Responsibilities in Frontier Markets: Lessons from the Democratic Republic of Congo

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On March 29, The Zicklin Center at the Wharton School hosted Professor Serge Tshibangu, the special envoy to the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo and a member of the Presidential Task Force for COVID-19, as well as Lwanzo Amani, a private sector development consultant and Ideas4Action (I4A) partner. In conversation with Professor Djordjijia Petkoski, Tshibangu and Amani discussed responsibilities in frontier markets from their unique perspective from the Congo.

Tshibangu first highlighted the struggles that COVID-19 posed for the Congo and emphasized the country’s need to react quickly to protect its 80 million residents. In fact, he mentioned that 70% off their food is imported from international sources, which the DRC could no longer rely on. Secondly, their economy is sustained by the mining industry, but they could not export minerals to gain enough internal revenue. Thirdly, tourism was negatively impacted, as travelers could not enjoy the unique scenery of DRC. On top of everything else, investors also withdrew their capital, compounding the pandemic’s effects on the Congo.

However, Tshibangu noted a bright spot during the pandemic for the country. The DRC was reinstated into the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which formalized trade between the US and some African countries. This allowed them to have access to the market of 300 million consumers in the US and in other neighboring African countries, on top of the existing market in the DRC.

“I think that shows a sort of salvation move for us because where doors were closed, suddenly we had the opportunity to have other doors being opened,” Tshibangu said.

Given the increasing potential for business opportunities in the DRC, Tshibangu emphasized the need to reform the education system to foster entrepreneurship skills in youth. Amani added that the DRC is attempting to implement entrepreneurship classes starting from primary school and up to the university level. She noted that the percentage of people who are employed right after graduating from universities is very low.

That statistic underscores how, as Amani said, “it’s important for people studying medicine or law to learn how to create jobs so that they’re able to employ others.”

Despite the lack of formal entrepreneurship education, the DRC has been able to harness the power of youth through mobilizing efforts to encourage them to participate in I4A. In fact, Amani said there was a large increase from five I4A proposals in 2017 to 341 proposals in 2018.

Amani also pointed out ways in which young people interested in supporting the Congo and other African countries can help. She cited joining the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which does tremendous work on private sector development, as an example. She also mentioned that management consulting firms have been aiding businesses in the DRC, as she herself had been working as a consultant for a social enterprise that focuses on education and healthcare sector reform.

Amani summarized the numerous chances for students to contribute to these frontier markets, “There are opportunities to engage either through the private sector, like GE (General Electric) or Starbucks or Nestle, that are looking to engage in countries like the DRC, but there are also opportunities to engage through management consulting or through development organizations.”

Prof. Petkoski closed the event with optimism for the future of youth entrepreneurship. He said, “I hope that the imagination of Wharton/Penn students will reach a level where they can come up with some specific ideas, either in terms of startups and in DRC and accessing a market of 300 million people in the 17 African OHADA (Organization for the Harmonization of Corporate Law in Africa) Member countries …So if we do some kind of international activities, it’s not going to be just “tourism”, but also really engaging on the ground with young people in the country.”

Cami Doo

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