Kina Advisory hosted its inaugural Kina Africa Breakfast Club meeting on 15 September 2016. We were delighted to have Anthony Pile, MBE, Founder and Chairman of Blue Skies as our guest speaker. With over 20 guests from varying backgrounds, an engaging and thought provoking conversation followed the dynamic, honest and challenging presentation from Anthony on the challenges and opportunities of working in countries in Africa.
The conversation began with Anthony describing how the business grew into the operation that it is today – with 9 factories across Africa, Europe and South America employing over 4,000 people and a turnover of $70m in 2015. Blue Skies has created an export business that not only adds to the economic growth of the operating countries, but does so in a sustainable way that relates to their core business objectives; earning the company numerous awards for their sustainable development. Anthony also described the business opportunities in agriculture in Africa and the need to encourage more investment and participation in the sector.
Conversation then turned to the on-the-ground challenges the company has and is facing in countries in Africa and in South America. Facing issues with land, fiscal policy changes, foreign currency exchange rates, and energy supply, Blue Skies has had to adapt to an ever changing environment whilst remaining firm to its core principles. This has often required different and at times experimental methods to overcome some of these difficulties and turn them into opportunities – some still remain and are ongoing.
One of the key lessons from the conversation was the need to gather and fully understand as much on-the-ground and practical advice and information as possible before beginning any operation in a country. This should cover the political, economic, social, cultural and local business context; and understanding the impact these will inevitably have on the business.
Attendees also raised the important issue of the involvement of stakeholders. Engaging with a broader range of stakeholders and educating them fully on your business/ project provides an important form of support when faced with some of the challenges mentioned. It is therefore important to know how to have the right conversations with the right stakeholders and to develop plans of engagement early on.
Listening to Anthony speak it was clear that in spite of the challenges there is an optimism about the investment potential in Africa. There are solutions to the challenges, and one needs to be creative, flexible and committed to discover what they are. With Anthony’s passion for the continent and commitment to see Africa thrive, we have no doubt that Blue Skies will continue to be a success. We appreciated him spending a morning sharing his experiences and insights. This appreciation extends to our attendees who commented that they found the meeting ‘interesting’, ‘insightful’, and ‘informative’, praising Anthony’s open dialogue.
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