In this discussion at the 6th annual Nation Brand Forum we draw from the leaders of four multi-nationals with operations in South Africa: H&M, General Electric, Google and Siemens. Key to the discussion is understanding what a revitalised economy could mean for their own growth ambitions.
Excerpts from the 6th annual Nation Brand Forum
Dr Alistair Mokoena on digitising Africa
Thanks so much, Bronwyn. Hello everybody, it’s wonderful to see you. We like to talk about Africa’s opportunity, not Africa’s potential. Potential suggests that Africa needs to be rescued. We see Africa as a proper business case. So, the investment for us is not charity; it makes commercial sense but it also speaks to the fact that we see African nations as digital sprinters. Digital sprinters are nations that have realised that to leapfrog their counterparts, to accelerate their growth and development, to uplift lives and livelihoods, they need digital technology. There is nothing that helps you scale as much as the internet does. We’ve seen the spin off. Hence, last October, our global CEO Sundar Pichai, announced a $1bn investment across the continent over five years. This billion dollar investment was a nod to the business opportunity on the continent. It’s also realising that, you know, by 2025, a quarter of the world’s youth population will be on the continent. There’s about 1.3bn of us on the continent, but only just over 300 million are on the Internet. So, if you look at the headroom in terms of digitising Africa, it’s making sure that every African is not left behind, every African takes advantage of digital technology. I also think that the 1bn investment that we spoke about largely focuses on investing in infrastructure on the continent, to broaden access to the Internet and to ensure that we really truly drive inclusive and shared growth.
Sabine Dall’omo on Siemens South Africa
South Africa in Siemens terms, one of the most important countries that we serve. We were the first country our founder entered after he founded the business in Germany. And as you can see from what Bronwyn said, we have been here for many years. We went through many crises and we have always stuck around because of South Africa, but for that matter, also the continent is business for us and we have always seen business. Otherwise we would not have been on the continent for such a long time. We are very active in infrastructure, in industry application, transport, and healthcare. What is very important to us is to see companies like Google coming on to the African continent. What we see – and specifically during the last two and a half years, while we were in several lockdowns and cut off from each other on the globe, is that digital technologies have fostered their development on the African continent, at a speed we haven’t seen before. So, by having companies like Google coming onto the continent, we see that Africa can participate in the digital reformation of industries because technologies are now being deployed. And coming back to South Africa, one thing we clearly have welcomed is the award and the licensing of the spectrum, the auctioning around that because this means 5G in the private space to use Google applications, but also in the industrial space, because think about manufacturing of vaccines. Getting all this data quickly onto the continent is only possible digitally. Hence we’re very positive. The transition South Africa has done as well as a continent over the last two and a half years is beyond what I personally ever would have expected.
Nyimpini Mabunda on GE South Africa
It’s really great that South Africa holds the record as the first international market for GE globally. We celebrated 130 years of GE’s existence this year, and just over 126 of those years have been in Johannesburg. So, it’s a very special market. We’ve been part of a massive development in the transport sector with our locomotive business over many years. In our aviation business, GE is the largest manufacturer of commercial jet engines in the world. And of course, with our energy business across the power sector, as well as the renewable sector, the last sector is our healthcare business. So, wherever you go, whether in the private sector or in the public sector, we have a very large installed base of GE equipment. Why we exist as a business is to help make the world better. And you make the world work through healthy people, through ease and affordable transportation and through energy provision. We have a very proud track record and we’re looking forward to the future because what South Africa needs is investment. What that Africa needs is stimulation of growth, and growth has been proven over and over in the world to be stimulated by infrastructure. What we see today is that the energy sector is a challenge, but a challenge that as partners, we want to help solve. We want to stabilise the energy of this country, but we also want to transition it into renewable space, because that’s very important for the future of this country. It’s very important to attract investment because it lowers the cost of doing business. We also see lots of opportunities from an Africa continental free trade zone; South Africa becoming a hub to get into the continent.
