This post originally appeared on News@Northeastern. It was published by Hillary Chabot.

Business leaders representing the diverse resources throughout the continent of Africa gathered Wednesday morning to discuss the rapidly growing economies, global partnerships, and technological progress throughout Africa's 54 countries.

The forum, Northeastern's inaugural African Business Conference, comes as the continent is set to emerge as a global economic force, according to the World Bank.

“Africa is poised to become one of the world's most important economic regions,” said Florie Liser, president and chief executive of the Corporate Council on Africa. The organization works to encourage trade and investment between the U.S. and the nations of Africa.

Liser pointed to the new African Continental Free Trade Area as an economic game-changer for the continent. The agreement, signed by the 54 countries last year, means that the continent can act as a single market, combining the buying and trading power of roughly 1.3 billion people.

“When the 54-country African Continental Free Trade Area is fully implemented, it will comprise the fifth-largest economic bloc in the world, representing a huge source of jobs, consumers, innovation, and power to shape the global economy,” Liser said.

The conference, hosted by Northeastern's African Global Initiative and the Center for Emerging Markets, attracted a diverse audience with virtual attendees from Hong Kong, Greece, Argentina, Rwanda, and more.

“Our goal today is to chart a pathway of engagement with Africa. Africa is a continent of growth and innovation, and it's home to many of Northeastern's students, faculty, and leaders,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern. He added that the conference is an example of Northeastern's “true global spirit.”

“We are excited to build mutually empowering relationships with our African partners,” said Aoun.

Dilip Pal, chief financial officer at Safaricom, detailed the communications company's successes not only economically, but socially. The business provides mobile and wireless connections to 40 million customers from its home base in Kenya.

“At Safaricom, our purpose is transforming lives, and this has been a guiding light throughout. Equally, we have strongly focused on building a sustainable business, and we believe that we can only be successful if the community around us is successful,” said Pal.

In addition to creating 90,000 jobs, the company provides increased access to health care and education, according to its 2021 sustainability report. But perhaps the company's most life-changing creation, said Pal, was through a program called M-PESA that provided access to wireless banking at a time when nine out of every 10 transactions in Kenya involved cash.

“At the time we launched the services, we expected we would only have about a million customers at most. However, by our second year, we had two million customers. That showed that we had cracked a real customer need and solved a real customer problem,” said Pal.

Paying utility bills could be a daylong process, with customers traveling to their bank to get cash, only then to stand in line for hours to pay their electricity and water bills.

”Our customers can now send and receive money and make payments from more than 200 markets globally,” Pal said.

But the varied and growing countries throughout Africa continue to face ongoing issues, including corruption, terrorism, and dispersion into a diaspora created largely by the transatlantic slave trade, which involved the transport of nearly 13 million Africans into enslavement across the Atlantic over a 400-year period.

“Africa has experienced the worst and the best, and the outcome of this global Africa is us, we are citizens from everywhere,” said Ambassador Rama Yade. Yade, who was born in Senegal, is senior director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. The council is an American think tank that focuses on the global economy and international security.

“We are in a period where the continent is finally recovering this demographic loss. We are entering into a new period, a new cycle,” said Yade, pointing out that Africans currently living in countries across the world can be an advantage.

“The diaspora can provide bridges and answers to global challenges,” said Yade.

Read more at News@Northeastern