XXXIX Berlin Global Forum

Berlin, Germany

January 29, 2020

Across the African continent, innovative startups are on the rise. Young entrepreneurs are harnessing technology and creating digital solutions with the potential both to stimulate growth and to address some of the most critical challenges the continent is facing – from access to health care to financial inclusion and market access. At our XXXIX Berlin Global Forum on January 29, 2020, Global Bridges members and Young Leader Alumni had the great opportunity to discuss opportunities and challenges of this growing startup scene and its potential for sustainable development.

The panel of experts included Andreas Lämmel MdB, Chairman of the Africa Working Group of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group and member of the board of the German Africa Foundation, Volkmar Klein MdB, Spokesperson (CDU/CSU) on the Committee of Economic Cooperation and Development and member of the board of the German Africa Foundation, as well as Samuel Boakye Opoku, Coordinator Startups & New Economy at the Delegation of German Industry and Commerce in Ghana (AHK Ghana).

Being responsible for building up cooperation between Ghanaian startups and German companies and investors, Samuel Boakye Opoku gave remarkable insights into Ghana’s rising startup scene. With more than 1000 tech startups, over 30 tech hubs and a young and creative population, Ghana holds a promising future in the field of technology and digital innovation. However, to facilitate this existing potential, Ghana and especially its emerging startups have to get access to more capital and be perceived as reliable business partners. Samuel Boakye Opoku lined out the current challenge to bring together bright and young entrepreneurs with potential business partners interested in investing. Another problem is the lack of business expertise: While many young Ghanaians have remarkable innovative ideas in the field of Fintech, Cleantech and Agritech, they often lack expertise in how to build up a successful business. Therefore, the AHK is not only aiming to facilitate investments but also to provide platforms for knowledge sharing.

Andreas Lämmel MdB agreed on the great potential of technology and digitalization for the African continent: “Africa is the fastest-growing digital market in the world”. He noted, however, that the progress of digitalization strongly depends on the country and that there is still a huge gap between cities’ and rural areas’ digital development. Sub Saharan Africa has to create 20 million jobs annually to enjoy high and inclusive growth. Digitalization and technology can help to create new jobs and function as a booster for development – but only if investments can be increased and the infrastructure improved. The German government is therefore currently establishing programs to support private companies in investing on the African continent and in building up sustainable partnerships.

Volkmar Klein MdB pointed to the current lack of opportunities for investments in many African countries. Therefore, eligible projects attractive to invest in have to be identified. Additionally, investors are often hesitant as they want a proven business model before they invest. However, there is also a tendency to universalize Africa and its conditions for investment. Often it is overseen that several countries, such as Ghana and Ethiopia, offer attractive opportunities. The German government has established programs such as AfricaConnect and AfricaGrow to support investments of German/European companies by offering a shared risk model and providing risk capital for African SMEs through a “funds of funds” structure respectively.

In the subsequent discussion round, our members used the opportunity to ask questions to the speakers, thereby shedding light on the role of China, differences between the German and Ghanaian startup scene and the relevance of startups for future development.