the process of awakening. By now, I think it is very clear that the old ways of running business in Ethiopia where you keep a small store front in Merkato and all your transactions take place informally beyond the eyes and ears of your competitors and the government is clearly over. Those enterprises led by visionary CEOs and owners are starting to position themselves to take advantage of the immense opportunities that are right around the corner within Ethiopia as well as the wider African and even Asian markets. They are also keenly aware that if their business is not well positioned at this point, it may not withstand the oncoming challenge of global competition. Make no mistake about it! Competition is coming to Ethiopia. In the near future, not only will Ethiopian enterprises face competition to sell their products in overseas markets, they will be competing to survive in the home market.
Capital: How do you think the business community will benefit from the Ethiopia Investment Summit?
Henok:
To keep ahead of the competitive curve, the business people will need to understand the economics of Ethiopia, Africa, and the rest of the world. They will also need to acquire new technologies (both managerial and technical), market access, and most crucially at this point, financing. The Ethiopia Investment Summit’s aim, hopes, and dreams are to help our visionary CEOs achieve just these things. Anyhow, we’re not leaving it all to logic only. We have been selectively inviting business leaders for a few weeks now. We are also going as far as making one-on-one presentations to some to drive the point home.
Capital: The World Economic Forum is organized annually in different countries. Do you think organizing such a forum in Addis is helpful for Ethiopia?
Henok:
Absolutely! First of all, we have to view the chance to host the event in Ethiopia is a recognition by the WEF about the emerging importance of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian economy on the African scene. It is also a culmination of the tremendous progress we’ve made as a country over the past decade or so. I’m proud to say that within the last few years, Ethiopia is now starting to be viewed around investor circles as a country of intense interest.  Hosting the World Economic Forum will put an overwhelmingly positive spotlight on Ethiopia, and certainly with the right kind of audience. With the entire global media industry descending upon Addis in May, this is also an absolute chance to turn things around as far as our global image is concerned. It is an opportunity to have those same journalists who helped to brand us as a basket case over the years, to now help paint us as an emerging lion economy of Africa.
Capital: Many argue that Ethiopia doesn’t do well in promoting itself. Do you agree?
Henok:
I agree.  We don’t always do so well promoting ourselves. I remember a few years back, during the short lived conflict between Ethiopia and Starbucks over coffee trade marking, our country received quite a lot of attention, especially in the coffee circles. Around the time when the controversy was waning, I remember reading a survey which found out that an overwhelming number of American coffee drinkers did not know that Ethiopia even produced coffee, let alone the best coffee on the planet. So much for our nation’s greatest gift to the world! The message is that you have to showcase yourself. There’s too much competition out there and little opportunity to shine. We have to maximize every chance we get. But to be honest, one incredibly practical fact that excites me the most is that the audience we expect this time is very well versed in doing business in the African continent already. It’s either the emerging African multinational companies such as the Dangote Group of Nigeria or international business leaders with significant operations on the continent. Many of them will have their Africa offices either in Johannesburg, Nairobi, Abuja, or Cairo. As you know, it is so much easier convincing such a CEO to invest in Ethiopia because they will have a better understanding of how to manage the risks while taking advantage of the opportunities.   With such a targeted audience, the chance of success will obviously be many times higher.
Capital: There is a suggestion that selling high end products in advanced countries where Global Multinational Corporations dominate the market is highly challenging. What can you do to overcome this challenge?
Henok:
I think this is a very loaded question. To be overly simplistic, you have to view this in two ways. First look at the opportunities that are available to us right now. You have to identify products and services Ethiopia produces which are better in quality or at more competitive prices than other nations. With this knowledge you can seek newer markets or better prices in general.Take our organic coffees and oilseeds for example; We have to work to increasingly add value to our products within our borders so we benefit more. If done correctly, the world also benefits from this. As our farmers get better prices for their coffee, they are likely to also produce more and higher quality coffee. The medium to longer-term view would be to work on the competitiveness of our industries. For instance, connecting with a large global supply chain, say for instance Walmart, would put incredible pressure but also technological resources at the hands of our entrepreneurs. Such relationships can help improve competitiveness over time. Beyond these kinds of interventions that a summit like ours can support, Ethiopia will need the concerted and joint efforts of all; government, business, development partners, to invest in productivity enhancing infrastructure and a competitive and conducive business regulatory environment. Best-run Ethiopian firms are if you will, our representative actors, our best chance for our best products to penetrate the highest paying markets. Our best hope as a nation is to empower our next generation of entrepreneurs with everything we’ve got so that they represent our interests in the cutthroat world of global business.
Capital: There are 400 senior business executives from Ethiopia and senior government decision makers taking part in this meeting.  Are you ready to host all these business people?
Henok:
Yes, we are. Our worry is in fact that we may run out of space. As I said earlier, we are seeing many interesting entrepreneurs emerge who are already linking with foreign companies. For the Ethiopia Investment Summit, our target is to attract about 200 foreign CEOs. To be honest, the way things are going, we may greatly surpass our target. The interest so far has been beyond our expectations. We may even need to increase our contingency budget for the event just in case.
Capital: How many senior managers of major Multinational Corporations do you expect to take part in the annual World Economic Forum?
Henok:
I can’t speak for the WEF itself. But previous history suggests that you get somewhere between 700 and 1000 people attending. From what I hear so far this year, we may very much be on the high end of things. But the key here is simply not numbers. It is the quality of people coming.
Capital:  Does your office have direct link with the organizers of the annual World Economic Forum and have you received the necessary cooperation both from them as well as the Ethiopian government?
Henok:
Yes, we have coordinated with them for quite some time now. And we have for instance participated in a few of their CEO brainstorming sessions held in Addis Ababa. And we are getting support from all actors. It is really in the interest of the WEF to ensure that its audience has a valuable experience in every country. We are also very much invested in the WEF’s success for what it means for us as a country. Therefore, helping each other simply makes sense, and we do. Our active participation and support of the CEO brainstorming sessions for example is a clear testament. It is the same with the Government of Ethiopia. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs most particularly has been immensely supportive. In fact, we simply would not have attempted something like this without their active support and encouragement. It is even more interesting to speak about support from the private sector itself. 
Capital: Who are your potential participants in your scheduled meeting?
Henok:
We expect to see most of the interesting names from the business and investment field.  So far the strongest interest we have seen is from companies in the agriculture and agro-processing sectors, manufacturing, consumer goods, financial services, and ICT sectors. We have also seen some interest in hotel and tourism, infrastructure, and energy.
Capital: How do you communicate with the business community in Ethiopia?
Henok:
We have a website (www.ethiopiainvestor.com) which has been updated daily over the last four years focusing strictly on business and investment. We also have a regular weekly e-newsletter, which is distributed to about 5,000 Ethiopian, foreign, and Diaspora businesses, again singular emphasis on the business audience. We have a website for the summit also (www.ethiopiainvestmentsummit.com). We also regularly use social media like twitter, linkedin, and facebook.
Capital: How do you plan to evaluate your achievement after the meeting?
Henok:
This is an excellent question and probably the hardest part of our work. We’d obviously like to hear about many partnerships that will be initiated that day. We want to hear much about follow up trips taken by foreign CEOs back into Ethiopia to explore more. We would love to see many strong articles and electronic media coverage of Ethiopia as an investment destination. We will of course make every effort to document all these. The easy measure for us to see will be the number and quality of both Ethiopian and foreign CEOs we have managed to attract in the first place.