Accelerating Africa’s Growth


3D-Printed Exoskeleton Giving People with Disabilities Another Chance

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A Long-Overdue Partnership With Africa

A decade ago, American companies were wary to enter African markets, pointing to stagnated or falling growth, insecurity and complex political and commercial environments.

Today, America’s private sector is increasingly aware of Africa’s growth story. Africa is home to six of the world’s10 fastest-growing economies, and that number is expected to rise to seven by the end of 2015. The continent holds vast oil and gas reserves and uncultivated arable land. Its demographics are marked by rapid urbanization, a fast-growing middle class and large youth population. All of these variables create a continent ripe for opportunity.


While many U.S. companies are pioneering in their work in Africa, too many others are not taking advantage of the wealth of opportunities Africa offers. Despite obvious growth, too many within U.S. business and policy circles still perceive Africa to be overrun by problems that make the continent inhospitable to investment. And unlike Europe, Africa is far away, and traveling to the region can still be a challenge. Africa’s power deficit, the lack of intra-African infrastructure, concerns about transparency, and complex regional and individual characteristics have also contributed to America’s failure to capitalize on Africa’s growth.

Next week, African heads of state will meet in Washington at the invitation of President Obama to the U.S.-African Leaders Summit. The landmark event is an opportunity to change the narrative on U.S. engagement with Africa from one of belated hesitancy to proactive partnership and dialogue. In particular, the Summit creates a forum for American business to demonstrate its exceptional capabilities, meet the key African players and get educated on doing business across the continent. In turn, African leaders will have the chance to see the vibrancy of America’s private sector and NGO communities.

American business is uniquely positioned to tap into African markets. Africans — both governments and the private sector alike — value U.S. transparency in conducting business and also appreciate the investments in human capital American companies such as GE, Coca-Cola and IBM are willing and eager to make. Especially as African countries seek to climb up the value chain, the commitment of American business to increase Africans’ capacities will be ever more important.

The technical capabilities of American companies also offer the opportunity for the U.S. private sector to assist in solving some of Africa’s greatest challenges, such as the continent’s power deficit. Sub-Saharan Africa generates roughly the same amount of power as does Spain, and 70 percent of the population is without electricity. This deficit constrains Africa’s growth, limits productivity and raises operating costs as companies are forced to rely on diesel generators.

President Obama’s Power Africa initiative aims to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa by partnering with the private sector to meet the substantial investment needs that improving energy access will require. This is a lofty goal, and it can only succeed with the full support of the U.S. private sector. American businesses can leverage their technical expertise and financial wherewithal to meet Africa’s unique energy needs. These investments will go a long way towards reducing energy costs across the continent, thereby expanding business opportunities in the region and acting as a force-multiplier for Africa’s growth.

The Summit provides an ideal opportunity to determine additional synergies between American business and Africa’s needs. It will also be a chance for Africa to demonstrate its commitment to creating an open and conducive business environment. Working in partnership with African governments, their citizens and the private sector, American business has the capability of catalyzing Africa’s sustained growth. The upcoming Summit is the next step in strengthening this win-win partnership.

Don Gips is a Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group, a Senior Advisor to Blackstone’s Private Equity Group, and a Venture Partner at Columbia Capital. From 2009-2013, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa. Previously, he held positions in the Obama and Clinton administrations. He is Chair of the U.S.-South Africa Business Council.


Accelerating Africa’s Growth

As Sub-Saharan Africa leaders convene in Washington, D.C. for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week, one common theme that will be magnified is the huge potential for Africa’s growth over the next decade.

We have all seen the signs of progress…a population of 1 billion — 350 million of which are in the middle class — and a continued increase in foreign direct investment, the last frontier for significant economic growth. These are all true — Africa is very much on the rise. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to six of 10 fastest growing economies in the world, and there is enormous potential for development to accelerate rapidly.


