CNN regularly runs commercials like “Invest in Macedonia” or “Invest in Remarkable Indonesia” that present reasons for foreign investments in these countries such as a growing middle class, corporate tax breaks, a youthful and educated population, political reforms, etc. When it comes to promote the business-friendliness of African countries, so far that message has been mostly carried by events across the world, from invitation-only, highly priced, industry conferences to global platforms headlined by renowned CEO’s and heads of government. The ConnectAfrica conference in Brussels Belgium early 2016 was a hybrid product made of the best of the two categories above.
Hosted in the Galeries du Roi, a prestigious heritage site neighbouring the Grand Place, a world top 10 tourist attraction, the conference was packed with high-level public officials, corporate decision makers, early-stage start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs. The atmosphere was strong-focus, straight-to-the-point, high expectations.
I presented two case studies. Real world, on-the-ground, actionable insights on consumer-facing enterprises. The phrase that attendees retained the most out of my exposé was “Doing Business in Africa Not For Sissies”. “What do you mean exactly?” many of them kept on asking me.
The best part of the questions-and-answers sessions (Q&A) I participated in this year is sharing ideas, discussing investment opportunities, learning about business best practices, promising innovations and projects from raw concepts and product prototypes to rising SME’s.
But several attendees at ConnectAfrica at the entr’acte said that they were “surprised” that there had been no Q&A after my presentation! What happened is that after I concluded my presentation, the MC told the audience that he had realized that the whole event had started late and was behind schedule as a result. He had no choice but to push the button Catch Up. That meant, unlike each of the two preceding speakers, no Q&A for me.
This “surprise” turned out to be a unique opportunity. In general, in Q&A sessions, the moderator only takes a limited number of questions and gives only one chance to individual attendees to ask a question. Therefore, in this particular event format where attendees are experts and connoisseurs, a majority refrains from asking questions. The reasons are varied. Some have more than one question or they have a question from which they expect a true discussion with the speaker. Others don’t have a question: they want to give their point of view or to tell their experience at length. Others favour a one-to-one with the speaker as their talk might include specific information.
Consequently, the absence of a Q&A unexpectedly offered me the opportunity to have a rich panel of targeted questions and in-depth conversations; not only at the networking event that followed the group of presentations and speeches, but also post-event as a handful of attendees and I took the conversations to a brasserie downtown Brussels. Then the following days and weeks I had various followups with several attendees.
One gentleman was planning to become a tomato grower in DR Congo, a lady was developing an amazon-type of service in Rwanda. With a public official from Ethiopia, we exchanged views about the new developments at the Addis Ababa airport and at Ethiopian Airlines. Some attendees had tough questions like “When is the best time to quit my job to fully dedicate myself to my business”. Or “I hear this and that about African consumers: will they be there for my product?”. With the ambassador of Botswana, I had the chance to learn more about where the country’s economy is headed: I look forward to exploring Botswana some day!
As I am writing this, I am salivating at a particular couple of meetings due to take place within the GainXperience European Tour. They will have a special flavour as they were born in that no-Q&A Brussels evening.
More info on The GainXperience European Tour 2016 here.
Photos: David Olkarny
Many thanks to Connect Africa
From crisscrossing Africa to zigzagging in Europe. I’m pleased to announce that I will be touring in Europe this fall for a series of meetings, workshops, conversations, conferences and more. I will take advantage of this first continental tour to do face-to-face’s: receive feedbacks, empower and support ideas, projects, products, and just say Thank You to readers, contributors, sponsors, etc.
If you are interested in this event, feel free send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Adding me to an event, an exclusive Q&A, a meeting with a network, a presentation at a company are proposals I will be happy to discuss. It’s great value + a unique opportunity.