Media Room

7 Sep 2016

The NTU-SBF Centre for Africa Studies is involved in Africa Singapore Business Forum 2016 as the knowledge partner.

Read about our key learnings from the forum in:
ASBF 2016 Keynote Panel with Guest of Honour

ASBF 2016 Panel 1-The New African Consumer

ASBF 2016 Panel 2-Prospects for Manufacturing in Africa

ASBF 2016 Panel 3-Spotlight Asia

ASBF 2016 Panel 4-Urbanisation in Africa: Cities as Growth Engines

ASBF 2016 Panel 5 Africa's Oil and Gas Sector:Positioning for the Future 

30 Aug 2016

The NTU-SBF Centre for Africa Studies hosted the prize-giving ceremony of its Business Model Competition for a startup in Africa on Tuesday evening 30 August. The congratulatory address was delivered by Her Excellency Hazel Francis Ngubeni, the South African High Commissioner to Singapore. She and Mr. V. Srivathsan, the MD and CEO, Africa and Middle East, Olam International, handed over the first prize.

The final feedback was delivered by Mr Venkatramani Srivathsan.

 The ceremony was attended by the following dignitaries:

  • Her Excellency Hazel Ngubeni, South African High Commissioner to Singapore
  • Her Excellency Zainab Zakaria-Awami, Nigerian High Commissioner to Singapore. She also handed over the second and third prizes
  • Mr Wakaso Haliru Okaku, Finance Attaché of the Nigeria High Commission in Singapore
  • Mr Antonio Claver Pitra, First Secretary at the Angolan Embassy in Singapore
  • Mr Venkatramani Srivathsan, MD and CEO, Africa and Middle East, Olam International Ltd
  • Mr Richard Li, partner, Steel Advisory Partners
  • Mr Ola Olaniyi, Director, Triox Capital


Olam, Indorama and PIL have sponsored the prizes. The prizes are as follows:

  • First Prize: All expenses paid trip to Africa for 1 week
  • Second Prize: S$3000 to the team of 3
  • Third Prize: S$1500 to the team of 3


The following teams received prizes:

  • First Prize: Team Lekker Consulting: Developed a business model for a food court in Johannesburg, South Africa
    • Tay Woon Yeow (NTU)
    • Ng Jun Jie Shawn (NTU)
    • Fong Kai Yin (NTU)
  • Second Prize: Team Ubuntu: Developed a business portal for tourism in Uganda
    • Koh Kang Liang (SMU)
    • Samuel Lim Yong (SMU)
    • Koh Xin Yue Valerie (NUS)
  • Third Prize: Team Hakuna Matata: Developed a biofuel business in Kenya
    • Dinh Thi Thao Ngan (NTU)
    • Chau Phuong Thao (NTU)
    • Pham Do Uyen Nhi (NTU)


Read more in:
African Challenge 2016 Feedback Report

Director of NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, Johan Burger, shares his views on the geographical shift of emerging markets and the growth potential of Africa and business/economic opportunities and challenges within the continent.

12 January 2016

Until recently, when people talked about “emerging markets,” they were referring to the BRIC economies: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Undeniably, these countries have changed the face of global business over the past twenty years. Yet lately, the BRICs have been crumbling a bit, sparking many reports about their lackluster performance.

According to Trading Economics, Brazil’s GDP shrank 1.7% in the third quarter of 2015, “worse than market expectations,” and has had negative growth for over a year. The Russian economy did even worse, contracting 4.1% year-on-year. Even China’s seemingly unstoppable growth engine is slowing down. In October, The Wall Street Journal reported that China’s economic growth had fallen below 7% for the first time since 2009.

What about India, which a 2015 Fortune article called “the lone BRIC country that’s worth holding on to?” “I would say India has many things going in its favor,” agrees Mauro Guillen, Wharton management professor and director of the Lauder Institute. “Right now, it’s the fastest-growing BRIC, and there’s some momentum there.” But he cautions that India has “a long list of things” it needs to accomplish, including reforms, opening up its economy and investing in infrastructure.

Meanwhile, one can hear the rumblings of new economies arising. For example, in September American cereal giant Kellogg announced a $450 million joint venture with Tolaram Africa Foods to create breakfast foods and snacks for the West African market. Johan Burger, director of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Business School, calls the deal “a very clear indication that there are companies that have come to realize … Africa presents a lot more than meets the eye.”

