Right now, Africa is undergoing a major shift. In the past, the vast majority of foreign money flowing into the continent was development aid. Now, global companies are increasingly seeing Africa as a place for business investment. As African companies help accelerate the shift from aid to trade, they can build international partnerships to grow African market opportunities and offerings. Where can they find these partners? Companies should lift their gaze toward the Arctic and think about partnering with companies in the Nordics.
Home to about 26.5 million people spread across five nations – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – the Nordics have a small but highly educated population and some of the most open economies in the world. In the past few decades, the share of exports in the combined Nordic economy grew from 30% in the 1970s and 1980s to 45% today. With most Nordic economic activity taking place high up the value chain in activities like research and design, Africa can play a role in both producing and consuming Nordic goods. Additionally, services are becoming a bigger part of the Nordics’ global trade, which can be another potent source of partnership.
There are several industries in which Nordic expertise lines up particularly well with African needs. A few possibilities for innovation exchange are:
MedTech and pharmaceuticals
Medical equipment and pharmaceuticals are the third largest export category in the Nordics. In Denmark, it is the largest. As many African nations have little to no domestic production in these areas, it is a major opportunity for trade. Denmark alone offers over 500,000 healthcare products, with a strong emphasis on design and innovation. Not only could Nordic companies supply standard medical equipment, but there is also the potential for MedTech solutions to entrenched issues like rural healthcare access and infectious diseases.
The Nordics are known for their quality education. Finland, in particular, has an education system that has recently been held up as a model for the rest of the world. In the past few years, Finnish education experts have begun working to export the nation’s model to other countries. This includes planning physical schools and developing digital learning platforms, like the Finnish mathematics game 10monkeys. The Finnish company HundrED is piloting 100 education experiments in schools across Finland, with an eye toward transforming education across the globe.
Two of the most important tech companies of the last few decades have come out of the Nordics: Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia. Nordic tech offerings spread far beyond these large corporations, however. According to the World Economic Forum, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark are all in the top 10 most innovative countries in the world. Swedish capital Stockholm has the highest number of software companies per capita in Europe, second in the world only to Silicon Valley. Tech behemoths Skype, Spotify, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush all stem from the Nordics. Coming from countries with small domestic populations, Nordic tech companies know they must succeed in global markets in order to scale. African markets could be the next frontier for Nordic tech expansion.
As the rest of the world wakes up to the investment opportunities in Africa, the continent’s business leaders can accelerate the shift from aid to trade by building strategic partnerships and innovation exchange with global companies. With products and expertise that match Africa’s needs, Nordic companies can play a key role in boosting Africa’s growing private sector.
Learn more about business opportunities in Africa at Springboard’s African-Nordic Business Conference 2017 on May 4 in Helsinki.