All posts by rachel_eaton

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day


Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

The need for this day is due to the unfortunate fact that women are still the most discriminated against group of people. One result of the inequality between men and women is that out of the + 2 billion poor, 75% are women (USAID).

As the world’s 10 poorest countries are found in Africa, I will dedicate this blog to the continent’s rural women, and what they’ve achieved in the past couple of decades.

In the 1990s, microfinance initiatives were introduced to Africa, and they were very often directed towards rural women as they bear a disproportionate burden of poverty (80% according to the World Bank). Microfinance services, especially microcredit, focus on small loans which have been shown to ultimately help with poverty reduction. Since 2001, the WHO has published several reports accentuating the success of these services with women in Africa.

One of the most important conclusions is that women are more likely to spend the money they borrow in ways that are more beneficial to their household in the long run. In addition, they proportionally spend more of their extra income on things that help develop human capital, better sanitation, better nutrition and also better health care and education than men. Whatever these loans are used for, the results are often remarkable, and repayment rates much higher than those of men (92% according to the Hunger Project). These are the Africans that are truly changing the face of the continent, and they certainly merit their day.

Other remarkable women are, of course, found in government.  Ghandi wrote “if non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with women”. In a previous blog, “Africa’s Power Shift?”,  I mention that the Rwandan parliament is made up of 56% women. According to President Kagame, whom I interviewed in 2007, the main reason for this is because women will do everything in their power to avoid genocide. I can think of many other excellent reasons for more female politicians world-wide, but that’s admittedly a particularly good one.

Africa’s Brain Gain – Implications for Kenya


Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

In the past couple of years, Africa has received an ever increasing amount of good press thanks to its unfaltering growing collective GDP.

One of the direct results of this positivism has been that the continent’s brain drain is slowly reversing, and turning into a brain gain instead.

In order for this return of the diaspora to last, stability is just as crucial as booming economies. This is why Ghana has been on top of the list for the past decade.  Should Kenya have trouble-free elections in March, it is expected that many “diasporans” will return there too.

Understanding the importance of the upcoming elections, Kenya’s mobile operator, Safaricom, has partnered with Sisi Ni Amani, an NGO, and launched an SMS platform to promote the peace. This platform will allow community “peace” ambassadors to send out positive messages targeted at specific incidents at a micro level with the aim of preventing, reducing or stopping election violence.

With so much at stake, the Kenyan government has adopted a new constitution and made widespread modifications to its electoral system. A significant change is that the new laws enable diaspora voting. By giving diasporans the power to have their say, they might feel more inclined to return home and play a crucial part in the new Africa.

After all, this is history in the making, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?

The Africa Summit: Examining the world’s new economic engine


Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

On Wednesday 5 February 2013, Economist Events successfully convened an audience of 180 delegates, comprising leading figures from business, banking, government, media and consultancies, for their inaugural Africa Summit, at the Royal Garden Hotel in London.

Gong provided media and communications support for the event and hosted a breakfast meeting, Chaired by The Economist’s Business Editor, Robert Guest. The theme of Opportunity Africa: What’s Your Next Move?  galvanised discussion among a handpicked group of companies keen to do more business on the Continent.

The Summit kicked off with a ministerial welcome by Mark Simmonds, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia followed up on her recent meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron and shared her belief that Africa is on schedule to reach the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goals thanks to unfaltering growth across the continent.

President Sirleaf stressed that in 2015 the UN Millennium Development Goals should immediately be followed by sustainability goals in each of Africa’s 54 countries, to ensure that the continent emerges fully on a global scale. She added that each African nation needs a stronger industrial basis first and foremost. Power, in the form of sustainable sources of energy, is needed to run factories, and the necessary infrastructure is required to transport the goods.

Mo Ibrahim, Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, agreed that greener energies would be required to achieve sustainability goals. He added that Africa also needs Economic Integration. “Trade between African nations will ensure vibrant economies across the continent and only then will we be able to talk about ‘Africa’ as a whole.” He continued to say that whatever is needed to achieve this integration should be top of each government’s agenda.

Dr Ibrahim ended his speech by stating, “AID is the aspirin that helps ease the pain in some African countries. It adds up to 30 billion USD per year. TRADE is the health-giving vitamin that makes the continent strong and accounts for half a trillion USD per year.”

