I have been spending the last couple of days in Mauritius as one of the speakers in the “Mauritius Africa Partnership Conference”. The conference is a strategic move by Mauritius to position itself as the gateway for investment into the whole of Africa. It is organised by the Board of Investment of Mauritius, the equivalent of the Singapore Economic Development Board in Mauritius. Attending the conference are the C-suite representatives from the investment boards in 28 African countries and more than 100 other delegates. I also met the Mauritian Secretary to the Cabinet and the Financial Secretary, and spoke to more than 30 senior officials in their Ministry of Foreign Affairs on superior civil service performance. 

There was a whole variety of speakers including Senator Dato’ Sri Idris Jala, Minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office in charge of government and economic transformation programmes in Malaysia, as well as Ms Penny Low, Singapore’s Member of Parliament Penny. I spoke on Leadership in Public Service based on the Singapore experience. 

Interest and admiration for Singapore was very high, but I must say the presentation by the Malaysian Minister was very impressive and inspiring, and detailed a way for African countries that would seem to them more achievable than if they tried to follow Singapore’s experience. The approach Malaysia is making to transform itself is to be admired, and Malaysia is certainly making a direct impact and building governmental influence with African countries. 

The fact that the conference has been able to bring together so many investment agencies from Africa is indicative of a rising self-confidence among African countries, as well as their focus on economic development with a huge interest on attracting foreign direct investments.  

I list here some interesting things I personally learnt from the speakers: 

  • First from Larry Farrell, Founder of The Farrell Company, who spoke about entrepreneurship.  He described the four stages in the life cycle of ALL companies as Startup, High Growth, Decline, and Survival. The spirit of entrepreneurship is particularly relevant in the first two stages, and the loss of this spirit is what results in decline and death. Larry listed the basics of entrepreneurship as fourfold: sense of mission, customer/product vision (i.e. that any product fulfil some customer need in order to be successful), high-speed innovation, and self-inspired behaviour (i.e. behaviour driven from deep inside us). He shared that the statement by Walt Disney, who founded the greatest entertainment company in the world, reflects all four elements: “The inclination of my life has been to do things and make things which will give pleasure to people in new and amazing ways. By doing that I please and satisfy myself.” The life cycle of countries has its parallel to companies: Rise, Growth, Decline and Fall. In order to continue growing, countries should create and honour the entrepreneurs. 
  • Second from Dato’ Sri Idris Jala, the Malaysian Minister, who described the 8 steps which discipline the Malaysian strategic planning and execution process with clear ministerial accountability. While transparency of performance is an important part of the process, he warned with much humour: “It is a fine line between transparency to nudity and then to pornography!”

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