“Right now, some of the fastest-growing economies in the world are not the BRIC countries. Clearly, the geography of growth for emerging markets in the world is shifting.” –Mauro Guillen

Two years ago, Procter & Gamble announced a major move in Africa as well, investing $170 million to create a new manufacturing plant in South Africa. According to CNN, the plant will make products such as detergents and feminine hygiene goods to serve markets in southern and East Africa.

And in 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported that in a survey of multinational corporations, Nigeria, Argentina and Vietnam were the “frontier markets” in which these firms expressed the most interest.

What Are the Next Emerging Markets?

“Right now, some of the fastest-growing economies in the world are not the BRIC countries,” observes Guillen. “Clearly, the geography of growth for emerging markets in the world is shifting.”

Guillen divides the potential new markets into three waves. His likely candidates for the first wave are Vietnam, the Philippines and Bangladesh. He believes that these Southeast Asian countries will become important as exporters and as manufacturing hubs. “These are countries that are benefitting from the migration of manufacturing away from China.” Specifically, it is labor-intensive manufacturing such as clothes, electronics and toys, he says. Although what is driving the trend is low wages, “like China before them,” jobs are being created, and the region will eventually develop a significant consumer market, he predicts.

In Guillen’s view, the second wave will probably consist of sub-Saharan African nations — especially Nigeria and Kenya — which he characterizes as “growing very fast, but still under-developed…. You’re talking about several countries that will very soon have more than 100 million people.” (Nigeria itself currently stands at 178 million.) “If you get the economy growing there in a sustainable way, you’ll create a large middle-class market for consumer goods.”

Guillen notes that the keys to continued growth are different for these two groups of emerging market countries. “In the Asian case, what they need is competitiveness when it comes to exports. And for the African cases, what they need is more stability, more people moving from lower-productivity occupations to higher productivity.”

Beware the Commodities Curse

Guillen and Burger agree that a major stumbling block for many emerging markets is the so-called “resource curse” or “commodities curse.” The term refers to a country’s having abundant natural resources such as oil and minerals. Although these valuable substances are readily purchased by other nations, commodities prices can skyrocket or plummet, leading to an unstable economy.

Of Latin America’s current recession, Guillen comments that it was caused in part by these “cycles of boom and bust.” He adds: “And now with commodity prices so low … there’s no clear way in which they’re going to be able to recover again quickly.” Jean-Marie Péan, a partner advisor with Bain & Company Middle East, also recalls the period when Brazil’s iron ore, for instance, was “selling like hot cakes.” He observes, “Relying on one source of competitive advantage for your revenues and growth which you do not control is very risky.”

“Relying on one source of competitive advantage for your revenues and growth which you do not control is very risky.” –Jean-Marie Péan

Africa, too, is rich in valuable commodities. According to Burger, the continent possesses $82 trillion in known resources such as oil, coal, gas, copper, platinum, diamonds and gold. Many countries there are “fairly comfortable exporting commodities and living off that.” How has Africa fared against the “resource curse?” Burger states that its economies have so far been “relatively resilient” to the sharp fall of international commodity prices. However, he predicts that the slowdown of the Chinese economy will soon have negative effects, especially on Nigeria and Angola which are major exporters of crude oil to China.

A Model for Emerging Markets?

“One day, they’re ‘emerging’; the next day, they’re neither here nor there, and five years later they’re again ‘emerging,’” Péan says of developing countries and our perceptions about them. He questions the wisdom of making lists — as the press tends to do — of the top new markets, especially given the yo-yo effect of the commodities market.

Péan recommends focusing instead on long-term success factors. For him, the qualities of a true emerging market are embodied in a country like the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He compares it favorably to its neighbors: “Why is the UAE successful when Saudi Arabia is not, when Kuwait is not, when Bahrain is not?” he asks, also naming Nigeria, Libya and others in the region.

While acknowledging that the UAE does possess key commodities — it is the world’s 6th largest producer of oil, and a major producer of natural gas — he points out that about 75% of its GDP comes from non-oil sectors. “The UAE is one of the few emerging markets that has truly diversified its economy,” Péan says. “I consider [it] to be a country that has really been able to avoid the curse of a commodity — and that’s oil — that makes a country rich at times, but prevents people from working hard, from being innovative.”

He attributes the UAE’s success to its “visionary, stable leadership” above all, which he says is reflected in its founding. In 1971, seven independent emirates came together to form a state. In doing so they agreed to give up some of their individual sovereignty, a phenomenon that Péan calls “quite extraordinary.” He notes that the UAE’s leaders “created competitive advantages” including developing Dubai as a logistics hub with a large port, free zone and airport. It was also designed and promoted as a tourist destination, and as a favorable Middle East location for international companies.