The question is: Does the speed of progress we see match the rosy projections? As African countries actualize their potential, certain issues have started emerging that we would need to address to see real economic development.

Everyone knows that doing business in Africa isn’t easy, but that is also true for many places around the world. The same challenges are constantly highlighted…corruption, lack of transparency, bureaucracy (in some cases they go hand in hand), lack of infrastructure — power, roads, rail, Internet, etc. These are the challenges that most people are aware of. But I tend to characterize them from a different perspective.

I see three main issues. First is the relatively low level of investor confidence and trust, which impacts how investors view risk and increases the price of projects. The level of private equity penetration is one indicator. In 2013, private equity investment represented only 0.1 percent of gross domestic product in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the African Development Bank, as compared to 0.4 percent in India and 0.2 percent in China and Brazil.

The second is bureaucracy, both in governments and businesses with weak institutional memory and operating processes.

The third is a shortage of technical skills in the workforce. According to Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s vice president for Africa, only 11 percent of African university students are studying subjects with potentially high employability, while 70 percent are enrolled in areas that have huge cohorts of unemployed graduates.

Being Local

Overcoming these issues will drive continued growth of confidence with investors, which in turn will help resolve infrastructure issues. Africa needs vibrant economies that can continue to finance their infrastructure needs — power, aviation, healthcare and transportation — which will enable further economic growth. Multinational companies can play a significant role in Africa’s sustainable development.

At GE, one thing we have learned over the last few years doing business in Africa is that size can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage. So we try to use our global strength in product development, financial reach and capability — as well as our global leadership talent — to our advantage, while also counteracting the bureaucracy that size can bring by being local. This is an absolute imperative for any multinational in any market.

Over the past few years, localization has increasingly been mandated through prescriptive measures, employment mandates and partnership/JV requirements across Africa. These have been instituted because governments need to respond to the demands of a growing youth population seeking productive and fulfilling lives. Not coincidentally, most of these requirements have been put in place in resource-rich countries after many years of seeing raw material exports with minimal impact on economic growth in country. Companies tend to abide by these rules where they are in place, but we also have to take a more holistic approach. Restrictive policies may have a short-term impact, but in the longer term, open economies grow faster and are more dynamic in an increasingly global environment.

But there is a lot that companies can do that is consistent with efficiency and long-term success. Being local takes many shapes. Having a company’s leader and leadership team in the region is critical for credibility. You must have a significant number of local employees, especially at the leadership level. This ensures an appropriate understanding of the landscape and cultural issues. It is extremely difficult to do business in Africa today without understanding not only current events, but also the history of political, tribal and business affairs in each of the 54 unique African countries. You need to know where the decisions get made, as well as who or what can support or derail your business.

Developing local partners is important. Local companies can bring distribution, financing, technology, access and many other benefits. Having a local supporter can be very helpful in negotiating the landscape, and it also shows that the company will be there for the long term.

The private sector has to be part of the solution for Africa’s development, as well. Companies can use their corporate social responsibility resources in sustainable projects that are visible and contributing to growth. African entrepreneurs are setting a good example. In Nigeria, the Tony Elumelu Foundation aims to develop the next generation of business leaders for Africa and enhance African economies. In South Africa, the Motsepe Foundation focuses on economic empowerment, education and leadership. These projects all work to build the next generation in Africa. GE Africa’s corporate social responsibility platform, GE Kujenga, is empowering people by building valuable skills, equipping communities with new tools and technology and elevating innovative ideas that are solving Africa’s challenges. This program has touched more than 10 million people through several GE and GE Foundation programs.

Investing in the Next Generation

In addition to being local, there a few other things I would recommend for multinational companies.

It is important to have patience with the process. Too often, orders slip for a variety of reasons, which no doubt frustrates many companies’ headquarters. But you have to honor the process, and anytime a company tries otherwise, it opens up itself to potential corruption.

