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Africa development capital discussed at Totally Concrete

Africa development capital discussed at Totally Concrete

May 27, 2015

Members of the construction value chain are eager to collaborate with each other to create the new solutions Africa’s infrastructure boom will require. That was the consensus that emerged from the three-day Totally Concrete expo, themed “A date with innovation”, held recently at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg.

“It was very good to see everybody involved in the industry at the event, from designers to construction companies, from micro enterprises to large manufacturers like ourselves. Government, the professional associations and the institutes were also present,” says Alta Walker, Head: Innovation at PPC, which was a platinum sponsor of the event. “Everyone understands the need for innovation but, even more importantly, they are starting to explore ways to work together to develop solutions that work for Africa.”

Walker says that in the formal conference sessions and in informal networking, it was apparent that building collaborative networks is a hot topic—and that they were already starting to emerge organically. This drive to collaborate and innovate in response to the challenges and opportunities generated by Africa’s need for infrastructure could be seen as expanding the “civilution” movement already happening within the civil engineering industry more broadly.

“As an industry, we recognise that Africa’s challenges, which include rapid urbanisation, a lack of skills and capital, and the need for sustainable solutions, mean that business as usual just isn’t an option,’ she says. “Each sector has to undertake its own innovation, of course, but collaborating across the value chain is really where I see the big potential to change the nature of the game itself. However, these informal networks are not going to be enough: creating innovation platforms to strengthen and fast track collaboration is going to be critical, I believe.”

Another key innovation area addressed at Totally Concrete was finance. Development capital is scarce globally, and projects in Africa are competing with projects from many other regions. African companies and governments need to give careful thought to how they position infrastructure projects and what their returns are.

If Africa’s infrastructure boom is to translate into long-term benefits for her economies, it is clear that there has to be a concerted effort to build up the skills base and support the development of new entrants into the industry. “The big companies tend to focus on identifying gaps in the value chain that new companies could fill, and at helping entrepreneurs establish themselves—but now we need to build deeper partnerships by sharing marketing expertise and initiatives with them. The more participants there are in the value chain, the better for everyone.”

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