Friday, November 25 2011
Four years ago, I was expecting my first baby when the second iteration of the USAID Trade Hub was launched. It was an exciting time, full of personal and project dreams and expectations.
Yes, you could say I take my work home. I take our successes and results, constraints and challenges personally.
Lots of people look at West Africa and see the problems for business – but the Trade Hub saw opportunities virtually everywhere we looked. The key questions were, how do we develop and, literally, capitalize on that potential?
On one level, most people would agree we have succeeded. In the past four years, the Trade Hub has facilitated over $175 million in exports from West Africa to international markets. We’ve also facilitated over $53 million in investments. All together, that works out to about a 7:1 return on investment. While I had fought to maintain conservative targets, I think most investors would like those numbers – they largely surpassed my privately, cautiously optimistic expectations.
But that’s the bottom line – as I tell my staff, the Trade Hub’s story is not only told by numbers. Consider Minata Kone, who started a cashew processing company in Burkina Faso not too long before the second phase of the Trade Hub started. She struggled and fought to keep her company open, and she has prevailed. In September, she was elected to the executive committee of the African Cashew Alliance, a vote of confidence from its 100-plus members representing the industry across the world.
I’ve seen it work with my own eyes. Since 2008, we’ve engaged internationally renowned economist Dr. Daniel Bromley of the University of Wisconsin in the U.S. to prove that science supports our practical, business-focused results.
We worked from the theory that has been tried and tested around the world – increasing exports leads to economic growth. But few know exactly how that works. In reality, the daily details and struggles of these managers and their companies’ successes – and failures – reflect the keys to international competitiveness and trade-based growth.
To succeed in any business you have to take risks, plan to succeed and prepare to fail, innovate and learn fast from mistakes. I’ve seen many near failures snatched from the jaws of defeat.
We took a two-pronged approach: first, we worked directly with leading export-ready companies, helping them address the specific problems affecting their competitiveness. This has included redesigning and sourcing packaging to expanding productive capacity, from following regional and international export rules to business plan development to setting up a website.
There are so many growth areas for business in the region. However, we continue to believe in the “narrow and deep” strategy – focusing on targeted agribusiness and consumer goods sectors, along with their cross-cutting constraints.
Consider shea. The Trade Hub’s expert, Dr. Peter Lovett, brought over 15 years experience – he calls himself a “shea nut”, he’s actually a shea encyclopedia and almanac and business manual on two legs. Dr. Lovett’s understanding of the industry made him a midwife to the birth of the Global Shea Alliance, support from our technical staff, Kafui Djonou and Aaron Adu along with our market linkages team, helped companies get to the annual conference, business-to-business events and trade shows where they met buyers and made deals.
At the same time, we also learned about the broader constraints through in-depth studies. In transport, we looked closely at the practical problem of reducing costs. Quarterly reports on road governance raised public and private awareness of checkpoints, bribes and delays – more importantly, they mobilized people to do something about it.
After critical review of our volumes of technical reports and pages of recommendations and with serious help from Publicis Ghana, EXP Social Media and with key stakeholders, we launched the Borderless advocacy campaign in 2010 and it has spawned the Borderless Alliance – leading regional companies are now working together to do something about how ridiculously long it takes and how unpredictable it is to move goods across the region. Improvements in these areas would truly transform the regional economy, as our latest open, expedited trade report demonstrates (coming soon).
We had to try lots of things to get results on finance – it was not easy. Commercial banks are making good money simply lending to governments – they have little incentive to pursue internationally competititve loans with export-ready companies in nontraditional sectors. But that is slowly changing, thankfully. I saw a similar situation in the U.S. in the 1990s – it’s not an inherent concept in banking to do relationship banking and develop more appropriate and diverse products for those customers.
So, we have worked hard to introduce competition in access to finance, working closely with social investors and international funds. The Grassroots Business Fund, Root Capital and the Acumen Fund have made a significant impact on the equation, in particular for trade finance and quasi-equity.
We complemented all of this with a ferocious communications program. We have demonstrated beyond doubt that communications is critical. We now manage five internationally respected West African brands with stakeholders in each respective industry, including one advocacy campaign brand, Borderless. These brands have helped stakeholders get their messages out while building collaboration with such success.
In fact, the Trade Hub’s support via the shea and cashew alliances has reached from rural cooperatives along the full value chain, cross business sizes and inclusive of financial and logistics partners. We began innovating to drive trade and investing in buyers trips and regional industry conferences.
West Africa has now been home for over nine years. The past seven years at the Trade Hub and four years of our most recent contract period have been full of growth, opportunity and innovation. I’m proud our team has achieved so much – but equally impressed by the entrepreneurs, owners and managers and workers, public officials, international and regional private sector companies, civil society groups and many others who have been a critical part of our success.
To them all I say: business is booming in West Africa – you are making it happen every day.
|West Africa Road Governance Reports|
|22nd USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2012)|
|21st USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2012)|
|20th USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd quarter 2012)|
|19th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2012)|
|18th USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2011)|
|17th USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2011)|
|16th USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd quarter 2011)|
|15th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2011)|
|14th USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2010)|
|13th USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2010)|
|12th USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd quarter 2010)|
|11th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2010)|
|10th USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2009)|
|9th USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2009)|
|8th USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd quarter 2009)|
|7th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2009)|
|6th USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2008)|
|5th USAID/UEMOA Report (3rd quarter 2008)|
|4th USAID/UEMOA Report (1st half 2008)|
|3rd USAID/UEMOA Report (4th quarter 2007)|
|2nd USAID/UEMOA Report (2nd- 3rd quarter 2007)|
|1st USAID/UEMOA Report (1st quarter 2007)|
|Joint Regional Reports on Road Governance|
|2nd Trade Hub / ATP / ALCO Joint Regional Report on Road Governance (Sep. 2010)|
|1st Trade Hub / ATP / ALCO Joint Regional Report on Road Governance (Mar. 2010)|
|Trucking to West Africa’s Landlocked Countries (Sep. 2010) - Market Structure and Conduct|
|Implementation of Axle Weight Rules in UEMOA Member States (Jul. 2010) - Lessons learned from Transit Traffic in Ghana|
|Transport & Logistics Costs on the Tema-Ouagadougou Corridor (Apr. 2010)|
|Transport & Logistics Costs on the Lomé-Ouagadougou Corridor (Jan. 2012)|
|The Truck Driver’s Guide to Ghana (Aug. 2010)|
|Required Interstate Documents for Ghanaian Truck Drivers|