SMALL and medium-sized Aberdeen-based companies may be missing out on huge business opportunities in Africa because of outdated perceptions of a continent of problems.
David Smith of the British African Business Alliance (BABA) says that North-east businesses are failing to optimise the potential because they are unaware of the growing opportunities to work with African businesses.
Speaking of a need to challenge the misconceptions, he says: “The opportunities are absolutely without limit. It is a continent of about a billion people creating new graduates in substantial numbers every year and there are insufficient jobs for these people.
“There is a real opportunity for UK-based companies to provide valuable support to African business people to help them improve their effectiveness. This is where businesses can make a real difference in wealth creation and employment opportunities.
“The SME sector in the UK is a powerhouse for this economy; its know-how and resilience are skills that can turn the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises of African countries into similar engines.“
He continues: “For example, Uganda has just discovered oil and Aberdeen oil companies and support services have the specific skills which need to be transferred.”
And according to Jon Woodwards – the director of the Africa Business Centre, which is based within Aberdeen’s Chamber of Commerce – commodity-rich Africa has become the centre of global attention as rapidly developing economies such as China and India battle with the developed economies of the USA and Europe to secure the mineral and food resources they need to guarantee continued prosperity.
This, he says, has provided economic stimulation to many of Africa’s emerging nations providing GDP growth rates that outshine those of the traditional developed economies, many of which are still struggling to shake off the effects of recession.
This vibrant African economy holds a wealth of potential for Scottish businesses willing to extend their networks, expand their markets and take their skills, expertise and products and services on to the global stage.
Jon says: “Buoyancy in African markets provides opportunities in many sectors. Some, such as oil and gas, are already very familiar to north-east companies but others such as ITC, power and infrastructure development and retail are proving equally attractive.
“One of Africa’s greatest constraints is a shortage of skilled personnel at professional, technical and artisan levels and training and the transfer of expertise and experience provides one of the greatest opportunities for Scottish companies.“
Aberdeen-based consultancy Facilitators International LLP is encouraging local businesses to capitalise on these opportunities. Partner Allan Dick (pictured), says small to medium companies shouldn’t ignore Africa’s business potential.
Allan says: “Images of war, poverty and famine are being replaced by expanding economies and a new global potential. There is a growing need to provide crucial support for north-east companies thinking of getting involved in Africa and we can deliver this in several ways.
“Firstly, with our proven track record of delivering training in Africa, we have knowledge and experience to give to people who are hungry for it and, secondly, we have developed a unique database of newly graduated African nationals who want to go back to their native country and utilise their Aberdeen-gained education and understanding of the oil and gas sector.
“Africa is a booming continent and poised to becoming a serious global player. I hope that companies in the north-east will put war torn images of the past behind them and take up the challenge of developing new and exciting opportunities.“
But Jon Woodwards warns that, whilst the rewards available in Africa can be great, it would be foolish to underestimate its risks.
“Companies should be well informed and prepared before attempting market entry. There are various sources of help available and the best advice is to take advice – from those with a sound knowledge of the market.”
Meanwhile, network organisation, The British African Business Alliance, which aims to bring British and African businesses together, has recently set up an Aberdeen branch.
BABA is run by a group of leading business people with a commitment to breaking down the barriers to business growth in Africa.
Outlining the opportunities for Aberdeen and African businesses to work together, its chair, David Smith said: “British African is creating a business pipeline of opportunities coming out of Africa where British companies can invest, partner or provide expertise.
“Adding value in a variety of industries will ensure more of the wealth created in African stays in Africa.”
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