The ex-President of the World Bank for the Africa Region, Ms Obiageli Ezekwesili, said in her speech: “We need a strategy for encouraging sustainable long-term investment into the continent. The answer is simple; the answer is Rule of Law. With political governance improving all the time, many of Africa’s biggest problems will disappear in time. Young entrepreneurs are the future of Africa. We must give them the opportunity to help Africa reach its full potential. Good governance encourages entrepreneurship and transparency and accountability are therefore key.”

Renaissance Capital’s Global Chief Economist, Charles Robertson, said that the banking sector still has “room to boom” as it is inevitable that the African middle class, which is growing fast, will start borrowing. He added: “Africa needs more stock exchanges. To demonstrate the potential: The Nigerian economy is predicted to be bigger than Germany’s by 2037.”

Olam’s Managing Director, Ranveer Chauhan, said that his company could not survive without technology in Africa today. He sees technological innovation as being prevalent across the continent, and cited it as one of the main drivers of growth in agricultural best practice.

Herman Chinery-Hesse, Chairman at Softtribe, dwelt on the importance of Twitter, Facebook and the Internet to Africa. He said, “These know no borders and encourage innovative thinking among the young through discussions and easy access to information.”

During question time, Dr Abu-Leil Cooper from Barings Asset Management concluded that from an investor’s point-of-view, “investing with Africans is as important as investing in Africa.”

More information on the Africa Summit, including a long list of speakers, can be viewed here. The Economist Events continues its African programme with the Nigeria Summit 2013, to be held in Lagos on March 19th-20th.

The market that had bankers at Davos excited this year was Africa


Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

This is what Peter Sands, CEO of Standard Chartered, told Reuters at the World Economic Forum last Friday.

Many African politicians attended the Forum, above all to present their nations in a positive light and thus attract more investors.

The heads of state and government from Guinea, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Mauritius all debated the future of their continent over dinner. The event was called an “Interactive Dinner Session”, and journalists were not allowed in. Only entrepreneurs and investors were. South Africa and Nigeria, the biggest economic powers in Africa south of the Sahara, didn’t feel the need to attend the dinner, but instead focused on promoting agriculture in their respective countries. Feeding Africa seems high on their agenda, following the expected population explosion. Nigeria intends to modernize its agriculture via large-scale investment programmes, knowing that its Human Resources are more important to the country’s future than its oil. The aim is to become self-sufficient and eventually an exporter.

One point where everyone agreed was that if Africa were to invest heavily into infrastructure, it could uplift all people still living in poverty.

Some studies suggest that some $100 billion (74.2 billion euros) would have to be invested each year to achieve real improvement, and African representatives at the Davos forum hoped to raise awareness for the issue. They argued that whoever fails to invest in Africa today, will be sorry tomorrow. And almost all attendees seemed to agree with them.

Finally, the European Central Bank president Mario Draghi ended the Forum by stating that “positive contagion” on financial markets was not yet feeding into the economy at large, but that the eurozone should see recovery in the second half of the year.

Good news all round…

Sign of the times: Nigeria’s very own Monopoly board game.


Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

A new report published by the World Bank has declared that as many as 38 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries could be regarded as ‘middle income’ by 2025.

Currently, 21 countries have middle-income status, and at least an additional 10 are therefore poised to transition to middle-income status over the coming decade on the back of prevailing growth rates.

In fact, if sub-Saharan Africa were one country, it would already be considered middle-income.

No wonder therefore that the Monopoly board game now has its first customised African edition (Kenya’s Kumiliki is a Monopoly rip-off).

Set in Lagos, Banana Island is the new Mayfair, and instead of simply going to jail, players are sent to “Kirikiri jail”, Lagos’s maximum-security prison. A fair warning for anyone deciding to mess with the city’s precious real estate sector. The chance cards include “for attempting to bribe a law enforcement agent, pay a fine”, as well as “You’ve been caught driving against traffic. Report for psychiatric evaluation”. The airport, bus station, shipping port and stock exchange stand in for the railroads and utilities of the original games set in Atlantic City and London.

The Nigerian metropolis is one of the fast-growing cities in the world and a new edition may already be called for in just a few years. In fact, most of “Makoko” no longer exists, making this brand-new edition already out-of-date. A clear sign of the times.

Gong is The Africa Summit’s public relations partner

Gong is The Africa Summit’s public relations partner

Gong is proud to be The Africa Summit’s Official public relations partner.


The event, hosted by The Economist on February 5th, aims to answer some of the most pressing questions facing over 150 investors, senior business leaders and decision-makers.


