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11 Arab Companies Make Forbes Global 2000 Top Growth Champions List

Comments (0) Business, Middle East

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The world’s biggest and most powerful companies are ranked yearly by sales, profits, assets, and market value and ranked in the Forbes Global 2000. This year, Forbes worked with database company Statista to look at the compound annual growth rate of revenues, from 2013 to 2016, for all 2000 companies and converted figures into US dollars. The growth rates were then ranked, and the top 250 companies were listed as the Forbes Global 2000 Top Growth Champions.

While no Arab company made it into the top 250 companies that made the Best Employers, Top Regarded Companies, or Top Multinational Performers list, 11 Arab companies did leave their mark on the 250 Top Growth Champions list. Of the 11 companies, five are from Saudi Arabia, four are from the United Arab Emirates, two companies are from Qatar, and one is situated in Lebanon.

UAE Leads the Way

Heading the Top Growth Champions list is the UAE’s residential and commercial development company, Damac Properties. Situated in Dubai, the luxury real estate company delivers upscale properties across the Middle East and the United Kingdom. As of May 2017, Demac Properties had a market capitalization of $4.7 billion. It had total assets of $6.92 billion, and a gross debt of $1.36 billion. With 55 million square feet of property development in planning or progress, including more than 13,000 hotel rooms and more than 19,000 employees, Demac earned $1.63 billion at the end of Q3 2017, 13% higher than in 2016.

With Expo 2020 set to increase demand for real estate in the region, Demac’s performance was attributed to continued demand for its projects. Demac recently reported more than 80% of its hotel apartment projects in New Dubai and Dubai South have sold out. It runs the only Trump brand golf club in the Middle East, and the company has also been chosen by the Oman Government to develop its $1 billion Port Sultan Qaboos waterfront project. Although revenues fell slightly in 2016, the real estate market in the region has stabilized according to Demac’s CFO Adil Taqi, and sales for the first six months of 2017 are up 4% over the same period in 2016.

Top Growth Middle Eastern Companies

The other Middle Eastern companies that made the list included Saudi owned real estate firm Jabal Omar Development, which ranked number 7. Alinma Bank, also from Saudi Arabia ranked 167th, Alawwal Bank ranked 169th, Saudi Investment Bank ranked 210th, and Saudi Arabian Mining Company came in at 222nd. Other companies from the UAE included real estate and construction firm Emaar Properties, which ranked 208th, and Dubai Islamic Bank, which ranked 249th. Qatar National Bank ranked 96th and Qatari real estate and construction company Ezdan Holding Group ranked 157th. Bank Audi from Lebanon came in at number 155.  

Top Five Global Companies

Ranked second on the list is China’s largest auto distributor China Grand Automotive Services. The Shanghai based company sells more than 50 different brands of cars, including Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz. In 2016, the firm posted revenues of $20.6 billion, 45% higher than the previous year. Also from China is real estate development company, Greenland Holdings, which ranked 3rd, and Hong Kong gaming and real estate firm Melco International, which ranked 4th. Ranking 5th was Chinese delivery service company, S.F Holdings.

The top delivering US companies on the list were e-commerce company XPO Logistics, which was ranked 8th and New Residential Investment (13th), Cheniere Energy (21st), Vereit (34th) and Liberty Expeida Holdings, which ranked 34th.    

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Bringing tourism back to the Middle East

Comments (0) Middle East

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Long heralded as the must-see tourist destinations of the Middle East, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey are feeling the blow to their once prosperous tourism sector, as holidaymaker’s head to safer shores. Terrorist attacks, kidnapping and political unrest has seen a decline in tourism in the region, however, some countries are finding ways to bring the people back.

Saudi Arabian Islands Make-over

The recently announced Red Sea Project will see Virgin airlines founder and entrepreneur Richard Branson invest in turning 50 Saudi Arabian islands into luxury tourist destinations. This comes as Saudi Arabia announced its plans to turn 13,127 square miles of coastline into luxury resorts in early August. “This is an incredibly exciting time in the country’s history,” Branson said in a statement released by the Information Ministry. As one of the world’s most conservative countries, where alcohol is prohibited and women have only just been given permission to drive, Saudi Arabia is determined to change its image in the international community.

