Boosting Africa's job sector - The Investment Climate Facility

Omari Issa chief exec ICFThe ICF has sponsored a ground-breaking initiative to improve the standard of business reporting by organising the training of journalists. (Image source: Stephen Williams)ICF’s chief executive Omari Issa and its chair of the 10-strong board of Trustees, Neville Isdal, speak on how ICF can transform the African job sector and boost economies

Building investor confidence

The Investment Climate Facility (ICF) is based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It has a simple yet vital mandate: to improve Africa’s ability to attract FDI, thereby to create jobs and grow economies. Speaking to African Review, the ICF’s chief executive, Omari Issa and Neville Isdal, the ICF’s chair of the 10-strong board of Trustees, explained one special programme to Stephen Williams.

The Investment Climate Facility (ICF) is a comparatively young organisation, established in 2007 but already working in 16 African countries.

It has partnered with some of the world’s most successful global companies – the likes of Anglo American, Sasol, Standard Bank and Unilever, on major initiatives across Africa such as reducing the times that business registration and licensing takes; strengthening commercial judicial systems; addressing issues surrounding land registration; assisting in the formalisation of economies by driving forward efficient taxation systems; and streamlining customs procedures to encourage exports and cross-border trade. But while these initiatives are reasonably well known, one initiative has perhaps not received the attention it deserves.

Recognising that an independent, well-trained and vibrant press is crucial for any countries’ investment climate, the ICF sponsored a ground-breaking initiative to raise the standard of business reporting by organising the training of journalists.

Omari Issa, the ICF’s chief executive, explained, “The objective of that programme was to train journalists so they could understand the way in which businesses operate, as opposed to just simple reporting so that you have a journalist who reports on football today, telecoms tomorrow and agriculture the next and not really knowing what the inter-relationship is.

“So we took the initiative and sponsored programmes in six different parts of the continent. And we had training in Lusophone, Francophone and Anglophone regions. At the end of the project we engaged with the Columbia University School of Journalism to undertake an independent review, and the findings were extremely positive. The majority of those journalists that participated in those training programmes ended up being promoted.”

When asked whether the programme was ongoing, Issa indicated that the IFC had given the lead, it was now up to the private sector to take the initiative forward.

“We planted the seed, we showed the way and we expected the continent’s media industry to follow. Now, this was a pure IFC initiative, but if we do get a further request from the industry we will look at it on its own merits,” he said. 

This illustrates a key element of the IFC’s approach, that it is essentially demand driven. The facility insists that it has not embarked on a top down hard-sell approach, rather the impact of its programmes has driven a surge of demand for the ICF’s services from both the private and public sector in Africa.

As well as providing financial support, the IFC’s private and public sector partners and sponsors have dedicated skills, time and expertise to enable the various projects’ success in fostering an improved investment climate across Africa.

As for what conclusions Issa drew from the IFC’s involvement in the programme to date, Issa made clear that it was essentially about empowering the journalists.

Issa said, “I think the objective was to give the journalists the knowledge about the business climate and exactly what the relationship is between the business climate and economic growth, job creation etc – as opposed to the view that it is just the large multi-national corporations that benefit from a improved investment climate, a view that is simply not the case!”

To this statement, Issa added an especially important point, he said, “It is important that Journalists are aware of the implications of what they report. For example, while 90 per cent of Africa’s employment is in the private sector, there is a widespread perception that the private sector is in a sense ‘evil’ and exploitative. But if the private sector was to close, what would happen to that 90 per cent that is employed by them? They [the journalists] need to understand the inter-linkages and try to get the general population, not just the decision makers, to understand that you need the private sector to move forward.”

It was at this point that the conversation was joined by Neville Isdell, the ICF’s co-chair (along with former Tanzanian president, Benjamin Mkapa) and has long experience of the private sector as a former chair and chief executive of Coca Cola. The IFC board of trustees that he co-chairs meets every three months to decide and review the overall strategic direction and policy for the ICF, as well as to monitor the operational performance of the organisation and management team.

“I think it is fair to say,” Isdell told African Review, “that the journalism programme was a project that worked, but if you extrapolate repeating it that means that we would be taking over the responsibility for media training … we just anticipate that as it worked so well, the media industry will take up the challenge.”

And it is clear that an empowered press does much to improve transparency and hence the investment climate. As Isdell put it, “Transparency is a major piece of it, it is at the core of an awful lot of what we are doing. If you look at the programmes themselves, it becomes obvious. When you have court proceedings digitally recorded, of the moment, the documents are all there and you have the newspapers watching things, catching one or two bad people, that is how you eliminate bad practice and corruption. Anyone who is directly involved has access to that case.

“And take the issue of customs procedures. The ICF has helped introduce electronic container clearance documents and everyone has access to them. It is all recorded, it is all recoverable, it tracks where the container is, where the clearance has been made, so again you have transparency and it is technology is allowing us to do that and allowing us to leapfrog the old paper systems to absolute state of the art. Some of these technologies are not even in use in the developed world.”

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