The greatest business opportunity of the 21st century

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 20 May 2016

Stereotypes are long-lasting. Think of Africa and images of poverty, hunger and violence come to mind.

The narrative of Africa as a crisis-prone economic backwater has a long history. But it no longer matches its present. And it will not be the continent’s future.

This is the firm conviction of New Zealand businessman Stephen Jennings.

Following an early career at the Treasury and in New Zealand investment banking, Jennings got involved in Russia in the early 1990s. He played an important role in the transformation from Soviet communism and pioneered capital markets in Central and Eastern Europe.

Over his business life, Jennings has been responsible for over US$200 billion of investment. Working in the most challenging environments, he became one of New Zealand’s richest people. If anyone has a sense for business opportunities, it is him.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that a few years ago, Jennings exited Moscow and relocated his business focus to Africa. Why Africa? In his own words, “Russia was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, sub-Saharan Africa is a second once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The company he founded in Kenya, Rendeavour, is spearheading huge urban development projects. “Quite simply, we are building Africa’s urban future,” Jennings says.

There are some key figures that underpin his optimism. By the middle of the century, a quarter of the world’s population will be African. Twelve of the 25 fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa. And Africa already has 52 cities with populations of more than a million people (which is the same number as in Europe).

According to Jennings, African business opportunities are greater than anywhere else in the world. This is because Africa the potential for catch-up and convergence is greater – and is likely to be fulfilled more rapidly.

If that is the case, then we need to change our thinking on Africa. We need to overcome those stereotypes that have built up since colonial times. And New Zealand businesses should get engaged in Africa’s rise.

The New Zealand Initiative is proud to host Stephen Jennings for a dinner lecture on ‘The Market Path to Prosperity’, in Auckland on 14 July.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear one of New Zealand’s most successful businesspeople on the power of markets and entrepreneurship in emerging economies – and how New Zealand can benefit from Africa’s rise.

Register now to reserve a table or buy tickets.