This was one of the main points made at the first “Brain Trust” on Infrastructure Development held in Johannesburg on 3 December, a private sector platform hosted by DuPont that seeks to generate discussion on new approaches to the socio-economic dilemmas of South Africa and the rest of the continent.
“Government keeps asking how the private sector can contribute and we always say government must make the environment conducive. Let’s see how we can meet government halfway,” said Macfarlane Moleli, facilitator of the discussion.
This first Brain Trust was a collaborative effort involving four private sector players concerned about the lack of productive engagement between government and the private sector. The companies consist of global science company DuPont, global law firm Hogan Lovells, investment company Shanduka Group, and REDISA (Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa).
“Issues could be solved if we think innovatively and collaborate, because no company or organisation can solve Africa’s challenges alone,” said DuPont P&IP Business Leader, Richard Ntombela, referring not only to collaboration between the private sector and government, but also between business in South Africa and in other African countries.
Rajen Ranchhoojee, head of the Africa practice and partner in the projects and energy department at Hogan Lovells, said South Africa was at a cross-road in a sense. “South Africa needs to decide it wants to be a springboard into Africa or an innovator. Do we want to be a country that grows through the benefit of foreign direct investment or do we, as the most developed country in Africa, want to capitalise on the Africa growth story by sharing our learnings and investing in the continent? South Africa is not nearly active enough in engaging the rest of Africa. It is only in the last five years that South African firms have taken a meaningful interest.”
All four panel members agreed that it was essential to fill the vacuum between government and the private sector by discussing and collaborating on solutions that have already been shown to work and could be extended to other areas of the economy or the continent. They also agreed that the Brain Trust should not become just another “talk shop” but a platform for putting words into action.