The summit will be a one-day examination of the world’s new economic engine: Africa. By bringing together politicians, business leaders and investors that are defining Africa’s future, the summit will explore the latest opportunities across the continent. Many investors are still not aware that Africa rivals many of the more traditional emerging market economies in terms of growth and investment yield. The conference should dispel the real, and often imagined, risks associated with investing in African Markets and highlight the ventures currently seeing great returns. As a business destination, Africa remains relatively unknown to the global business community despite being increasingly included in the global dialogue on economic opportunity and growth.


The Africa Summit will contribute in raising awareness of the continent’s dynamic business landscape by providing a platform for discussions on current, and future investment opportunities. This Conference will be a great opportunity to get an insight into the countries who are shaping the Africa of today.



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Developments in the insurance/reinsurance market – An African perspective.


Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

Demand for insurance and reinsurance continues to grow globally, but nowhere as quickly as in Africa.

Rating agencies are awarding stronger ratings to African Reinsurance providers despite the continuing economic crisis in the West.

The Economist states that seven African countries, including Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mozambique, are forecast to be among the 10 fastest–growing economies over next 5 years. Nigeria has by far the largest population in Sub-Saharan Africa, which, combined with being the second largest economy (after South Africa), gives it the highest potential for life insurance.

The middle class in each of these countries is fueling a growing demand for goods & services. Demand for insurance products, new or otherwise, should therefore follow. According to Continental Reinsurance “this urban consumer class, that is expanding faster that the middle class base anywhere else in the world, is the insurance industry’s biggest opportunity. However, with the exception of South Africa, little headway has been made in unlocking it”.

Africa has not escaped the general increase in the worldwide incidence of natural catastrophes that, according to an AON report, saw 900 occurrences globally in 2012, compared to 820 in 2011. The African continent experienced widespread flooding in Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Nigeria, and severe drought in parts of the horn of Africa. The lack of insurance in these areas shows that the market is still very much in its infancy, and, with the exception of South Africa, should translate into immense potential.

“Unlocking” is certainly the key word.

Top four challenges when preparing for a speech

Contributed by Sally Maier, Gong alumni during her time at the company

Outside work, I love public speaking and have been an active Toastmasters member for 3 and a half years.

For those who don’t know Toastmasters, it’s a public speaking association founded in US with an international footprint in almost every city in the world.

Earlier this week I gave a talk about the preparation and practise of giving a speech to some 30 people in the room and would like to share part of my talk here, as it could also easily be applied to the public relations and business world.

As part of the preparation for my talk, I asked Toastmasters with backgrounds ranging from professional coaching to IT gurus: “What is your biggest challenge when preparing for a speech?”

Challenge 1:

From the responses, one of the top three most common challenges is finding an interesting topic that fits the set objectives.

Likewise, at work, when preparing a speech or a presentation, we may sometimes find it difficult to find a topic that appeals to our target audience – whether they are the media, consumers, NGOs or governments.

When selecting a topic, try out the C-E-O formula. It has worked for my last 15 speeches at Toastmasters, as well as at work.

  • Connection: Ensure that the topic you select connects with every single individual in the room. This applies to any speech for any situation.
  • Evaluation: What are the things that you will be judged on? Ask for the criteria before you craft your speech or presentation.
  • Objectives: What do you want to achieve from the speech or presentation? Is it about selling a product or changing a behaviour?


Now you may ask, how will I get inspiration for the topic idea itself? Here are three ideas for you:

  • Carry a notebook with you every day. Jot down your ideas as and when you stumble across them. Brilliant ideas often spring to mind when outside familiar office environments.
  • Talk to the people around you. They are your inspiration. Last time I was due to give a demonstration talk at Toastmasters, I was struggling to come up with a topic. Gilly Cutts, my most inspiring mentor, then gave me the brilliant idea of talking about my quarterly e-journal for my family and friends and that’s how I came up with the speech topic “How to keep your global connections”. Likewise, at work, you are not alone. Brainstorm ideas with your colleagues, or even as a group if you are really stuck.
  • Think about your recent life events or the news in the media. Don’t underestimate the power of personal stories. None of us live the very same life. People love hearing true personal stories. Likewise, when drafting a speech or presentation for clients, think about what could make your piece of work stand out. Very often it is about small human touches or an emotional connection.


Challenge 2:

“I have too much to say. I am not sure what to leave out.”

If you face the same problem, try out the A-R-M formula:

  • Audience: It is about the audience, not you. Cross out anything that you think will bore your audience to death!
  • Revision: Revise your speech again and again until you are totally satisfied with it. On average, I revise a speech at least 10 times. As a general rule, five to seven minutes of speech is around 700 to 800 words, and no more than 900 words.
  • Message: Have one main, powerful message. Even two messages are too many. Keep it really simple and easy to remember.