Multinational companies need to help build confidence in business. In too many places, business people or businesses are viewed with skepticism for historical reasons. It is important to work with governments to make sure they understand what the company brings to the table and — more importantly — improve the say/do ratio. Too often, governments have been misled with unfulfilled promises. Businesses need to make sure accountability is built in to their teams to finish projects in a timely manner and have adequate staff locally that can provide good service to customers.

Lastly, multinational companies need to help increase the quantity and quality of the local skills base. It is critical that we invest in the next generation — the theme of the U.S.-Africa Business Summit. We can all contribute to this, and there are many ways to make it happen. Businesses can work with local universities to help establish their curriculum, hire students for internships so they can see what working in a business is like, support young leadership initiatives and help build out educational infrastructure. The most critical shortage in Africa is finding enough trained people to support economic growth. With an increasing premium on speed and adaptability, it is critical that companies commit to develop local workforces that can handle increasing complexity.

So multinational companies need to be local, establish partnerships, have patience with the process, improve the say/do ratio and increase the local skills base. By doing some of these well, we can all contribute to the sustainable development of Africa and see this great continent’s potential become a reality.

Jay Ireland is President and CEO of GE Africa.


3D-Printed Exoskeleton Giving People with Disabilities Another Chance

When Amanda Boxtel, executive director of the Bridging Bionics Foundation, crushed her vertebrae in a skiing accident 22 years ago, she had to get used to life permanently confined in a wheelchair.

Boxtel is one of six million Americans are who are paralyzed at least from the waist down and need special assistance to achieve mobility, she said in a presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival last month. The reliance on machines like motorized scooters and wheelchairs has a profound implication on a disabled person’s life, providing some degree of mobility, the ability to see somebody face-to-face, or to access many of the spaces able-bodied people take for granted.

But a call Boxtel received from 3D Systems Corporation changed her life with a promise to go beyond mere mobility and get the former athlete back on feet again using a 3D-printed exoskeleton prototype.

The conversation surrounding 3D printing and additive manufacturing has centered on efficiency in the factory and major shifts in the assembly line. But sometimes, said Robin Shandas, a bioengineer at the University of Colorado at Denver who moderated Boxtel,’s presentation, we forget to ask about the end user and how 3D printing helps the life of the individual.

Amanda Boxtel, shown here, tries out her 3D printed, custom-designed exoskeleton by 3D Systems Corporation. Photo courtesy of 3D Systems

Who is really benefitting, on a personal level, from the rapid changes in additive manufacturing we have enjoyed over the past few years?

“How do we incorporate the science of humanity into our design,” asked Shandas at the Aspen presentation.

Humanity of Design

This is the question that motivated Scott Summit, a vice president at 3D Systems Corporation, to help develop the exoskeleton that would allow Boxtel to stand and walk on her two feet after two decades.

His goal? To “take away the baggage of a medical product—all that it means and all the connotations associated—and turn it into a design product,” Summit said.

On stage in Aspen, Summit demonstrated how his company’s prototype—shaped like a suit of armor from the distant future—latches on to the client’s limbs like an exoskeletal support system. With the help of robotics technology that facilitates movement in the exoskeleton, the client—in this case, Boxtel herself—is able to stand up and slowly take advantage of mobility in the paralyzed limbs.

“I’d eventually like to wear one everyday,” said Boxtel to the audience. “It’s built from me and for me.”

The customized exoskeleton displayed at the Aspen Ideas Festival isn’t the first major foray of incorporating 3D printing into disability advocacy and work.

On Thingiverse, an online community of makers and 3D printers, disability advocates and disabled members of the community are sharing ways to construct a number of 3D-printed devices to make life easier for users with limited mobility: Lightweight and sturdy canes, custom-made portable ramps, and assistive forks and knives are some examples.

One of these Makers in Oliver Baskaran, a British college student, who is disabled and confined to a wheelchair. He also has trouble ordering a drink at bars with friends, so he designed a special cup with a flexible straw that allows him easy access to his drink and, more importantly, the chance to socialize stress free in a pub with his peers, according to an account in the BBC. His solution? Designing it himself on software and manufacturing it himself on his own 3D printer.

