Coons Conference Highlights Abounding Opportunities for U.S. Business in Africa

January 19, 2012 By Meghan Simonds

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, yesterday hosted his inaugural “Opportunity: Africa” conference showcasing the mutual opportunity for business between Delaware and the United States and Africa.  The event was held on the University of Delaware’s Wilmington Campus and was attended by 300 Delawareans, as well as business, humanitarian and faith-based leaders from DC and elsewhere.

During his opening remarks, Senator Coons laid out the goals of the half-day conference as connecting Delaware with Africa and showing attendees how to do business successfully on the continent.  He acknowledged that Africa is a “region of great challenges, but even greater opportunities.”  The afternoon featured a workshop entitled, “Economic Opportunity: Introduction to Doing Business in Africa.”  The panel was moderated by the Corporate Council on Africa and included representatives from various trade-related entities and African governments.  The panelists gave participants a real 101 on how to engage and invest in the region and plenty of resources to get off on the right foot.  The only private business on the panel, Wise Power Systems (based in Delaware), shared their success story of investing in Africa’s abundance of solar energy.

Other workshops were themed around opportunities for African diaspora leaders, human rights challenges, food security, and global health.

The conference featured keynote address from two leading U.S. authorities on African development:  Daniel Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Both praised Senator Coons for his championship of development in Africa and his dedicated work to ensuring the opportunities in the region are realized in Delaware and throughout the nation.  Yohannes encouraged Delawareans to see the MCC as a gateway to their business opportunities in Africa, sharing the success of the MCC’s work throughout the continent.

In a terrific slide show presentation of the advancing innovation, science and technology in Africa, Shah described Africa as a region full of endless potential and great humanitarian impact.  Not only is our development and diplomacy there creating economic growth, he shared, but it is saving and improving the lives of millions of people and children in regions struck by famine and disease.  At the end of his presentation, Shah shared a photo of global broadband connectivity, highlighting the great impact America’s development and investment has already had in Africa and the potential for even greater impact in the near future.

In his address, Shah praised the panel leaders and development community, saying, “As members of this community, you understand that our security and prosperity are tied to the stability, growth and freedom of developing nations.”  It’s clear from yesterday’s conference that the programs funded by the International Affairs Budget in Africa are contributing to incredible economic growth and sustainability on the continent and here at home.