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Bringing global investors to African entrepreneurs: Richard Attias – creator of The New York Forum Africa (NYFA)

How will the forum tackle the massive youth unemployment problem?

HANNA BARRY: Welcome back to the SAfm Market Update with Moneyweb. Pan African Business Summit, the New York Forum Africa, takes place in Libreville, Gabon, at the end of this month. Last year more than €1bn in deals were signed at this event and we’re joined now by the Moroccan events producer, who’s behind this, Richard Attias, he’s the creator of the New York Forum Africa. Richard, thanks for your time, briefly tell us what the New York Forum is and then how the Africa connection came about?

RICHARD ATTIAS: Thank you very much, Hanna, for having me. In fact, after 15 years of producing the World Economic Forum in Davos and, by the way, even being involved in the one in South Africa, I decided to create my own conference the New York Forum in New York in the middle of the economic crisis, in 2009, with one goal, which is to really find solutions to the major issues that the world was facing. Not just talk but solutions and to leave the room with a roadmap. This is what we have achieved for the first two years of the New York Forum in New York and I was asking myself why we were not having so much African in the room. As you know better than me, visa issues, plus cost issues to travel to New York was not allowing a lot of our brothers and sisters to come to New York. So I decided to create one thing in Africa to be more Pan African, to also try to tackle the major issues that the African continent was facing and to put around the same table business leaders, political leaders, media leaders and youth. This is how New York Africa was born and I was remembering one of the African presidents was telling me in 2008, Richard, if one day you want to create something, come to my country and let’s do it together, this was President Ali Bongo. This is how New York Forum Africa was born a few years ago in Libreville.

HANNA BARRY: Now this year’s theme is Invest in the Energy Continent and will focus on the energy that comes from Africa’s human resources, among other things, but a specific focus on the continent’s young people. We know that Africa has a massive youth unemployment problem, how is the forum this year going to tackle that issue?

RICHARD ATTIAS: In fact, for the past few years people were always talking about the oil, the commodities, the mining, the infrastructure but for some time we were underestimating the people. Definitely this year we decided to really show how the energy of the youth people, the entrepreneurs, the innovators, of the women of the continent could be an amazing field of investment. The way to show that is number one, to give them a voice, a strong voice, we want to hear them, we need to hear them. What are they expecting from us political leaders and business leaders. Two is also to give them a platform where they can present some of the ideas which probably will attract some potential investors or giving them more easy access to financing. One of the initiatives of the New York Forum Africa is that this year we will give the equivalent of €100 000 [UNCLEAR 3:35]. This is what we are trying to do and last but not least, we are trying also to put into perspective all the areas, agriculture, technology, education, healthcare, where the people of Africa also have some amazing ideas and opportunities to present.

HANNA BARRY: You spoke about giving young people a platform that you want to hear from young people in order to hear their ideas, hear their innovations. Which young people are going to be presenting at the Forum this year, can you give us a few examples of perhaps some entrepreneurs?

RICHARD ATTIAS: Yeah, we have people coming from different countries, from Kenya, from Uganda, from Morocco, from, of course, Gabon, from Ivory Coast and these young talented people, boys and girls are coming sometimes with very basic ideas. Ideas of how can I protect my village from lions who sometimes in the middle of the night come to my village in Kenya and killing my [cattle] that helps me to survive. These young kids invented some very simple systems with some LED screens just to shine some light in the middle of the night, which is keeping the lions outside of the village. Very basic but these kids to make it much more available for much more people, not just in Kenya but in Tanzania, they need some little investment. So this is one very basic example, at the opposite side something much more high technology is to help some talented people in Congo, for example, to start to produce cellphones, tablets, invented and made in Africa. Not just invented in Africa and made in China but invented in Africa and made in Africa. So these are just two examples but we see very important growth of what we call the services. The paradox in Nigeria, the largest country in Africa, you will find more than 200 private jets in Africa but not a single national airline in Nigeria, which is a huge paradox. Why? Because people are not really investing in their own countries and today it’s because we have these young people so talented but so demanding, who really and also people from the [UNCLEAR 6:26], who are pushing us to say, hey guys, trust in ourselves, trust in our continent. This is what New York Forum Africa is trying to be, a platform to give a voice to all these innovators and all of these people full of energy.

HANNA BARRY: On the financing side it’s very encouraging to hear about some of those ideas but, as you mentioned earlier, these people need access to financing, these entrepreneurs need finance, who do you expect to be at the conference from a financing point of view, so potential investors into these initiatives?

RICHARD ATTIAS: For the past four years we were quite lucky to be able to attract, people coming from different parts of the world. We had great investors from the United States of America, from China, from Turkey and now this year we have even Indians who are coming, not just to try to see which deals they can make with local government but also where can I put my money. Let me give you a very basic example, the very famous private equity firm, Carlyle, huge, very well known in America, a year ago, only a year ago they came to the New York Forum Africa, smelling what is happening, trying to understand this Sub-Saharan country and they said, okay, we will raise a fund, maybe the target will be US$250m to see how we can raise some money and invest in Africa on energy, on agriculture. In less than three months more than $800m was raised. So now they are coming to see in which areas they can invest and on which new ideas they could invest but they are not the only one. We have the sovereign fund of China coming, we have the sovereign fund of Turkey coming, we have the import-export banks coming and last but not least at New York Africa this year has just connected to the AGOA Forum, which will happen just three days before the New York Forum Africa at the end of August.

HANNA BARRY: Richard Attias is the creator of the New York Forum Africa taking place in Libreville, Gabon, at the end of August.

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