According to Arabian Business, since the appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman as successor to his father’s empire in June, the country has launched a media offensive aimed at pulling the country out of its dependence on oil and diversifying its revenue. The Saudi Public Investment Fund, which is headed by Prince Mohammed, will provide the initial investment to the Red Sea Project, with plans to start construction in 2019. Branson is the first international investor to commit to the project in what the ministry called “a clear sign that Saudi Arabia is opening its doors to international tourism.”

Egypt Partners with CNN

Egypt is also set to launch a tourism media campaign with cable television channel CNN, after visitor numbers fell dramatically due to the Arab Spring uprising, which overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and the Russian passenger jet which crashed in Sinai in 2015, killing all onboard. Russia, which was the number one source of tourists to Egypt, suspended flights to the country pending tighter security measures at Egyptian airports. In order to lessen the impact of these reports, Egypt will launch an advertisement to be aired on CNN’s weather forecasts in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to attract tourists during the winter season. International advertising and marketing agency J. Walter Thompson, said the aim of the campaign was to attract tourists in winter to Egypt’s consistently warm weather.

According to Egyptian news site Ahram Online, Egypt was receiving as many as 14.7 million visitors back in 2010. Before the Arab Spring, tourism represented 13% of the country’s gross national product, bringing in some $20 billion a year in revenue, according to government figures. In contrast, the first seven months of 2017 have seen just 4.3 million tourists visit the country’s historic sites and arid landscape. Although tourism revenue has increased in Egypt, for the same period, by 170%, reaching $3.5 billion, it is still nowhere near the pre-2011 figures.

Future of Middle Eastern Tourism

While travel and tourism sectors of the regions usually popular destinations have suffered, not all the Middle East has been badly affected. Certain ‘safe haven’ destinations have actually profited in recent years. According to figures from the UN World Tourism Organization, visitors from the UK have increased in the UAE. Dubai saw a 5% increase in UK tourists in 2016, and Abu Dhabi was up 3%. Russian tourists have also flocked to the country after visa-on-arrival was implemented, which saw a rise of 14%. Oman has also seen a steady growth in numbers from Europe, with Britain and Germany among the top five tourism generating source markets, followed closely by India.

According to Trade Arabia, London’s World Travel Market event, to be held in November, will expect to see a strong contingent of exhibitors from the Middle East. WTM Senior Director Simon Press said according to figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2016 the total contribution to GDP from travel and tourism in the Middle East was $227.1 billion. This figure is forecast to rise by 5.2% in 2017, and 4.8% per annum to make $381.9 billion by the year 2027. “There are exciting times ahead for the Middle East,” Press said.    

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New Reforms in Nigeria to Attract Foreign Investment

Comments (0) Africa, Politics

Oluyemi Osinbajo Nigeria

Foreign investment dropped in Nigeria with the fall of oil prices three years ago, but they have started to return thanks to reforms made recently by the Nigerian government. Earlier this year, Nigerian Vice President Oluyemi Osinbajo, acting for President Muhammadu Buhari during his medical leave, signed several executive orders aimed at improving business processes under the acting authority of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC). As part of a government bid to bring back foreign investment, changes to port procedures, business registration, and certificates for importing capital, have been declared.

Port Procedures

According to the Oxford Business Group, a key factor of the reforms was a move to tighten operations at Nigeria’s ports by reducing the number of agencies needed to clear cargo, creating single checkpoints for goods in transit, and banning non-official workers from the area. In the past 14 agencies were required to clear cargo at the port, but this has been reduced to seven. Now these seven agencies must act as a single task force, at a central location, and payments must be made through the Corporate Affairs Commission website (CAC). Only on-duty personnel will now be allowed in secure areas at ports and airports. The government hopes these reforms will quicken processes at entry points, and curb bribery and corruption.