Caroline Nelson on H&M and sustainability in South Africa
It’s been quite a journey since we got here. We’re actually the youngest when you think of a brand presence here on the continent and in South Africa. It’s been a really great journey for us. When it comes to that point around sustainability and the circular economy, for us that’s kind of the biggest step that will help us to continue to grow and help local retailers to be able to grow their footprint and to create more jobs within South Africa, especially from a production point of view, and a manufacturing point of view. So, when it comes to sustainability, that’s where we can really start to grow South Africa in a much better way when it comes to job creation around retail from the full spectrum, not just selling in store for it from all angles. What we’re doing as an organisation – if you take a look in terms of the technology and companies that have invested a lot in terms of tech in sustainability – that is where our strength is. And that’s where we see a big opportunity to help, to support and educate the retail production industry here in South Africa to be able to get better, get faster, get quicker, but do it in the way that we need to do it for the future. That’s where the investment needs to come. There’s been a lot of great moves from the government with the textile master plan, for example, to be able to create jobs and to have more local production. However, if we do it the way it was done in the eighties or nineties, we’ll never, ever be able to get to where we need to be. So, we need to invest from a tech point of view in how to make fashion of the future if we want to be able to continue to grow in South Africa.
SMMEs and young entrepreneurs key to rebuilding South Africa’s economy
As part of efforts to continue rebuilding South Africa’s economy, improving its competitiveness, and creating employment through inclusive partnerships across the African Continent, Brand South Africa (Brand SA) successfully hosted the 6th Annual Nation Brand Forum.
“This event brought to light critical issues for us,” said Brand SA’s acting CEO Ms Sithembile Ntombela. “We must continue amplifying the work of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). There is an important role for everyone, especially the youth and women, to co-create and drive a mutually beneficial, integrated African magic.”
According to Ntombela, this also involves a focus on shaping the individual country’s reputation and competitiveness, because “if we show the world how competitive we are, we will be able to attract loyal investors and tourists”.
The AfCFTA aims to progressively eliminate intra-Africa trade barriers, develop regional value chains, and enhance industrialisation across Africa. It requires investments to reduce inefficiencies in the trade within the African continent.
The three-day event, which concluded on Thursday (6 October), comprised of a youth symposium, roundtable side-events with various stakeholders including the media, and private sector open plenaries, focusing on key drivers of trade, investment, and sustainability.
On the first day, the key focus area was on engaging the youth to contribute towards tangible solutions for alleviating youth unemployment, further fuelling entrepreneurship. This culminated in plenaries with the private sector that focussed on the youth being key drivers of trade, investment, and sustainability.
The second day involved intense discussions about the value of building individual country brands on the continent in a way that promotes a united Africa proposition. This will encourage cohesiveness in the way Africa presents itself to the world and drive further investment amongst nations.
A demonstration of this was the support and attendance to the event by similar nation brand building organisations from Kenya, Botswana, and Namibia amongst others.
The third day’s focus was on looking at South Africa, an inspiring nation full of opportunities, through the lens of hope, despite all the challenges.
Ms Thembi Siweya, Deputy Minister in the Presidency, through a recorded video message, emphasised the progress being made on South Africa’s economic renewal and rebuilding.
“Strengthening our economy through engagements and dialogue such as the Nation Brand Forum, builds on the potential that already exists and reinforces public and private partnerships, which are key to overcoming our socio-economic challenges as a country,” she said.
African and international corporates Standard Bank, General Electric, Siemens, H&M, and Google stressed the advantages that South Africa has that should be leveraged for the Nation Brand.
These include South Africa’s good labour arbitrage, its youth’s entrepreneurial flair, as well as its diversities such as straddling two markets: the emerging and established ones, which make it a perfect breeding ground for training global corporate leaders.
Mr Jose Filipe Torres, CEO of the renowned Spanish international branding agency Bloom, affirmed Brand SA’s steadfast efforts and achievements in presenting South Africa to the world. “Keep up the good work and now move the brand a step further, by developing one central positioning message for South Africa by using the country’s digital footprints to further excel the nation.”
Resolutely against the three days being yet another ‘talk shop’, the event lived up to its resolution of tabling and encouraging inclusive partnerships with the private sector to further grow the economy.
“Action is critical after meetings like these, which means there must be follow up to what we say. And one of the ways to do this is to continue to improve on our credibility as a country, because when Africa is organised, it’s easier to do business with from an international perspective,” said Nyimpini Mabunda, CEO of General Electric Southern Africa.
Other key take outs from the event were the critical role the SMME sector has to play in this economic, social, and environmental equation. Expanding on this is the importance of unlocking Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) opportunities for small businesses.
“In forging forward to grow our economy, doing so in a sustainable way that protects the environment is something we have to keep top of mind; this together with mindfully practicing inclusivity of all levels of our economy and not just the big corporates,” Ms Ntombela concluded.