By Ajong Mbapndah L
In line with the United Nations International year of Cooperatives, the Africa Finance & Investment Forum will serve as a platform to strengthen the private sector in Africa .Slated for June 17-19, the event is expected to bring together Over 250 decision makers from around the world. According to Idit Miller Managing Director & Vice President of the EMRC, the forum provides an excellent platform for a productive dialogue between entrepreneurs and investors, policy makers and private sector, between south-north and south-south, as well as a perfect opportunity to identify partners and investors. Considered as the pulse of the EMRC, Idit was among the first of EMRC’s founding members to recognize the importance of international business networking. With a deep wealth of experience in organising International business events, Idit Miller shares more on AFIF 2012 with PAV.
PAV: The EMRC will be organizing the Africa Finance and Investment Forum in June; may we know what the forum is all about?
Idit Miller: EMRC’s Africa Finance & Investment Forum is one of our showcase events, aimed at strengthening the private sector in Africa, by encouraging partnerships and attracting investments. The forum is designed for entrepreneurs interested in securing finance for their projects, for private investors looking for projects, as well as for policy makers, financiers and bankers. In 2007 the forum was held in Lisbon, under the patronage of the Portuguese EU Presidency, in 2008 – in Paris at the Credit Agricole and in 2009, AFIF was organized in partnership with the FMO and held at the ABN AMRO Bank in Amsterdam. In 2011 AFIF was held as the “AfDB-EMRC SME Forum” in Lisbon, in the framework of the African Development Bank’s Annual Meetings.
This year EMRC associates its forum with the “International Year of Cooperatives”, highlighting the contribution of cooperatives to the sustainable socio-economic development in Africa.
Focusing on “Financial inclusion through SMEs & Cooperatives”, AFIF 2012 is hosted and organized in partnership with Rabobank, a Dutch based international financial services provider operating on cooperative principles, one of the world’s largest financial institutions.
Among the many AFIF partner Organizations we can mention: Food First-Floriade, Oikocredit, FMO, AfDB, FARA, Hivos, Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation and Shell Foundation. AFIF 2012 will consist of a two days programme at the Rabobank headquarters in Utrecht and a third day programme in partnership with Food First as well as guided visits to Floriade 2012 (Venlo-Netherlands) – a World Horticultural Exposition that occurs only once every ten years. An important part of the forum are the B2B sessions, where delegates meet and discuss projects, investment and collaboration opportunities following pre-arranged meetings.
All in all, AFIF2012 is about allowing delegates to meet key decision makers from all over the world and it is about sharing expertise during pragmatic and interactive workshops and plenary sessions. At AFIF2012 people will also have the opportunity to participate in B2B pre-arranged meetings and to submit their projects to the challenging “EMRC-Hivos Project Incubator Award” competition! So there are plenty of good reasons for delegates to attend our international business event.
PAV: How is the forum expected to impact on development in Africa?
Idit Miller: The EMRC Forums (AFIF and others) are excellent platforms for a productive dialogue between entrepreneurs and investors, policy makers and private sector, between south-north and south-south, as well as perfect opportunity to identify partners and investors. Through the pragmatic sessions and pre-arranged business meetings we help forge strong and solid partnerships between the different actors that work in Africa and strive to bring sustainable development to the continent: young and innovative entrepreneurs, development agencies, public sector representatives, investors, bankers, and academia. Sub-Saharan Africa is of course a big and diverse 54 country continent and in the EMRC forums we address the issues that matter on each part of the continent and help bridge the differences and challenges that different countries face. The personal assistance throughout the year is of course a great benefit for our members.
PAV: What criteria are used in the selection of participants and may we have an idea of some companies or personalities who will be in attendance at the forum?
Idit Miller: Our forums are open to all those who have projects in Africa and look for partners and investors, and those who want to invest in Africa and look for good sustainable opportunities. Much of our effort is addressed to the SMEs, professional organisations, finance, services and agro-industry sectors in Africa. EMRC celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, which means that we have been in the “business” for long and we are happy to see that more people are knocking at our door with the wish to be involved and contribute to Africa’s development; they are all welcome.
EMRC and Rabobank are expecting around 250 delegates from around the world. Among the personalities and companies I can mention Berry Marttin, Member of Rabobank’s Executive Board; Jean-Luc Perron, Managing Director of the Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation, the Chairman of AFRACA (African Rural & Agriculture Credit Association), Monty Jones, Executive Director of FARA (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa), Jean-Michel Severino, Managing Director – I&P, former Managing Director AFD (French Development Agency), Fabian Kasi, Centenary Bank Uganda and others ( from FMO, AfDB, Oikocredit, Heineken, GIZ and many more.
PAV: Did the forum of last year produce any tangible results and for are there any changes that will be witnessed at the 2012 forum?
Idit Miller: We evaluate the success of our initiatives through the number of partnerships that are forged among the delegates. In our last event held in Johannesburg over 1.000 meetings took place, from those meetings concrete businesses were made: investments in different sectors (mainly agriculture and agro-food), exchange of expertise, buying/selling of equipments, new technologies, etc.
The EMRC Project Incubator Award initiative also provides very concrete and short-term results – this year the Award of US$15.000 will be sponsored by Hivos, the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation.
The Project Incubator Award is an EMRC initiative launched in 2008 at the FAO headquarters in Rome. The award aims at encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa among SMEs. Finalists present their business projects during the forum’s plenary session and the winning project is announced at the gala event.
We offer the winners and finalists public recognition, media attention and extensive exposure to investors, donors and business partners. Susan Belemtougri, the 2011 winner of the Project Incubator award told us on an interview that the “prize honors the women of Africa and in particular the women of Burkina Faso. It will incite the future competitiveness of women entrepreneurs and even male entrepreneurs because my presentation set a tone and even generated enthusiasm from a large number of EMRC participants to be even more focused and to invest better in their businesses and projects. “
PAV: You have hosted quite some events and forums in Africa, what are some of the challenges that you have faced and if you had recommendations that could improve on the business and investment climate in Africa what will there be?
Idit Miller: Indeed, one of our main annual events, the EMRC AgriBusiness Forum, takes place in Africa since a few years, following our members’ requests– it was one of the best decisions we ever made, especially for our members.
The AgriBusiness Forum is the biggest pan-African Agribusiness event held on African soil, which gathers around 500 delegates from around the world. The challenges that we faced in South Africa or in Uganda, or in Africa in general are not so different from the ones in Europe. It is about the hard and professional work of many months, building trust among the potential participants and convincing potential partners that the 150 or so African delegates are all highly valuable and excellent potential partners.
PAV: May we know other events or activities that the EMRC has in line for the rest of the year?
Idit Miller: I invite all the ones interested in our activities to visit our website (www.emrc.be) and until the end of 2012 we will promote the AgriBusiness Forum in West Africa, the Africa-India Economic Mission, a regional event in Maputo, Mozambique, and a few tailor-made activities in Brussels.