Business Registration

Another way in which the reforms hope to dissuade corruption in the country is by making processes more transparent. Business registration will now be automated through the CAC website, via an online payment transfer, and all state agencies are required to publish a list of fees and conditions for business registration and license applications online. These agencies must also publish a set time-line for applicants, and if a response is not given in time, the application will be approved by default. In the past, new applications had to be made by visiting the country. These changes to the system mean investors can now register their business without having to come to Nigeria, saving both time and money.  

Electronic Certificates

According to Reuters, the central bank of Nigeria recently announced plans to issue electronic certificates for capital imported into the country, which will also save investors a lot of hassle. The electronic certificate will replace the hard copy issued previously, which investors or companies were required to get in just 24 hours, according to a 1995 law. The certificate is a declaration that the company has invested foreign currency in Nigeria and is necessary for the company to repatriate returns on those investments. Investors have complained in the past, that they have struggled to meet the one-day deadline.   

World Bank Doing Business Ranking

With a population of 180 million, Nigeria is still an attractive place for investment, however implementation and operating costs are high, and security within the county remains an issue. The country ranked 169th out of 190, in the 2017 World Bank ‘Doing Business’ survey, an improvement of one place from 2016, but a drop of 50 places in the last eight years. For starting a business, the country ranked 138th, for getting a construction permit, 174th, and for registering property, 182nd. The World Bank listed eight areas for improvement: starting a business, construction permits, getting electricity, getting credit, registering property, trading across borders, paying taxes, and the entry and exit of people across borders.  

Approval for Reforms

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) which said much more needed to be done to raise Africa’s biggest economy out of recession in March, has praised the new reforms. According to the Oxford Business Group, the IMF lauded Nigeria’s commitment to improving business transactions and investment inflows, and noted that the central bank’s foreign exchange trading window was a boon for investors. Investors needing to settle trade-related requirements in US dollars could now do so by phone, and at rates set by the buyers and sellers themselves, rather than by the bank or the market. The IMF said the moves would curb the market premium and push foreign reserve levels above the $30 billion mark. As dollars have been in short supply in Nigeria since the oil price drop, the country has had to look at new ways to attract foreign investment.

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2020 World Expo Dubai: a first for the region

Comments (0) Non classé

world expo dubai

The World Expo will be held in Dubai in 2020, meaning that the MENA & SA (Middle East and North Africa & South Asia) region will host the event for the first time. The Expo began in London back in 1851, and once every 5 years a new location plays host to the global event. Hosting such a prestigious event comes as a huge boon for Dubai’s continually growing economy, and marks a breakthrough for the region as a whole. The event demands a lot of planning, not just for the initial hosting, but for the long term use for all the investments.

A long road to completion

The process of securing the right to host the 2020 World Expo began back in 2011, when 5 cities made the final shortlist. These cities were Sao Paulo in Brazil, Yekaterinburg in Russia, Izmir in Turkey, and Dubai of the UAE. Dubai’s bid was titled “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, and in 2013 it was announced that Dubai had won.

The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) are the body responsible for selecting the winning bid, and after 164 member nations had voted, Dubai was the runaway victor with 116 votes.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said at the time “I am proud of our teams who earned this victory for Dubai with two years of hard work, dedication and commitment.”

The process to build the infrastructure for the Expo then began; as the 6 month event will see millions of visitors arrive, with the potential to generate an additional $40 billion of revenue for the economy, as 277,000 new jobs are created. The main site for the event is named Al Wasl, which means “The Connection” in Arabic, and the 4.38 sq km site will feature a 65 meter tall dome that includes a 360 degree screen to project images to the thousands of visitors.

Every nation that is appearing at the Expo will have its own pavilion, and there will also be 3 main pavilions for the central themes of the event, which are “sustainability”, “mobility” and “opportunity”. Contracts for the construction of these 3 key sites will be awarded later this year.

The UAE is only 45 years old as a nation, but the history of the people and the region is obviously far deeper. To try and illustrate this point, the 2020 Expo’s logo was based upon a ring that was discovered at a 4,000-year-old archaeological site in the Al Marmum area of Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed said that the logo “represents our message to the world that our civilization has deep roots. We were and will always be a pot that gathers civilizations and a center for innovation.”