“The Kelloggs, Procter & Gambles, and Walmarts of the world are targeting Africa in a meaningful way to tap into this massive opportunity.” –Johan Burger

Dubai continues to attract businesses because of its good infrastructure, utilities, legal environment and real estate, and the availability of quality education, according to Péan. He points out that the UAE, a relatively small country with a population of under 10 million, had a GDP of $402 billion in 2015 and a GDP growth of 4.6%.

Looking Toward Africa

Burger, like Guillen, names Southeast Asia as currently having the highest growth potential, and Africa as having the second-highest despite the lingering threat of its “resource curse.” Nigeria, he says, is becoming a manufacturing hub for vehicle components for Toyota and Ford. Ethiopia is pursuing a strategy of becoming less dependent on agriculture. Citing a Standard Bank of South Africa report, Burger says that in the 11 countries which represent 50% of Africa’s GDP, there are 15 million households in the middle class. The number is predicted to grow to 42 million by 2030.

“The Kelloggs, Procter & Gambles and Walmarts of the world are targeting Africa in a meaningful way to tap into this massive opportunity,” says Burger.

However, Africa’s “massive opportunity” is paired with massive challenges, according to Burger. He describes security risks and political instability in many areas including Nigeria, Somalia, the eastern DRC, Burundi, south Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic, and Libya. In addition to these problems, Burger finds many African presidents deficient in leadership, noting that several are currently trying to stay in office against their country’s constitutional limits. “You’re sitting with leaders that somehow don’t understand that they represent the face of Africa, and what they do or don’t do impacts their countries.”

Africa’s infrastructure problems are serious, too, including insufficient access to water and electricity. But Burger points out that these issues can be seen as opportunities by investors and entrepreneurs. For example, the popular mobile payment system in Africa called M-Pesa has inspired another business called M-Kopa. With M-Kopa, people in rural areas can wirelessly pay a very small monthly fee to have solar lighting and cell phone charging in their homes.

“Countries and companies from abroad can have a look at what’s going on in Africa and invest, and get a good return on their investment at the same time that they’re helping Africa solve their infrastructure problems,” says Burger.

While the emerging markets in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere can do much to set themselves on the right course, some things are out of their hands, according to Guillen. Developing countries are dependent on established economies doing well so they will reliably buy the emerging countries’ manufactured goods and commodities.

“Another factor is what’s going to happen with the dollar,” says Guillen. In December, the U.S. Federal Reserve decided to raise interest rates for the first time since the global financial crisis. “It’s going to produce a lot of changes in the world in terms of capital flows,” he noted.

Source: Knowledge@Wharton, 12 January 2016

27 Aug 2014

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Business Federation (SBF) have jointly established a new centre to provide Asian executives, entrepreneurs and policymakers with in-depth insights on African markets.

The new NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies, the first of its kind in South-east Asia, will provide Asian companies eyeing Africa’s rich opportunities with a distinct business advantage.

The Centre was launched this morning at the 2014 Africa Singapore Business Forum (ASBF) by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam; SBF Chairman Teo Siong Seng; Nanyang Business School Dean Ravi Kumar; Ambassador Shabbir Hassanbhai, Singapore's non-resident High Commissioner to Nigeria; and representatives from the Centre’s five founding donor companies.

As part of its inauguration, the Centre, which is a research centre under NTU’s Nanyang Business School, also launched its flagship online portal, African Business Insights. The portal publishes the Centre’s research findings as well as perspectives from contributing partners.

NTU’s Nanyang Business School Dean Ravi Kumar said: "Africa is no longer a region that businesses can afford to ignore if they want to thrive in the next 50 years. With a youthful and ambitious population of one billion people, the continent will be the next leader of global economic growth as social and political transformation takes root."

"The NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies will play a crucial role in helping companies here and in the region gain deep and intimate knowledge of Africa’s vast and varied markets, while nurturing Africa-savvy talent that will enable them to establish and expand on the continent."

Ambassador Shabbir Hassanbhai, Chairman of the Centre’s Advisory Board said: "The Centre was first conceptualised at the end of the last ASBF, held in 2012. It was not an easy endeavour but after assiduously perusing with the stakeholders’ and founder donors, I am pleased that this has finally come to fruition. At the heart of this private-sector driven initiative lies a firm belief in the opportunities on the Africa continent, and a business think-tank dedicated for this purpose will bring together business thought leaders from Africa and Asia to foster greater engagement and mutual understanding and create opportunities for transactional opportunities."