Other examples of how 3D printing intersects with disability advocacy are beginning to proliferate. Last fall, Ideas Lab reported on Kegan Schouwenburg, who designs custom-made 3D-printed insoles for people with orthotics to support their walking. Traditionally these insoles have been clunky and ill-fitting, but 3D printing, she said, presents a custom solution.

“We can make incredibly thin, light, structures, so it’s not this big, bulky sweaty wad in your shoe,” she said.

The future of 3D printing and disability advocacy remains promising for those experimenting in this field. Raul Krauthausen, a disability advocate in Berlin, has built a series of customizable ramps using his 3D printer as well as a crowd-sourced map to indicate the most—and least—accessible part of his city. His project is a marriage of additive manufacturing, crowd-sourced digital technology, and old-fashioned advocacy—one that ensures these sorts of interdisciplinary efforts remain well-received.

3d printer
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gared jones
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Prototyping a Social Movement with a 3D Printer

I arrived in Lagos a few weeks ago as part of Points of Light’s partnership to support GE Garages Nigeria, an initiative through which GE is using the leading edge of its business—principles of open innovation and technologies in advanced manufacturing—to spur job growth and build entrepreneurship in Nigeria.

The launch platform in which I participated was a pop-up, three-week innovation and manufacturing center where aspiring makers, entrepreneurs, and students could go to develop new skills and learn about advanced manufacturing technologies.

Points of Light’s job is to help connect the volunteer skills, talent, leadership, innovation, and compassion of GE employees to the development of the power-sector workforce and the growing number of tech manufacturing entrepreneurs in the country.

GE understands that building Nigeria’s human capital will be critical to solving the near 25,000 MW shortfall of power generation capacity in its recently privatized power generation sector—a critical issue that GE has also committed to address.

The last time I was in Africa was nearly 15 years ago when I was working for Deloitte as a strategy consultant in the energy sector. It was there that my passion for volunteering took root through a connection I made with Paradise for Street Kids, a shelter for 120 boys age 4-18 in the heart of Johannesburg, South Africa. I helped with math and English homework, got other colleagues involved, and adopted a “little brother,” Tinashe, who is still part of my family today. It is uncanny how life has brought me full circle.


During the week I spent as part of the Nigerian Garage, I was privileged to witness the powerful beginnings of a social change initiative that exemplified the best of what companies can do to address broader social issues where they do business.

GE Power & Water executives met with government ministers and business partners to discuss their shared commitment to building both infrastructure and human capacity in the country. Tech entrepreneurs and angel investors met within the Garages space to develop strategies for catalyzing start-up growth with the support of GE resources.

Leaders from one of Nigeria’s top technical institutes and Dangote Foundation formulated plans with GE for the long-term skills-building initiative that the three-week Garage will launch. And school children designed a lighter-weight prototype for a generator they had created that converts urine to power. They also prototyped easy-to-make tiaras.

All the while, GE field engineers, operations managers, power generation salespeople, and HR and finance professionals worked on plans to engage the skills and passion of GE Volunteers, 300 strong in Nigeria and 60,000 strong around the world, to improve the lives and capabilities of the mechanical and electrical engineering trainees, tech entrepreneurs, and students.

The currency across all of these connections—and something that had not been known to me—was how quickly Nigerian people are to laugh. Many times throughout the days, ebullient outbursts drowned out the noise of the manufacturing equipment.

It’s clear to me that there is a lot of work to be done. It’s also clear that there is excitement, creativity, passion, and laughter—in equal measure—to sustain this effort along the way and to ensure its success.

Gared Jones is vice president of global service at Points of Light, the largest organization in the world dedicated to volunteer service.