Building for the Future

Many major global events lead to their hosts finding that they are left with large debts rather than long term growth. The Olympic Games and soccer World Cup have often proved a cost, rather than an economic boost, to their host cities. However, Dubai’s planners are confident that they are building for sustained growth.

Aside from the new jobs created to prepare for the Expo, the organizers say that 80% of the buildings created for the event will continue to be used once it has ended. An additional 28,000 hotel rooms will have been built by 2018, and this should help continue Dubai’s growing tourism trade.

In addition, major expansion of the Al Maktoum International Airport is planned to carry on after the Expo, with the works to finish in 2025. The 2020 Dubai Expo is also aiming to be the first one in which more than 70% of the visitors are from overseas, which should again help sell Dubai as a tourist destination to many people new to the region.

A new city is being built in the Dubai South region, a city which will eventually host 1 million residents and 500,000 jobs. Long term contingency plans for the various developments used at the Expo are in place, and already Siemens has announced that, from 2021, it will use Expo site as its global logistics base.

The arrival of the 2020 World Expo should dovetail well with the government’s Vision 2021 plans, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid has promised “to astonish the world in 2020.”

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StartUps Flourish Across the Middle East

Comments (0) Economy, Technology

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The Middle East is overcoming cultural barriers, and political and financial challenges, to become a paradise for potential investors. Emerging local technology companies are flourishing and giants from the US, Europe and Asia are taking notice. From the arrival of business angels, to the sale of Souq.com to Amazon, the region is showing greater creditability for investment projects and successful business ventures.

Growing Markets

Although there are huge obstacles facing the business markets of some countries across the region, the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries (UAE, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait) plus Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan are emerging as an economic hub. According to venture capital site Beco Capital, there are over 160 million people in the region, 85 million who are online, and 50 million who are adult digital consumers with disposable income. These countries have the highest value consumers, enterprises and entrepreneurs, as well as, the youngest populations and high smartphone and broadband usage. This largely untapped market, is becoming the breeding ground for local technology startups, and big players from abroad, who wish to tap into it.

So far, only 8% of businesses in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have digital presence (as opposed to 80% in the United States) and only 1.5% of the region’s retail sales are digitally transacted, meaning there is still plenty of growth to come. According to Beco Capital, each digital job is estimated to create two to three more jobs in the economy, meaning the digital market could add up to $95 billion in annual gross domestic product by 2020. The business landscape of the region therefore, shows a lot of promise to foreign investment.

Emerging Startups

According to research house MAGNiTT, there are now over 3,000 startups across the region, with $870 million spent in startup investment last year. The top 100 startups raised over $1.42 billion in funding and each startup has raised over $500,000 individually. Some 68% of startup founders come from the Middle East, although many hold dual citizenship, 12% of successful startup founders are female, and the UAE hosts 50% of the most funded startups in the region. These figures have attracted foreign investment from abroad.  

According to Bloomberg, Amazon’s recent acquisition of Dubai based, online market retailer Souq.com, shows that e-commerce in the Middle East is set to take off. Out-bidding Emaar Malls PJSC, which owns the world’s largest shopping center, at $800 million, Amazon is actively looking for new areas of growth, and seems to have found it in the Middle East. According to Bloomberg, Souq.com has 23 million online visits a month, employs over 3,000 people and sells more than 400,000 products, from electronic goods to household products and clothes.    

Business Angels

An angel investor is usually an affluent individual or professional investor who provides startup capital for a new venture in return for shares in the business. In a report drafted by Harvard Business School experts, angels increase creditability to projects and increase possibilities for success. The report found possibilities for success increased by 10 to 17% when initial investment was done outside the US. According to the National back in 2012, enthusiasm for angel investment was growing across the Middle East. High speed internet connections enable the regions businesses to reach a global audience, meaning companies can grow without need for crippling overheads previously associated with foreign investment.

Executive chairman of Oasis500, a Jordan based investment program, Usama Fayyad said the Middle East was a unique opportunity for investors to participate in companies who could easily grow in value two to ten times over in a matter of months. Business angels may also have valuable knowledge and experience to help struggling startups. Serial entrepreneurs, who have started their own business can mentor local companies to ensure successful management strategies.

