Continent is a world of opportunity waiting to be born

These are extraordinary times for Africa – times of great uncertainty but of enormous possibility too. And so, more than ever before, the continent calls for leaders with purpose, whose intelligence and dedication to learning will empower them to realise a vision of Africa rising, not Africa uprising.

In identifying and developing people with the courage and integrity to become the political, business and societal leaders of the future, we can look forward to a new generation of leaders who are able to rise on the basis of merit, real skills and creating shared value, think with clarity and act with conviction.

Our challenge, therefore, is to create a multitude of confident and capable leaders – confident to innovate and try new ideas and capable of managing well, using their intelligence and their imagination, using resources effectively and creating new forms of value.

What we don’t want, however, is people with a false sense of confidence, who have armoured themselves with jargon and theory and methodology, but rather people with a deep sense of understanding how to manage, work and engage, and a sense of their own possibility or creativity.

So how do we cultivate that confidence? True confidence is about knowing that you can learn your way through most things. When you know that, you need not defend your ignorance or be scared of the new. If we know that we can learn, we will relish the challenge of the new and know that we can grow and succeed.

It takes courage to embrace that sort of optimism, especially in the face of great difficulty, but that is precisely what is needed to build confidence.

It’s fashionable to be cynical and people often equate cynicism with intelligence, but that simply isn’t the case. In fact, cynics can suck all imagination and creativity from a situation. If we let ourselves become clever cynics, it will make us a nation of problem-solvers rather than a nation of possibility-seekers.

We have all the talents, intelligence and capability of the Americans, Asians and Europeans and it’s about time we started to believe that. For too long, we have accepted the world’s dim view of Africa, and while we still face massive and frightening challenges, now is the time for us to flush our minds and attitudes of all traces of Afro- pessimism.

We’re not talking blind optimism here, but the kind of optimism that looks at the full reality of life and how difficult it is and yet still remains positive throughout. Cultivating this attitude transforms pain into triumph, guilt into the possibility of renewal, and the awareness that we are not immortal into taking responsible action.

Indeed, we have plenty to be optimistic about. For a start, Africa has been hailed as the world’s next dominant economic powerhouse.

And for good reason: in the past 10 years, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies have been African, five African countries have been growing faster than China, 21 have been growing faster than India and all except two of those have been growing faster than both Europe and the US.

In the next few decades (how few depends on us) millions of African people will be lifted out of poverty.

We have the capacity to be a positive, transnational, integrated continent, trade flows running through us, people moving around the world, African people being as much in demand in corporates as are Americans, Europeans and Asians.

We will have to work enormously hard to achieve that, but that is our capability.

One critical thing is required, however: to have the discipline to build the skills and to practise.

Without confidence and optimism, we won’t be able to survive the hard times to acquire those skills.

But the good news is that we have the capability, the intelligence and, increasingly, the drive to build an Africa that we would all like to be part of.

Business is now the driving force in Africa. In 2006, for the first time, investment in Africa outpaced foreign aid and now doubles it. Africa’s GDP is about $1.6 trillion (R14 trillion) today and is expected double in 12 years.

At the same time our education systems continue to be poor, with notable exceptions like Ghana, which has achieved 100 percent primary school enrolment and increasing high school enrolment and improvements in quality.

But it is precisely because of this – because we live in a world where such great promise and great problems co-exist – that we should be optimistic, and see through the challenges to the possibilities beyond them. Africa is becoming increasingly important to the rest of the world, for its resources, agricultural land, and for its rapidly growing markets. And it may well become just as important for its talent. The world needs Africa and we now have the opportunity to engage with the world from a position of strength, not of need.

True confidence is also about developing a sense of purpose and horizons. If we maintain a sense of purpose before a sense of profit we have the chance of building truly great organisations that will make a difference to people… while also making money.

Finally, true confidence is about courage and having fun and, strange as it may seem, the two go hand in hand. We can never get anywhere without the determination and raw courage to act. Courage is acting when we fear, not when we are fearless. Fun, too, is critical, because it’s when we’re having fun – trying things out, experimenting, being an activist – that we express our most radical capabilities, our capabilities of imagination and creativity. We may face ridicule and opposition, but it is here that we become agents of change. The establishment doesn’t like change, but it needs it to stay fresh and relevant. To those of us who are older – remember when we were young and anti-establishment? We are the establishment today so let’s keep it vibrant, growing with a sense of purpose and listening to the voices of change.

In so doing, we will create a generation of leaders who are not on the back foot, but who are enlightened, transnational, and integrated in the world, while continuing in their commitment to uplift societies and develop others. These are the people who will help to build better careers, better businesses and, ultimately, establish the foundations for a strong economy and Africa’s success.

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