Project Management Institute hosts virtual conference on Africa as ecosystem of changemakers

Africa on the brink of a project economy

Earlier this month, Project Management Institute’s (PMI) sixth Africa conference achieved more than 3,000 registrations to its second virtual event. The audience which included changemakers, project professionals, businesses and media from Africa and around the world engaged with a distinguished line-up of thought leaders addressing this year’s theme: Africa, An Ecosystem of Changemakers.

With more than 30 addresses and presentations in both English and French — this year’s PMI Virtual Africa conference “made significant advances in recognising Africa’s potential to leverage the key power skills necessary to unlock the transformational force of project management in the new economy,” said George Asamani, Business Development Lead for PMI in Sub-Saharan Africa.

For over 50 years, PMI has and continues to be the world’s leading professional association for the project management industry. With over 600,000 members organised into 309 chapters in 214 countries, over 14,000 PMI volunteers deliver a global programme of learning supported by events, publications, courses and mentorships. PMI also provides global standards, business solutions and certifications in project management. https://www.pmi.org/

Welcoming delegates to the 2021 PMI Africa virtual conference, Mike de Prisco, PMI Chief Operating Officer, set a scene in which perpetual transformation defined organisations in a new economy where purpose mattered more than profit. As youth increasingly aspired towards serving ethically sustainable organisations, young people were looking to become change makers, achieving business, environmental and social transformation through their work.

A prime example of this trend was Desmond Ovbiagele, Director of The Milkmaid Movie examining religious extremism in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. “This powerful production illustrates the principles of project management as catalyst for transformation,” said Asamani. Matching exactly the definition of modern project management, the very influential film can be described as a temporary effort to create value through a unique product. The project had a beginning and an end, a team, a budget, a schedule and a set of expectations. Finally, “the product had an immediate and measurable impact on transformation, shifting focus on an important social challenge and need,” explained Asamani.

Ashwini Bakshi, Managing Director PMI Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, Ike Nwanko, PMI Board Member (London), and Anca Slusanschi, PMI Board Member (New Zealand) kicked off the conference with a Straight Talk panel highlighting the significance of project management in Africa, especially amongst youth. By 2050 Africa would be home to 2.5 billion people, over 60% of whom would be classified as young people. There was huge potential for project management to transform Africa’s large youth population into opportunity. The Straight Talk panel introduced the concepts of co-creation and reverse-mentoring critical to leveraging the continents’ innovative and entrepreneurial culture to transform current challenges into opportunity.

An address by Aya Chebbi, the African Union’s first envoy on Youth, on the importance of intergenerational co-leadership in Africa’s transformation set the tone for the extremely inspiring Youth Programme. Chebbi identified three critical challenges facing Africa’s youth. An economic crisis defining African youth either as unemployed or at risk of unemployment. A digital divide in which only 100 million Africans had phones that could access the internet, and only 60% of these had the data or energy to access the net. And a generation gap in which the average age of African political leaders was 64 — on a continent with a medium age of just under 20. Importantly, from a project management perspective, all three crises could be addressed by governance. Poor project execution in service delivery was at the root of most of the continent’s governance challenges. Africa’s governance capability could be transformed by co-opting Africa’s youth into intergenerational co-leadership programmes. Exercised via intergovernmental platforms through multilateral institutions, partnerships across Africa’s generations could co-design and co-create — successfully solving the continent’s governance inertia.

Other key insights shared on the separate youth programme included successfully leveraging ancient wisdom in modern businesses, a session on technology access and change making, and insight into the mind and perception shifts required to see opportunity and grow economies. The youth session also showcased how Microsoft’s Leap Apprenticeship Programme acted as a catalyst to change while also sharing learnings from the African Project Management Olympiad.

The remainder of the core progamme, delivered by a range of thought leaders dealt with ethical transformation as well as Africa’s cultural and innovation advantages. Valuable insight was also shared on leveraging social development programmes, tapping data for successful project delivery, agility, organisational transformation, and citizenship in the new economy. There were also sessions highlighting the skills required to navigate project management in a Covid World as well as a showcase of how PMI was developing a global ecosystem of change makers. Following insights on bringing construction projects to life, the core thought leadership programme was concluded with a video on Visual Leadership by guest of honour Agalya GS, Founder of ‘Noun & Verb’ India.

The closing keynote address by Professor Eddie Obeng, Founder of Pentacle Virtual Business School, demonstrated the use of virtual and super-real technologies to connect and build project communities able to accelerate ideas into business plans capable of unlocking further opportunity.

In thanking delegates and participants for their inspiring contributions, Bakshi pointed out that the day’s proceedings were evidence of how PMI worked to support complex problem solving through the promotion of agile governance. In short, the conference programme showcased perfectly how change makers and project professionals used PMI principles, skills and certifications to drive change and achieve excellence the world over.

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