Startup Ecosystem

Despite the war and poverty stories emanating from across the region on the nightly news, the Middle East is well on its way to becoming a global hub for investment. Even with numerous challenges, this has not stopped the region, as a whole, from overcoming the first phases of business development to build a promising startup ecosystem.  

Sources: (1), (2), (3), (4).

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Foloker Folarin-Coker wants to take her Nigerian label global

Comments (0) Africa

Foloker Folarin-Coker is not a name that is as famous as some within the world of fashion, but she has created an African fashion label that has not only proved hugely popular within the continent, but has begun to attract attention from further afield. Folarin-Coker has already achieved many firsts for an African fashion designer, and is determined to build her label into something even greater.

Self-taught Success

Foloker Folarin-Coker was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1974, and at a young age she went to Switzerland and the UK in order to further her education. Folarin-Coker eventually graduated with a master’s degree in petroleum law, and returned to Nigeria in 1996. While her education seemed to be leading to a career in law, her real passion was in fashion, and despite having no background in the competitive industry, she created a small collection of her own designs upon her return home.

By 1998, Folarin-Coker had launched her label, Tiffany Amber, and the label has gone on to become one of Nigeria’s most popular fashion brands. The label’s domestic success led to 4 stand-alone stores in Lagos and Abuja, and Folarin-Coker became the first winner of the “Designer of the Year” award at African Fashion Week in 2009.

However, it is not just in the domestic market in which the Tiffany Amber line has proved popular, as Folarin-Coker was invited to showcase her designs at the New York Fashion Week in 2008. Her collection was met with such praise that she was invited back the following week, becoming the first ever African designer to present a range twice at the prestigious event.

Continued Expansion

Folarin-Coker continued to innovate after her breakthrough into international recognition, and in 2008 she launched two new ranges within her company. TAN by Tiffany Amber is a diffusion line that was launched alongside Folake Folarin, which is a couture line

In 2013, Forbes magazine listed Folake-Folarin as one of Africa’s 20 Young Power Women, and by 2014, the self-taught designer had staged more than 60 fashion shows at home and abroad.

Another line, Tiffany Amber Living, was added to her burgeoning portfolio, and Folarin-Coker says that her success was based on the principle of reinvention without changing the core of the brand. The designer explained, “Continuously reinvent yourself but don’t change the DNA of the brand’ –that’s what I believe, everyone knowing what the Tiffany Amber look is, is what has kept us.”

As the designs continue to prove popular and her range continues to grow, Folarin-Coker is determined to create a brand that remains iconic long after she is no longer around. She has said that her ethos is to work for the future as opposed to the present, and she has a firm belief in the talent within the Nigerian fashion industry.

As she continues to look forwards, Folarin-Coker says that her goal is to “have a presence all over Africa and ultimately every major city of the world.” Only time will tell whether these grand designs for the future are achieved, but thus far her goals have certainly been met with success.

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Nigeria’s President continues to divide opinions

Comments (0) Africa, Politics

Muhammadu Buhari

When Muhammadu Buhari was elected as Nigerian President in March 2015; it was the culmination of a long and controversial involvement in Nigerian politics. While many have criticized his record on human rights, others have praised his seemingly incorruptible nature, and efforts to battle domestic terrorism. As recent health concerns have yet to be fully abated, the future of the President remains uncertain.

A history of political struggle

Muhammadu Buhari was born on December 17th 1942, in Daura, Katsina State, to a large family in which he was the 23rd child. By the age of 19, Buhari had joined the military, and within one year he had been sent to the UK for officer training. Buhari returned to Nigeria in 1963 and from here, until his election in 2015, he was rarely away from the political struggles within the country.

After serving the government in the Nigerian Civil War, Buhari was involved in the 1966 Counter Coup, before supporting the 1975 Coup that briefly led to him taking on nonmilitary roles within the new government.

