Thriving Business for Thriving Communities in Africa
Tuesday, November 15, 2022
Click the image to watch the recording of the Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecturer Magatte Wade.
African Entrepreneur and Advocate Magatte Wade Speaks at This Year’s Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecture
The William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI) celebrated its 30th anniversary with the in-person return of the Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecture. The Nov. 10 evening brought together members of the WDI community for a celebratory dinner and moving speech from Magatte Wade, entrepreneur and advocate for African dignity and prosperity.
The lecture is named in honor of the Institute’s longest serving board member, Ralph J. Gerson. Gerson led Guardian Industries Corporation in multiple roles for years, and he currently serves on philanthropic and policy boards across Michigan and the U.S. He is now the Director of the William Davidson Foundation.
Wade kicked off her talk by highlighting the connection she felt with WDI. “When I discovered WDI, I thought, ‘Where have you been my whole life? Maybe I should have started with you,’” she said. Wade is a strong advocate for easing and boosting private business, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, through economic freedom in Africa. Her work aligns closely with the mission at WDI: equipping economic decision-makers in emerging countries with the tools of commercial success.
Wade, who was born in Senegal and later moved to Europe and the United States, spent years of her life wondering why communities in Africa were suffering from poverty and those in other parts of the world were thriving economically. Eventually, she concluded that the complex and detrimental business policies in many African nations were stunting their economic growth — and she began to advocate for smoother, easier, more functional business opportunities across the continent.
“I can’t think of a better ambassador for the mission and the vision of the Institute, which is the power of business to deliver on economic growth and social freedom,” said WDI President Paul Clyde, as he welcomed her to give her “The Heart of the Cheetah: Entrepreneurship & Prosperity in Africa” talk. Describing her impact and connection to WDI, Clyde explained that Wade is a “tireless supporter of individuals and their ability to create economic value when given the opportunity to do so.”
After detailing the many-layered difficulties that arise when doing business in an African nation from strict government policies, challenging taxes and complex business systems, Wade asked the crowd whether they would choose to do business in a place that created roadblocks or one that allowed for a smooth path. That question, she said, provided the answer she’d been searching for all along. “At the end of the day, you are poor because you have no money. There’s not enough money to take care of your primary needs. You have no money because you have no income. What is the source of income for most of us? Jobs. Where do jobs come from? The private sector. And so don’t you then think that we should make it easy for businesses to be born and thrive.”
This conclusion set her on her path to boost economic freedom and business opportunities across the continent, through her own enterprises, speaking engagements, policy advocacy and powerful global fellowships. Her TED Talk, “Why it is too hard to start a business in Africa — and how to change it” has been viewed by over 600,000 people. She’s a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum at Davos, a TED Global Africa Fellow, and one of Forbes’ “10 Youngest Power Women in Africa.”
Wade has built multiple businesses in Africa inspired by diverse African traditions, including her most recent endeavor, SkinIsSkin.com. She urges the global community to shift its perspective from aiding African communities. Instead of creating a system that relies on aid, she tells global consumers to “buy African products made in Africa by Africans.” Her point: let business thrive, and Africa will thrive.
Wade has seen the impact her businesses and entrepreneurial mindset have had on herself and others. Her manufacturing-focused businesses have helped boost rural communities’ manufacturing facilities. Meanwhile, Wade continues to advocate for policy changes at the national and local levels through groups like the Atlas Network’s Center for African Prosperity. Still, she knows there’s more room for growth.
“Whatever we’ve been able to accomplish, it would be multiplied by the right business environment,” Wade said. “At the end of the day, I believe that business is the greatest force of good.”