Trophies for Leading French Companies in Africa
For the 10th consecutive year, the independent consultant company BearingPoint rewarded outstanding French companies in six categories ranging from its business model to its sustainable development. For the first time, its focus was French firms in Africa. In partnership with HEC Paris, CIAN and the publication La Tribune Afrique, it whittled down the 200 candidates to a half-dozen winners of the prestigious International Development Trophies.
The decision to focus on French companies in Africa seemed a natural one for BearingPoint partner Jean-Michel Huet. He has been responsible for developing business in Africa in both the management and the technology domains. “I’ve led the International Development Intelligence Unit since 2010 with a focus on Africa and the Middle East,” he said in a packed conference room of the Wagram Hôtel Particulier of central Paris. “As such, I’ve acquired expertise in telecoms, m-payment, e-education and m-health sectors in Africa. These sectors featured prominently in the projects vying for these trophies, the most dominant themes being financial inclusion, energy, education and water.”
The November 19 awards ceremony was the culmination of a campaign which began in April 2019 when BearingPoint sent its call for candidates to 50,000 selected targets. They were working in one of five designated sectors: best business model, best innovation, most promising startup, most outstanding B2B and B2G, strongest technological or digital contributions and best SD policy. Capping the trophies was a Grand Prix for a project that had most marked the African business community over the past decade. The jury noted four tendencies this year: the growth of French soft power (in the creative industries, sports, technology, etc); brownfield PPP growth“; the success of both major companies and startups; and the emergence of projects centered on clean energy and water.
"French companies have a long history in Africa, a continent where 24 of the 54 nations have French as their official language,” pursued Huet. “It might not always be a ‘long quiet river’ in Africa for business, but the challenge is exciting, there’s so much to do.”
Reward for Far-reaching Education Startup
French companies in Africa are known for the quality of their products, innovation and relatively high prices, according to Huet. Much of the former was in evidence at the trophy-giving ceremony. The six awards were equally divided between major brands – Orange (Grand Prix), Veolia (Technological/Digital Innovation) and Engie (Sustainable Development -, and smaller firms: Famoco (B2B/B2G Innovation), Openclassrooms (Startup) and Uduma (Business Model).
“This diversity between the major league players and emerging firms is particularly satisfying,” said Inge Kerkloh-Devif, Senior Executive Director at HEC’s IDEA Center (Innovation, Digital, Entrepreneurship, Acceleration) . She was one of ten members of a high-powered jury which decided on the six winners among the 20 finalists. From the start, HEC has partnered BearingPoint in seeking out companies which have flourished in new markets and left their imprint on the business community. Along with Laurent Bigorgne, director of the Institut Montaigne, she presented the Best Startup Trophy to Openclassrooms. This small company has used e-learning to bring education to tens of thousands of pupils thanks to collaborative work with local partners. “At HEC we can see the link between developing talents and growing economies,” noted Kerkloh-Devif. “African participants are increasingly joining our own e-learning programs, for example our Online Master in Innovation and Entrepreneurship @ HEC Paris. Giving access to innovative education in a demographically and economically growing continent such as Africa has a very important impact for the wealth of the local economies.” Indeed, the ceremony at BearingPoint coincided with the launch of HEC’s first-ever Lead Campus program, a pan-African certificate devoted to sustainable leadership (with the support of the AFD).
Sourcing Drinking Water
Another richly applauded winner was Uduma. The relatively young company offers affordable and accessible drinking water services to rural populations in some of the most remote regions of sub-Saharan Africa. “We were won over by your model of inclusion and your creation of a new production network involving local partners,” said jury member Philippe Gautier in handing over the prize. As he accepted it, Uduma’s director Thierry Barbotte underlined the importance of reaching people with easy-to-operate services, and not just the water products. “The idea germinated 10 years ago when I became aware that 560 million people in the world do not have access to drinking water. We became aware that it was the equipment and its maintenance that were the problems. So, we’ve been training people on the spot and we’re using mobile phones to resolve all technical issues from a distance.” For as little as €12 a year, a family of six has access to drinking water for an entire year. The program has spread from Burkina Faso into Mali, including no-go areas hit by insecurity.
Jean-Michel Huet expressed his satisfaction at the growing stature of the Trophies initiative he began in 2010. The event continues to enjoy the support of the likes of CIAN, the French Council of Investors in Africa, which brings together companies, big and small, that invest in the continent. “We are going to help these companies to grow and spread their ideas. African markets are particularly dynamic and thirst for collaborative development projects. We believe now is the perfect moment to dare invest in a continent that France will be celebrating next year. For it hosts a growing population that will undoubtedly be faithful consumers for French companies and their goods in the future.”