But it is the 1983 Coup, that he led, which threw him into the limelight. Buhari took power from January 1984 until August 1985, in which time he led a fierce stamp down on political corruption, indiscipline and rising crime. While the measures were seen by many as necessary for economic reform, widespread human rights abuses were reported, and press freedom was severely curtailed.

Buhari’s brief stint in power came to an end in 1985, when he was overthrown and put into detention for 3 years. However, his ambitions as a leader saw him return to politics with a failed Presidential bid in 2003, followed by two more attempts at gaining democratic election in 2007 and 2011.

Legitimacy and the Future

Buhari finally succeeded in becoming the democratically elected President in March 2015, when Nigeria elected him to replace incumbent leader, Goodluck Jonathon. Buhari’s commitment to breaking the cycle of corruption within Nigerian politics was almost immediately displayed when he had former national security advisor, Sambo Dasuki, arrested for embezzling $2 billion worth of funds that were assigned for the battle with Boko Haram.

Several other senior government figures have also found themselves in jail, as Buhari looks to cut out the rot that he feels has hampered Nigerian progress for too long. However, this has echoes of similar moves that he made in his brief run of power in the 1980’s, and the world’s leaders are unlikely to be supportive of the other measures that Buhari employed at the time, including executions for drug users, and public floggings for people who did not line up at bus stops in an orderly fashion.

Thus far, none of the obvious abuses of the past have manifested themselves under Buhari’s new leadership, and there has been marked improvement in the security in Nigeria’s north-eastern region, which has borne the brunt of much of the nation’s Islamic extremism.

However, a recession hit Nigeria soon after Buhari’s electoral triumph, and Islamist forces pushed out of the north-east have begun to increase attacks within the nation’s oil rich, Niger Delta region. Buhari has also faced criticism over his recognition of women in government, as his cabinet is only 16% female, compared with the previous regime’s 31%.

Major concerns over Buhari’s health

Most recently, there have been major concerns over Buhari’s health, and whether he would be capable of continuing in power. In January of this year, Buhari traveled to the UK for treatment on an unspecified condition, and remained there for 7 weeks, before returning to Nigeria in March. Buhari then returned to London for more treatment on May 7th, and thus far has not gone back to his nation.

Although his wife has assured concerned Nigerians that he is recovering well, there is a growing demand in Nigeria for him to be declared unfit, and while vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, has been in control during Buhari’s absence, there are several other potential leaders looking for their chance to take the top post.

Buhari is a man who has fought in wars, coups and survived an assassination attempt in 2014; so regardless of ones opinion on his policies, it cannot be said that he is easily broken. The future of his leadership looks uncertain, but if he is physically capable, then we can be assured he is likely to do his utmost to retain his position.

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Jonathan Gray: shaping investment opportunities for the Middle East

Comments (0) Leaders

Jonathan Gray

Jonathan Gray is currently heading several businesses within various industries through ventures such as Beauchamp Estates France, JG Events and First Idea Ltd.

A bona fide entrepreneur

Jonathan Gray’s business life started early in 1997 at the age of 16 after a chance encounter with a Buena Vista International executive during the Cannes Film festival. A few years on he would create several companies within various industries. Most notably in his early career stands JG events, a successful international event company specialising in luxury private and corporate events in the South of France.

A few years later, in 2004, he participated to the launch of the exclusive global concierge company Quintessentially, which he spearheaded from 2005 and sold in 2009.

Simultaneously, he launched his own estate agency in 2005 and then closed a business opportunity in 2007 with powerhouse London broker Beauchamp Estates, a main player in the premium property market focusing on a select range of exclusive quality properties. Together they launched the exclusive French branch of Beauchamp Estates in Cannes. Within six years, Beauchamp Estates France multiplied its turnover fivefold.

First Idea, a firm specialized in the Middle East region

With his track record and after having developed a strong and influent network of ultra high net worth individuals, Jonathan Gray decided to transition towards more personal passions such as strategic and investment consultancy.

Thus was born the strategic consulting firm First Idea Ltd. First Idea was the opportunity for Jonathan to develop the concept he had in mind. First Idea selects investment opportunities aligned with the principles of the positive economy by focusing efforts in identifying corporate or institutional entities willing to address societal and economic change.