Challenge 3:

“Learning my speech doesn’t come easily or naturally. I always feel unprepared.”

Try out the P-P-P formula if you face the same issue:

  • Plan well ahead. So you know you are not in a rush and you are in control, if the timeline is going to be tight for you, try to reschedule it for a later date.
  • Practise by yourself. Once you have drafted the speech, practise it at least 20 times – practise it whenever you can, e.g. when you are taking a shower, queuing or walking in the park. Also try to:

–          Time your speech and use a recorder if you have one so that you can watch your pace and pronunciation.

–          Practise in front of a mirror so that you can watch your movements and body language.

–          Practise your visual aids. Sometimes they can be a distraction so be sure to integrate your visual aids with your speech and use them to illustrate or emphasise your point.

  • Practise with others such as your colleagues, friends or partner so that you are used to speaking in front of an audience. At Toastmasters, for example, I find practising with my mentor is incredibly useful. Before each speech, I have a couple of practices with my mentor on Skype, either on a Sunday evening or early Monday morning, when we are still in our pyjamas! Likewise at work, if you can, practise your presentation with your colleagues before presenting to your clients.


Challenge 4:

“How do I adapt my speech for a virtual audience or webinar?”

In general, the policies listed above also apply when preparing a speech for a webinar. Of course you will need to adapt for a virtual medium:

  • Be more visual – in a webinar, eye-catching images will help to engage a virtual audience. Think carefully about your image choices – are they landing your key messages effectively?
  • Find ways to establish a personal connection – at a live event, it is possible to establish a relationship with your audience through eye contact, or a well-timed smile. How can you forge a connection online? Think about asking questions of your audience, taking polls, or gaining feedback throughout your speech.
  • Be sure of your technology. Make sure you have a secure wifi signal and if in doubt, consider a backup computer. Perhaps a trusted colleague could be ready with a copy of your speech to jump in and finish for you if the worst happens? Prepare for all eventualities.


Remember – voice is always important when preparing a speech, but even more so in an online setting as there are fewer distractions. Monotone voices can inspire yawns, so keep your tone interesting! Think also about your use of pauses to effect – they can work very well just before you land a point, for example.


But overall – if I need to give you one single piece of advice for preparing and practising for a speech or any piece of work, I would like to quote Stephen Covey:

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!”

African GDP – growing faster than previously thought?


Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

There have been various reports in the news lately that the impressive GDP statistics posted by countries across Africa may actually be underestimations, and that the continent’s outlook could be even better than previously thought.

GDP growth is correlated to a variety of data, and if this data is sparse (which is still very much the case across Africa), whole swathes of economic activity can be overlooked. Simply put, growth is measured by comparing current data to the base year. But without sufficient data, many “new” sectors, such as mobile telephony, have nothing to be compared to. And these new sectors have been growing quickly and steadily across the entire continent for almost a decade.

Until 2010, Ghana was using a 1993 base year. When it was finally revised by the statistical office, GDP estimates rose by over 60 %, translating to approximately 13bn USD of economic activity. Nigeria’s base year is still set at 1990. An upward revision is therefore imminent and likely to be even more impressive than Ghana’s. In fact, economists are predicting that the GDP for the whole of sub-Saharan Africa will rise by at least 15 % in the next couple of years! Where’s the champagne?

Africa’s power shift?

Isabelle Alenus-Crosby

2012 was a good year for women in Africa with the election of a second female president, the first female head of the African Union, two Nobel Prize winners, and a chief prosecutor of the international criminal court.

With such strong role models, and African men becoming increasingly accepting of these power shifts, African women seem to be rising as quickly as Africa itself.

The Rwandan parliament is made up of 56% women, South Africa 42%, Mozambique 40%, Botswana 39% and Angola 38%. It might be a coincidence that these are also 5 of the most prosperous countries in Africa, but coincidence or not, women’s participation in political power seems to be having a very positive impact. A variety of NGOs have reported that in the above countries, as well as in Ghana, there have been significant improvements in women’s education and employment in the past couple of years, both essential to achieving equality.

It remains to be seen whether the increasing visibility of African women in power translates to better prospects for women in general. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, inequality between men and women on the continent still has a long way to go, but a significant step forward seems to have been taken in 2012.  Can’t wait to see what 2013 will bring!