Joel Popoola, a British citizen of Nigerian extraction, is an ambassador of the Institute of Directors (IoD) North East branch, United Kingdom and the chairman of the institute’s Special Interest Group Africa. The founder of a digital democracy project, Rate Your Leader App, in this interview, speaks on why Africa is the emerging market for British businesses among other issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
Why was IoD’s Special Interest Group Africa established?
Africa is coming of age as a continent. After Brexit and post-pandemic, global markets are going to be vital for British businesses and Africa’s emerging markets offer huge untapped potential. There is a huge cachet to buying British in Africa, meaning billions of potential customers for British businesses, many of whom have the products and services African nations’ companies and the growing population needs. Britain has a lot to export; clean energy expertise, professional services, education, advanced manufacturing products, media, even football – and Africa is ready to buy.
But is the UK ready to sell? One recent parliamentary report found that UK-Africa trade has ‘flatlined’ and accounts for just 2.5 per cent of all UK trade. Pre-Covid, the world’s five fastest-growing economies were all African, and regional leaders like Nigeria and South Africa are likely to become superpowers of the global economy as we move towards the second half of this century. So, more needs to be done on both sides to take advantage of the opportunities on offer. That’s where the Spe-cial Interest Group comes in. We aim to stimulate business opportunities, increase networking and grow awareness of British businesses in Africa and African businesses in Britain.
Why is now the time for businesses to consider Africa in their growth plans?
In September 2021, the UK became the first country in the world to sign a memorandum with the African Union’s 54-country Continental Free Trade Area, the first step towards a UK-Africa free trade deal. If you want to take advantage of emerging markets on the continent, now is the time.
Why are British businesses hesitant to pursue opportunities in Africa?
I think people think doing business in Africa must be very different to doing business in Europe or North America.
In fact, at least 24 African countries speak English and many of their legal and regulatory systems and business culture will feel very familiar to British businesses. The special interest group is designed to break down those barriers and grow mutual awareness.
What is your day job?
I am a digital entrepreneur with a background in finance. One of my major projects currently is a mobile app called Rate Your Leader, which is designed to help African political leaders with transparency, accountability and trust. Regrettably businesses are sometimes also put off pursuing opportunities in Africa because of a reputation for corruption in some quarters, which sadly isn’t always underserved. But things are improving and digital technology is one of the biggest drivers of that improvement.
How has the IoD helped with your own business?
When I started information gathering for Rate Your Leader, the Business Information Unit at the IoD was very supportive and helpful with my business intelligence. The quality and promptness of the unit was unparalleled. They are always ready to go the extra mile! The IoD has also helped me to connect with business leaders across Britain, who I would not otherwise have met. Networking is everything in business and through the IoD, I got immediate access to over 20,000 British business leaders. I am also working through the IoD to become a Chartered Director. There are so few Chartered Directors in the North East, but the skills you learn on programmes like the IoD’s are fundamental to improving business performance and productivity.