"I also believe the Centre is in a unique position to spearhead specialised business programmes and educational opportunities for research and learning that hitherto was not available in Singapore of a unique Asian perspective of understanding Africa".

NTU collaborates with two top African business schools

Memorandums of Understanding with Lagos Business School, Nigeria, and Strathmore Business School, Kenya, were also signed at the Centre’s launch. The agreements pave the way for partnerships in research, executive and leadership training, and student exchange programmes between the Centre and these two top African business schools.

The first collaboration takes place next month with Nanyang Business School and Strathmore Business School running a five-day leadership course here for 35 senior managers from Kenya and Tanzania.

An internship programme has also been established through the generosity of Mr Kuok Khoon Hong, Chairman and Chief Executive of agri-business group Wilmar International. The programme sponsors three Nanyang Business School undergraduates a year for 10-week professional attachments at Wilmar’s operations in Africa.

Strong industry support

The NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies is a unique trilateral platform with government, business and academia. Donations from five of Singapore’s leading investors in Africa were key to the Centre’s establishment. The founding donors, each committing $1 million to the Centre, are: Indorama Group, Olam International, Pacific International Lines, Tolaram Group and Wilmar International.

Other programmes and activities that the Centre will conduct include workshops and seminars for Asian executives on various aspects of business in Africa, immersion trips between Asia and Africa, and producing proprietary business case studies on Africa. These will advance the Centre towards its key goals of providing thought leadership on business in Africa, building human capital for engagement and expansion in Africa by Asian firms, and fostering an integrated Africa-Asia network.

Mr S.S. Teo, SBF Chairman and Managing Director of Pacific International Lines said: "PIL has played an active role in the growing African economy since 1967. With the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies as a conduit, we look forward to share our experience with the research groups on the social, economic, political and cultural issues that impact doing business in Africa. Through the Centre, we hope that the academia and the business communities can network and collaborate in developing strategies that will contribute to realising the business opportunities in Africa."

Mr Amit Lohia, Group Managing Director of Indorama Group said: "Indorama hopes that the Centre for African Studies acts as an important bridge for "South-South" partnership and provides deep insights into Africa, reflecting upon its vast opportunities and bringing it closer into mainstream of global trade and social cohesion."

Mr Venkatramani Srivathsan, Managing Director, Africa and Middle East, Olam International said: "The establishment of South East Asia’s first Centre for African Studies could not be more prescient given the strengthening ties and expanding business opportunities Singapore-based companies share with African nations. This year marks 25 years in Africa for Olam and the Centre provides a tremendous platform for all involved to share collective experience and learn from each other."

Mr Sajen G. Aswani, Chief Executive of Tolaram Group said: "Having been involved in Africa for the last 35 years, Tolaram Group is witness to the fact that Africa has moved progressively forward. We think that a think-tank dedicated to African issues will definitely make a positive impact. We look forward to continuously making meaningful contributions to the economic, political and social development of Africa where many of us cut our teeth in the business world."

Mr Kuok Khoon Hong, Chairman & CEO of Wilmar International Limited said: "Africa, with its rapid economic growth, offers exciting business potential but is considered by many a challenging market. The Centre is well-placed to be the platform for the business community to exchange insights and experiences on Africa to tap the long-term opportunities. By advancing thought leadership and fostering an integrated Africa-Singapore network, it will pave the way for more Singapore companies to gain a foothold in the fast emerging economy. Since entering Africa about 14 years ago, Wilmar has a footprint in 12 countries across the continent today. Through our internship programme, we hope that the younger generation will discover the great opportunities in Africa which is actually not as unsafe as commonly perceived to be, and be encouraged to venture and build a great career there."

Source: News Release

Read more in:
The Straits Times, 28 August 2014
The Business Times, 28 August 2014
Channel 5 News, 27 August 2014, 9.30pm
Channel NewsAsia, 27 August 2014, 10pm
Channel NewsAsia online, 27 August 2014
TODAY, 28 August 2014
TODAY online, 27 August 2014
938LIVE, 27 August 2014, 12.45pm
Lianhe Zaobao, 28 August 2014
Berita Harian, 28 August 2014

NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies


50 Nanyang Avenue
Singapore 639798


(65) 6513 8089