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Driving Business in Africa: An event for investors hosted by Empower Africa at the Harvard Club NYC

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Empower Africa hosted a “Driving Business in Africa” Investors’ Breakfast and round table discussion at the Harvard Club of New York City during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) week in NYC. The breakfast, which took place on September 27th 2019, gave attendees a chance to hear about the investment and business landscape in Sierra Leone from senior government officials shaping the country’s economic future. The event was attended by representatives of international companies operating in the agriculture, tourism, energy, and finance sectors.

Shai Bernstein, Vice President of Business Development and Operations, opened the breakfast by introducing Empower Africa and its mission of driving sustainable economic development in Africa by facilitating private sector growth. The audience learned about the upcoming Empower Africa Business Network platform that will connect stakeholders with grassroots companies, international businesses, and various governmental agencies invested in growing Africa’s private sector. The network will streamline access to critical information, communication and the facilitation of major development and private sector projects.

Ezi Rapaport, Founder and CEO of Empower Africa, discussed his personal connection to Sierra Leone which led to the founding of Empower Africa. Ezi recalled first hearing about Sierra Leone as a child, when his father flew to the country during the Civil War on a World Food Program helicopter. Since then, Ezi had learned more about the challenges faced by the region, including the very low levels of foreign trade and investment and the underdeveloped private sector on the continent. As a result, Ezi created Empower Africa which acts to facilitate investment and deal making in Africa.

Ezi also commended the Sierra Leone senior leadership for its integrity and vision of bringing economic growth to the country through human capital development, and highlighted the window of opportunity for change opened by the current government. Ezi urged the international business community to increase its attention towards the continent, in general and Sierra Leone in particular.

After Ezi, Florizelle (Florie) Liser, President and CEO of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), discussed the importance of increasing US and international trade with Africa. Florie described how many African economies are still today exporting mostly raw resources and importing finished products, instead of adding value to the raw materials on the continent and exporting the finished products to the rest of the world. In the name of the CCA, Florie encouraged investors to do business with Africa and help create the operations needed to process African raw materials in Africa, thus creating jobs and contributing to sustainable and real economic growth.

Following the introductory speeches, senior Sierra Leone officials shared their vision for the economic future of the country. The attendees got a chance to hear about the government’s initiatives to boost private trade and investment to the country directly from the people shaping the country’s economic policy.

Sierra Leone’s Chief Minister, the Honorable Prof. David John Francis spoke first. Professor Francis, who returned to serve in President Bio’s administration after holding the UNESCO Chair in African Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Bradford, discussed the shift in national priorities underway in Sierra Leone, and the current administration’s commitment to increasing private trade and investment in Sierra Leone in order to promote human capital development.

For many decades Sierra Leone’s natural reserves of multiple strategic commodities did not bring benefit to the people of Sierra Leone. Now, however, the government is committed to harnessing Sierra Leone’s natural resources to develop Sierra Leoneans’ human capital. Professor Francis described the first national airborne geological survey undertaken by the Ministry of Mines and Mineral Resources. The Survey is underway, and when completed the government will know the quantity of Sierra Leone’s strategic commodities that can be used as collateral to obtain loans that could fund infrastructure and other high priority projects. Prof. Francis encouraged the attendees to invest in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Abubakarr Augustine Kaikai, Special Envoy for Trade and Investment for the Republic of Sierra Leone declared that “our arms are wide open to strategic partnerships.” He discussed the President’s Medium Term National Development Plan and the Office of the President’s Infrastructure Initiative, highlight President Bio’s new direction for Sierra Leone.

Chairman of Presidential Infrastructure Initiatives Dr. John Edward Tambi presented some of the governments’ infrastructure initiatives, highlighting the government’s Lungi bridge project. At present, Freetown can only be reached by boat from Freetown International Airport. The current Sierra Leone government is launching a major construction project to build a seven kilometer bridge over the Lungi estuary in order to connect the airport to the capital by land. The Lungi bridge project also sends a symbolic message that the government is investing resources in making Sierra Leone more attractive to international visitors and investors.

Our next Investors’ Event, in coordination with the Sierra Leone Government, will take place in London from January 16-22, 2020. More information will be updated closer to the event on our events page

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