January 21, 2016

Georgetown Alumna, Author Shares Thoughts on Business, Potential, and Security in “The Next Africa”

Author and Georgetown alumna Aubrey Hruby visited the African Studies Program and Africa Forum on January 21 to share insights from her recently published book, The Next Africa: An Emerging Continent Becomes a Global Powerhouse (2015).

Hruby is the co-founder of the Africa Expert Network and has advised investors and Fortune 500 companies operating in over 20 markets across Africa. Her book explores the recent uptick in interest in Africa, capturing a continent in the midst of transformation.

In her lecture, Hruby shared the increasing business and investment opportunities in Africa, including the over 200 innovation hubs and 3,000 startups established in recent years. But she also reflected on the challenging nature of African growth.

According to Hruby, as populations boom across Africa, governments risk failing to create enough jobs to accommodate a growing youth population. Hruby pointedly asked, “Where do you send your angry young men who want to ‘conquer?’ The U.S. had the frontier, the U.K. had the empire—what does Africa have?” Without adequate avenues for employment and education, she warned of a potential for civil strife, particularly if aspirations among young people rise faster than opportunities.

Hruby’s work centers on providing advice to companies seeking to make the kind of investments in Africa that can provide needed opportunities for employment and social mobility. A common challenge she faces is companies’ unfamiliarity with and hesitance operating in less secure, less democratic, and less predictable environments. Although the challenges of these frontier markets are present for any company seeking to do business in emerging African markets, Hruby sees U.S. companies as particularly sensitive to them.

While other international corporations may share a lack of familiarity with African markets, those coming from more recently emerged markets are better equipped for operations once they make the leap. Hruby cited Brazilian, Indian, and Chinese corporations she’d counseled that were already accustomed to working with weaker government systems, fluctuating security, and informal markets. By contrast, she says, U.S. corporations are often more sensitive to domestic scrutiny of their operations abroad, and often express “a need to develop the places where they work” as a result of that enhanced scrutiny or to resolve the levels of uncertainty they feel in less developed markets.

Despite the trepidation and corporate security fears she has often encountered among her clients in her consulting work, Hruby closed on an optimistic note, predicting that the business sector in Africa—particularly in East Africa, as well as booming western countries like Ghana and Nigeria—will continue to grow despite inevitable hiccups along the way. In many cases, Hruby has found that companies simply need to become more familiar with African markets by visiting on the ground and engaging a trusted guide. With guidance, and ever growing awareness of the opportunities in the region, she expects fearful perspectives to shift more positively and for there to be further investment.