On April 7th, students from the Columbia Business School, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia Law School and the Columbia College African Development Group organized Columbia University's 15th annual African Economic Forum (AEF). This year's theme was African Innovation: Leveraging the Present to Shape the Future and featured distinguished keynote speakers and panelists who spoke about energy, the arts, law, technology and everything in between.
The conference kicked off with a morning keynote address by Professor Kingsley Moghalu, a political economist, former United Nations official and Professor of Practice in International Business and Public Policy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Professor Moghalu spoke on what the rest of the world stands to learn from the continent.
Following the keynote, attendees had to make their first tough decision of the day: which breakout panel to attend! The breakout panels included:
- Art, Entertainment and the African Diaspora, featuring:
- Jocelyn Bioh, Actor & Playwright of School Girls; Or the African Mean Girls Play
- Dee Poku-Spalding, Co-Founder & CEO of WIE (Women Inspiration and Enterprise)
- Duckie Thot, Supermodel
- Ugo Mozie, Fashion Editor & Stylist
- Eyitemi Popo, Founder of Ayiba Magazine
- Energy, featuring:
- Linda Mabhena-Olagunju, Founder & Managing Director of DLO Energy Resources Group
- Akinwole Omoboriowo, CEO of Genesis Energy Holdings
- Moses Esema, Vice-President of GE Capital
- Tom Flahive, Partner at CrossBoundary
- Investment in Africa, featuring:
- Temidayo Adebayo, Investment Principal at Kuramo Capital Management
- Nekpen Osuan, Co-Founder of WomenWerk
- Jenya Shandina, Senior Manager at One Acre Fund
- Michael Tsan, Partner at Dalberg
Unable to choose just one pane, I split my time between the Art & Entertainment and Investment panels, which both had enthusiastic audience members and panelists. The Art & Entertainment panelists detailed some of the challenges they have faced as African creatives but also spoke highly about the strong influence their culture(s) have played in their creative work. Catching the tail end of the Investment in Africa panel, I found provided insight on what makes a successful investment project and provided tips on how to connect growing businesses to new markets.
Once the first set of panels concluded, guests were treated to a spread of African cuisine from across the continent. During the lunch break attendees were also able to participate in a Career Fair, speak to Columbia admissions officers, and browse the merchandise from various fashion and lifestyle vendors.
After lunch, the conference convened for the second keynote address with Quartz Africa Editor, Yinka Adegoke. Mr. Adegoke spoke on how Quartz aims to empower African and Africa based journalists across the continent to tell fresh African stories.
Following Mr. Adegoke's keynote, attendees chose to attend one (or a combination of) the final breakout panels which included:
- Youth Unemployment, featuring:
- Mpho Sekwele, CEO of Bantu Hikers
- Samantha Taylor, Founder & President of Reputation Dynamics
- Tomiwa Igun, Manager at Boston Consulting Group
- Faith McCollister, Consultant at Innovation for Poverty Action
- Devang Vussonji, Tanzania Director at Dalberg
- Law and Development: Leveraging Africa's Strengths, featuring:
- Muna Ndulo, Professor at Cornell Law School
- Inosi Nyatta, Partner at Sullivan & Cromwell
- Mouhamadou Kane, Lead Legal Counsel at Islamic Development Bank
- Technology & Entrepreneurship, featuring:
- Chike Ukaegbu, Startup52
- Shola Akinlade, Paystack
- Tarneem Saeed, Saeed Industrial and Commercial Group
- Oluwaseun Oyinsan, Ingressive Capital
- Greg Cohen, Asoko Insight
Faced with another difficult decision, I decided to attend the Youth Unemployment panel in its entirety. The panelists shared the discussed some of their views on the remedies to high unemployment rates on the continent (particularly amongst youth) and spoke of how their work aims to support a potential demographic dividend.
AEF concluded with a final keynote by Dr. Ismail Ahmed, Founder and CEO of WorldRemit. Dr. Ahmed inspired the audience (and left us in stitches) with his journey of starting WorldRemit and some of the challenges he's faced along the way in his career.
The 15th annual African Economic Forum was day well spent with inspiring discussion with a group of passionate individuals looking to accomplish amazing feats on the continent.