Johannesburg - The World Economic Forum kicked off its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, yesterday, where some 2 500 global leaders plan to discuss a myriad issues relating to the state of the world. The gathering, which runs from January 22 to 25, is an opportunity to come up with ideas to drive investment, innovation and business and tackle such daunting challenges as climate change. Business Report conducted an interview with Dr Iqbal Survé, the executive chairman of Independent Newspapers, ahead of his trip to Davos, focusing on why Africa would be top of his Davos agenda:
Q: What is your expectation of this year’s event?
A: For me the main issue is going to be Africa. For a long time many of us have been saying it is now Africa’s time. Not simply as a catch phrase, but because all the key indices are pointing to that. As one of a few local business leaders attending Davos, I intend to put forward the case that Africa is a great destination for investment.
Africa has a lot of innovation capabilities to drive future growth, it’s got a young population and it is a continent that is waiting to be developed.
Q: And what is the role of the media in how Africa is seen at these forums?
A: The media has an important role to play to change the world’s perceptions about our continent and its position as an economic super-power. That’s very much close to me as the executive chairman of Independent Newspapers. I think the media in Africa can drive development, change, good governance and innovation, obviously one community, one city, one country at a time.
Q: In practical terms, what do you plan to do to tap into the Africa opportunity story?
A: I think it’s important for me to keep the sort of strategic vision of building our media company into one of the proud legacy media companies on the African continent by investing significantly in our brands, in our people and in acquisitions with respect to media on the continent. This will see us drive Africa into a new place in the world.
Q: Do you realistically expect that views about Africa will change any time soon?
A: Africa is not just about famine. It’s a continent that’s showing phenomenal growth. It’s got great young people.
Technology is changing the face of the continent and I think we can put that fact at the centre of global media attention.
Many parts of the world have crises and yet you don’t often read about the US, Germany, or even China only in a negative way.
You often read about the great opportunities, growth, and the positive changes in these places. In Africa we need to make sure that message permeates the world. It will attract investment into our continent, it will allow us to create jobs for our people to have dignity. And dignity creates a society which is much better, and which will move away from some of the challenges.
Q: Who do you plan to interact with in Davos?
A: On a personal level, I will be interacting with many of the chief executives and chairmen of global media houses.
Secondly, Davos is a great way to reconnect with the chief executives of the multinationals that we have invested in on the African continent.
Thirdly, Davos is also a good opportunity to connect with African business leaders.
I am also looking forward to participating in non-business sessions – on culture, literature, future of the world, sustainability, climate change. These are the kind of interests that I have. So it is quite a busy time in Davos.
Q: What else needs to be showcased about the story of a rising Africa?
A: I think we need to showcase that the continent is really ready for growth, for investment. We have young people and the continent is being skilled up significantly. Technology is being invested in; the bandwidth into the continent is going to change the game for us. There’s a huge opportunity on the continent in its development for infrastructure because Africa is where China was about 20 to 25 years ago and I think investment opportunities to increase infrastructure are enormous. Of course, there continue to be resource opportunities.
Q: Since Africa is top of your Davos agenda, how do you plan to instil confidence about Africa?
A: Most importantly, my message is this: don’t look at Africa as a resource base in terms of minerals. Look at Africa as a resource base in terms of its people… It is a continent with the most young people under the age of 35.