Far from being a run of the mill investment boutique, First Idea strives to be both a laboratory of positive ideas for clients and an aggregator of talents, aiming to design new levers of economic, social, societal and cultural developments and respond to the challenges of tomorrow’s world through creative, innovative and bespoke solutions.

More concretely, First Idea is a firm specialized in the Middle East region. It assists its clients in reshaping the economy for a post-oil order through the deployment and implementation of hallmark Vision 2030 programs developed in most Gulf countries. Within this frame, First Idea raises awareness about the giant and numerous investment opportunities such national plans offer to worldwide business leaders & companies, with a special focus on French business circles.

First idea’s efforts focus on positive sectors. Indeed, Jonathan Gray is an idea man, devising solutions (ideas, innovation or policies) to positively impact the Gulf’s economy and society as a whole by creating sustainable foundations for flourishing and innovative ecosystems.

Therefore, First Idea aims at facilitating Vision 2030’s successes, at helping answer Middle East’s most critical challenges, with a strong focus on Food security & safety (Agritech), Water security (Watertech), Green construction, Carbon sinks, Carbon valuation, EcoTourism.

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Africa gets its first smartphone manufacturing facility in Nigeria

Comments (0) Featured

While mobile phone penetration has been rapidly increasing throughout Africa for several years, until now, all the smartphones sold on the continent were imported from overseas. However, as AfriOne opens up its first smartphone production factory on the continent, the hope is that the flourishing technology can provide greater employment opportunities for the next generation.

The First in Africa

Mobile phones have become an integral part of life for many people, and the proliferation across Africa has increased rapidly in recent years. In Nigeria, the market penetration has surged and investments in the telecoms sector skyrocketed by 6400% in the past 4 years. With such growth, it is no surprise that Africa’s first smartphone production unit has found its home in Nigeria.

The company AfriOne has established the factory in Nigeria’s Lagos Free Zone with an initial investment of $10 million. The plant will begin producing 120,000 units per month; however the company is confident that the facility will eventually produce as many as 300,000 products per month.

The new range of smartphones will cost between $92 and $108 and are aimed at Nigeria’s middle income consumers. AfriOne’s parent company, Contec Global, intends to open up a second production unit as it continues its expansion.

The investment seeks to capitalize on the huge expansion in e-commerce within the region. E-commerce is predicted to account for 10% of all retail sales in Nigeria by 2025, and consultant group McKinsey estimates it could be producing $75 billion in annual revenue by this time.

The 20,000 square foot production facility includes a Research & Development (R&D) department and testing laboratories. Mr. Sahih Berry, AfriOne’s Founder and CEO, said that the company has a goal to “democratize technology, by offering affordable innovations through our product offerings and removing barriers deterring the large scale adoption of advanced technology in Nigeria.”

By Nigerians, For Nigerians

The unveiling of a facility such as AfriOne’s new smartphone production unit offers immediate job opportunities as well as the obvious increase in options for the Nigerian consumer. AfriOne’s Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Sandeep Natu, told the press that the factory will initially employ around 500 people. Both the company and government officials are hopeful that the long term benefits of the operation will be more far-reaching.

Contec Global’s Managing Director, Mr. Roheen Berry, said that the company is dedicated to increasing opportunities for young Nigerians through a policy of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Mr. Berry explained that the facility will have various training programs for young men and women working at AfriOne, and added, “We are tangibly investing in Nigeria’s future through AfriOne, while providing a valuable skill set to its workforce that will facilitate continued innovation in Nigeria’s emerging, dynamic and robust market.”

The Nigerian government believes that the venture will not only create immediate employment opportunities, but will help foster a culture of innovation and technology within Lagos that could lead to greater long term growth. Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, announced the plant’s opening at a press conference in which he expressed hope that this would lead to the city of Lagos create a 24-hour economy.

Mr. Ambode also discussed AfriOne’s commitment to working with a local college, Lagos State Polytechnic, for the maintenance and repair of mobile devices. He said, “The collaboration with Afrione will be of immense benefits to these students and the State.”