Prototyping a Social Movement with a 3D Printer was originally published on Ideas Lab

Fracking Industry Looks for Ways to Vanquish its Water Habit

The hydraulic fracturing industry remains a high growth sector. But its use of water pre- and post-production has come under scrutiny as the world edges closer toward a global water crisis.

Traditional extraction and treatment technologies are gradually being substituted for innovative and advanced water treatment equipment. Innovative companies, with substantial investment in research and development, are developing more efficient means to clean and recycle drilling water on-site, as well as engineering more environmentally friendly drilling solutions.

The average natural gas well requires approximately three to five million gallons of water for both drilling and fracking, depending on the geological makeup of the drilling site. Though these volumes of water seem substantial, in comparison to water consumption for agricultural purposes, industrial activities, and recreational use, it’s moderate. Nonetheless, the International Energy Agency projects that water use for natural gas production will rise 86 percent by 2035. This upward trend of fracking and water use in energy production amplifies the need for continued research and development activities providing technologies for reducing the impact to water resources.

Protecting our water resources has become one of the largest environmental issues confronting the public and industry alike. Water recycling methods will be one of the main technological innovations to resolve the issue of water consumption in fracking. Water recycling technology will reduce consumption and further decrease industry’s environmental footprint. With unconventional gas from shale slowly replacing conventional energy, the increase in water demand will challenge industry to research and engineer more efficient water use technologies, thus solving challenges to water use, treatment, and disposal.

Though some environmental groups and non-governmental organizations are advocating for the ban of fracking, water use and treatment technologies should help in alleviating some of the concerns.

A high pressure gas line crosses over a canal in an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 23, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

A high pressure gas line crosses over a canal in an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing,
or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 23, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the
worst droughts in California history. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Most companies involved in fracking activities truck water off-site to water-treatment facilities. With the advent of new technologies and the goal of reducing their environmental footprint, oil and gas companies are treating water on-site with ultraviolet light and ozone to kill bacteria found in water; thereby, eliminating the needs for biocides and other chemicals. In addition, companies are making use of desalination technologies to treat water, which has the potential of reducing water treatment costs and will efficiently remove pollutants.

Other entities are investing in water impacts and treatments. The Desert Research Institute, with funding provided by Noble Energy, is conducting an “Aquifer Quality Assessment (AQUA) Program to analyze the potential for subsurface migration of hydraulic fracturing fluids within the hydrographic basin.” According to the project goals, the final phase AQUA will “include the development of a computer model to determine the chemical migration potential following hydraulic fracturing,” thus providing some insight into potential impacts on water resources.

Though many companies focus on water management and treatment technologies, some companies are doing away with water use in fracking all-together. GASFRAC Energy Services Inc. engineered a waterless Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) gel, eliminating the need for water in fracking. The waterless LPG gel process creates minimal flaring and is arguably more sustainable, though some say there are certain tradeoffs, with higher safety risks with liquid propane and debate over the amount of water involved in production and liquefaction of propane.

Oil and gas companies need to work with service providers to improve fracking technologies, especially those which provide for more efficient use of water resources and provide better treatment of produced water. Concurrently, industry should continue to invest heavily in research and development activities that could reduce the use of water in fracking.

With the upsurge of fracking in the U.S. and abroad, companies are eager to demonstrate their obligation to the environment by devoting financial and human capital in new technologies to protect water resources. These forward-thinking methods to water management will prove valuable to other projects, both related to and distinct from energy development.

There remains a vast unexploited potential to improve energy efficiency, and water holds the answer. The answer to issues facing the water-energy nexus will reduce the stress on this essential resource, provide future energy security around the world, and simultaneously increase energy production while remaining environmentally sound. We need a balance in energy development and water use to solve this dilemma.

Bennett Resnik is a Juris Doctor candidate at Vermont Law School. He has worked in both public and private arenas, focusing on government relations, domestic public policy issues, as well as federal and state energy and environmental regulations. 

Fracking Industry Looks for Ways to Vanquish its Water Habit was originally published on Ideas Lab