Success of “Black Panther” mirrors bright future of Africa

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Three weekends, more than 900 million in ticket sales and countless #WakandaForever selfies later, the cultural impact of “Black Panther” is undeniable. The narrative of an African country as the most technologically advanced in the world has been met with celebration that suggests a profound desire for a departure from usual depictions of Africa as a continent marred by foreign aid, crisis, slavery and colonialism.

Excitement about Africa, however, should not be reserved only for a comic book franchise. Africa is a center of innovation, and therefore, unless you happen to be in Wakanda on April 7, you will not want to miss the 4th Annual Berkeley Haas Africa Business Forum: The Future of Africa: Exploring the Next Generation of African Innovation at Chou Hall in the Haas School of Business.

Four years ago, a team of six of Haas MBA students founded Africa Business Forum, or ABF, with the goal of becoming the premier destination for the development of innovative business solutions to Africa’s challenges and a home for visionaries who want to develop these solutions. Today, it has realized this goal by being the only large-scale event at Berkeley to focus on business in Africa, as well as one among the few events of its nature within the broader UC system.

Our mission has also evolved to include the goal of strengthening ties between Africa and the Bay Area. Now in its fourth year, the ABF planning team has tripled in size and is the most diverse it has ever been. We are a team of approximately 20 students, with representation across Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Morocco, Ivory Coast, the United Kingdom, Venezuela and the United States and hail from both undergraduate and graduate programs in public health, business and more.

To discuss this year’s theme — “The Future of Africa: Exploring the Next Generation of African Innovation” — we have assembled a stellar lineup of speakers from North, East and West Africa, a number of whom are flying into the United States for the express purpose of this conference. Panels will focus on opportunities, challenges and emerging trends across technology, health care and education in Africa.

Africa is home to three of the five fastest growing economies in the world and more than 300 tech hubs in 93 cities across 42 countries. African innovators and entrepreneurs are utilizing new technologies to develop tailored inventions for Africa and transform industries. Samuel Alemayehu, our keynote speaker, is a young serial entrepreneur who is the co-founder and managing director of Cambridge Industries Ltd., a firm that is building Africa’s biggest wind farm and first waste-to energy facility.

Leveraging our Bay Area location and the significant UC Berkeley strength and student interest in technology, our “Future of Tech” panel will explore what emerging technologies, (including blockchain, artificial intelligence, mobile and big data) are impacting Africa and what is the nature of their impact. There to discuss these trends will be speakers such as Chukwuemeka Afigbo, who drives Facebook’s global developer programs strategy, as well as Abdesalam Alaoui, director and co-founder of Hightech Payment Solutions, a Moroccan-based payment solutions and services company.

Our “Future of Health” panel will explore how Africa is innovating within the health care space. Will mobile and digital help do for health care what has been achieved for finance in Africa — overcome a lack of physical infrastructure? For these panels, we will hear from speakers including Brittney Hume, head of international growth at Zipline — a startup that operates drones to deliver medical products to health facilities in areas in East Africa with challenging road infrastructure — and Toyin Saraki, a tireless Nigerian advocate of women’s and children’s health and empowerment as the founder and president of The Wellbeing Foundation.

And finally, while not widely publicized, Africa is literally the continent of tomorrow, as it is the home to the world’s largest youth population. In 20 years, the number of sub-Saharan Africans reaching working age (15-64) will exceed that of the rest of the world combined. By 2050, less than 25 years from now, half of the world’s youth will be African.

Our “Future of Education” panel will explore what this means with an emphasis on how Africa will educate her youth and ensure employment opportunity creation. Speakers on this panel range include Vivian Wu, managing partner at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, who has led 34 million dollars of venture capital investments in African education startups, to David Njonjo, vice president of finance and operations at Eneza Education — a Kenya-based educational technology startup that recently won a Global Mobile Award for Best Mobile Innovation for Education.

As one eager conference-goer put it, “This is where the real Wakanda begins.” We sincerely hope that you keep up that same energy from “Black Panther” and join us next month to learn about the innovations, technological advancements and opportunities happening in (the real) Africa right now. ABF is not just an conference — it is a one-of-a-kind Berkeley experience where you can enjoy authentic African food, a live performance from the Nigerian Student Association, an open bar wine reception from a boutique Napa Valley vineyard and a student-facilitated design thinking workshop with Djagora University, an African startup university. Tickets can be purchased here; for a discounted rate, please use the special promo code “DAILYCAL.”

Ekene Anene 2nd-year MBA student at the Haas School of Business and Africa Business Forum co-chair.