The factory promises to offer these students practical experience within the field of telecommunications and mobile technology, thus spreading the potential impact on future job creation far beyond the direct employment within the plant.

Lagos State Government already had a youth training initiative in place, known as the Empowerment Trust Fund, and Mr. Ambode believes that, “AfriOne’s collaboration will complement efforts by the Lagos State government in ensuring that these youths are empowered.”

Nigeria currently has around 154 million mobile phone users, and e-commerce and mobile banking are both rapidly growing sectors within the West African nation. As these markets continue to grow and attract investment, a domestic center for the production of the medium needed to access these fields may seem long overdue. AfriOne assured press that the phones would use cutting edge technology and would come with popular African apps for banking and farming already installed.

AfriOne will be looking to expand its production base quickly, and the local government hopes that further development provides an ongoing boost to economic growth and employment.

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First Female Head of UN Economic Commission for Africa: Vera Songwe

Comments (0) Featured, Leaders

Announced in April by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, Dr. Vera Songwe has become the first woman ever to head the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, UNECA is one of the UN’s five regional commissions, and was established in 1958 to encourage economic cooperation among the nations of the African continent. A prestigious position by itself, Songwe has also acquired the rank of Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.  

Beating more than 70 candidates for the role, Songwe, aged 48, takes over the reins of the organization at a critical time, following the departure of Dr. Carlos Lopes of Guinea-Bissau, who stepped down from the organization in September, last year. Labelled as one of 25 African’s ‘to follow,’ by the Financial Times in 2015, the UN reported that her longstanding track record of policy advice and results orientated implementation in the region, as well as, her demonstrated strong and clear strategic vision for the continent, is what lead to the decision.

Track Record in Economics

Before her appointment, Songwe was serving as the International Finance Corporation’s Regional Director, covering West and Central Africa. Between 2012 and 2015 she was the World Bank’s Country Director for Senegal, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. Before that, she held the post of Advisor to the Managing Director of the World Bank for Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia. She is also currently a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Global Development African Growth Initiative, since 2011.

Starting her professional journey as a Young Professional at the World Bank in 1998, Songwe worked in the Middle East and North Africa region covering Morocco and Tunisia in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management unit (PREM). Later she joined the East Asia and Pacific region PREM unit where she held several roles, such as, Regional PRSP Coordinator, Country Sector Coordinator and Senior Economist for the Philippines. She has also worked in Mongolia and Cambodia for the World Bank.

Born in 1968, Songwe earned a PhD in Mathematical Economics at the Center for Operations Research and Econometrics, as well as a Master of Arts in Law and Economics, and a Diploma of Profound Studies in Economic Sciences and Politics, from the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium. She also has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science from the University of Michigan in the United States. Songwe has also published several papers on governance, fiscal policy, agriculture and commodity price volatility, and trade and new financial infrastructure.

In the Shadow of Lopes

With the departure of the charismatic, and sometimes combative, Carlos Lopes, Songwe arrives in an institution where her predecessor has left a large imprint. Joining the organization in 2012, Lopes has been credited with reshaping UNECA and raising it out of obscurity on the continent. According to The East African news outlet, Lopes championed the need for improved data and statistics for informed decision making. He was the first to call for debt cancellation for the Ebola-effected countries in Africa, and led a team to demonstrate the economic impact projections on Africa were highly exaggerated and part of a negative narrative. During his resignation, Lopes was also praised by colleagues for taking the relationship between the organization, its partners and member states, to a higher level, for beautifying the UNECA compound, leading UNECA to host big conferences impacting on Africa’s development and empowering employees and ensuring gender parity in the organization.

Songwe’s Vision

However, Songwe is not without her own talents and tenacity. With some 20 years at the World Bank, Songwe’s new duties of advising African governments on their development projects will be well within her grasp. Described by her colleagues as a hardworking and competent leader, she is on the selection committee for the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an annual program of training, funding and mentoring for the next generation of African entrepreneurs and the influential African Leadership Network. According to RFI, as the new Executive Secretary for UNECA, Songwe will give priority to innovative financing, agriculture, energy, and economic governance.

 

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