As the year draws to a close, preparations are in full swing for the Concordia Africa Initiative, with the first convening in the series taking place in London on February 28, 2019. We talk to Maddie Garnett, Concordia’s newly-promoted Strategic Engagement Manager and the driving force behind Concordia Africa, about the roots of the initiative and what lies ahead.
Concordia Africa has been built out over the eight years since Concordia’s founding. It’s developed organically, in the same way that our Americas program has, in the sense that our community has really prompted the beginnings of the initiative, alerting us to the priorities of the program and the topics that will resonate the most. We’re looking to fill the gaps in the convening space with respect to African-led discussions that are driving both the narrative and priorities of African stakeholders, with the ultimate goal of building sustainable and scalable alliances among the government, private sector, and civil society.
To be perfectly honest, I stumbled on a great course, which served as an introduction to African studies, during my undergraduate degree. I’d been to the continent a few times at that point, so deciding to take this course was an experiment, and I ended up really loving it. I was fortunate to attend a university that had an incredible relationship with a great academic program in Kenya—one that’s actually been around for over 40 years.
I ended up being able to travel to the continent as a student, and this allowed me to see things first-hand from the African perspective. I was able to get a sense of what the African priority is, particularly when it comes to how things are communicated on the continent and how people misinterpret and miscommunicate news from the continent back home. I came to realize that it is actually very different from what mainstream media and a lot of the big focus groups communicate to the western world—there’s such a detachment from African studies, politics, and economics in the U.S., in particular, as it’s not talked about as much as some of our European partners.
The Concordia Africa Initiative presents a really good opportunity for our organization to provide a platform through which to elevate African voices. And there’s no better way to do it than when the entire world convenes at the UN General Assembly. Up until Concordia’s conversations in 2018, I really didn’t see that there was a huge home for an African narrative and African-led discussion. But it is crucial that we continue to change this in order to elevate the priorities of an African community—and not from an American, or international, perspective.
We’re following the model that we’ve established in Latin America, which has been really successful to the development of our Americas Initiative. We are starting in London in order to mobilize a community that exists in a central city that is logistically more accessible—and therefore effective—for us to operate in. With our Latin American programming, our first-ever Concordia Americas Summit was held in Miami in 2016. Following this, we convened thought leaders for our first-ever international Summit in Bogotá in 2017. We continued this model in Bogotá in 2018, and will continue to grow and scale next year when we return to the city in May 2019 to host our third Summit on Latin American soil.
London serves as that conduit to the continent in that we intend to have African leadership represented at the Summit, which will drive both the discussion and program, but we are also setting the stage for what will be a continued conversation on the continent. We intend to move from London directly to the continent quite rapidly, with plans to host the first Concordia Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda in December 2019. As with our Americas programming, the Concordia Annual Summit in September 2019 will serve as a major checkpoint for all of the discussions and themes that arise in February. So, the intention is really to start on a small, high-level scale and assign action-oriented deliverables to our convenings, and then to bring that narrative and those discussions to the next stage, on the continent, with something to show for real impact.
I don’t necessarily think about our Africa program from the perspective of identifying challenges. My primary focus is to provide what Concordia does best—partnership development and convening—and, in particular, presenting a non-biased, non-partisan, worldview of partnering opportunities for African leaders to utilize. Of course, Concordia’s connectivity will also be crucial, not to mention the fact that all the groups we’re bringing together for this program are all invested in some level of financial inclusion aspect of African development. And I say “development” very hesitantly, because that’s a word that’s prescribed to Africa from a western lens, implying that the continent is behind, socially and economically—to be perfectly frank, that’s not for a lack of capacity or economic drive, it’s sheerly to do with the narrative that’s been imposed on Africa.
If I were to say that there’s a challenge, it would truly be that Africa’s narrative and opportunity is miscommunicated and misguided by ourselves. Concordia will not, therefore, strive to provide the tools to create a roadmap for African leaders. Instead, we need to be hearing how we can be successful in partnering with cross-sector stakeholders. And that’s a unique role that Concordia can play.
I think that’s a really good question. At our Annual Summit, when we put together these African-led discussions, you often see a lot of the usual suspects in the room. While there’s already a significant amount of support and focus from our community, one of the goals of the program is to get individuals who already attend the Summit and are interested in other regional demographics to the room where Africa is being discussed. This is definitely a challenge I see Concordia facing, but it’s critical that we diversify the network of people who are stakeholders in what we’re hoping to build out. It’s also a challenge that I think we can easily overcome, due to the breadth of programming that we’ve facilitated over the past eight years.
African voices are missing from many of the conversations at our Annual Summit. When we’re talking about infrastructure development in the U.S. or the future of the gig economy, for example, we should be talking about Uber’s presence in Kenya, and South Africa, and so on, and actually have an African voice in that discussion, as opposed to talking about it from solely the perspective of the U.S. That’s where we can actually drive people to pay attention to what’s playing out on the African continent and the opportunity that exists there for private sector investment in a way that’s not as risky as the international community has deemed it to be.
To learn more about the Concordia Africa Initiative, including how to get involved and attend, visit https://www.concordia.net/2019-africa-initiative/
To read about some of the African-focused discussions at the 2018 Concordia Annual Summit, visit https://www.concordia.net/newsroom/blog/2018-annual-summit-report/