Learning to Compete (L2C) is a 12 country research program focused on the evolution and status of industrial development in Africa and is a collaborative project of the Africa Growth Initiative at The Brookings Institution, the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) and the African Development Bank. On February 22-23, 2012, the Learning to Compete project participants convened at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The project management team, including Project Director and Brookings Senior Fellow John Page, lead academics and country teams met to discuss preliminary findings from qualitative research undertaken since the last project meeting in May 2011. Several themes emerged during discussions held between country teams that will be relevant for policymakers at international and regional levels as governments seek to implement policies to best stimulate growth and investment. Most notably, these were:
Role of New Technologies: For Africa to compete globally, firms must consistently invest in new technologies to stimulate growth. Firms need the capacity to invest in new machinery, information technology, systems operating and labor training to increase their productivity and competitiveness; and policymakers can incentivize this investment.
Value of ‘Failure Stories’: Policymakers can derive lessons learned from the failures of other governments as well failures of their own institutions. In acknowledging policy failures, governments institute reforms to mitigate the consequences of failures; this is central for effective governance.
Business/Government Collaboration: Public/private partnerships in developing nations striving to boost competiveness have proven effective in Cambodia and Vietnam. Businesses and governments should seek opportunities to incentivize investments in infrastructure, human capital and new technologies to increase productivity and curtail unemployment.
Role of the Informal Economy: In Africa, the role of the informal economy is instrumental. A 2004 World Bank Report estimated the nonagricultural employment share of the informal workforce to be 78 percent in Africa.
In the months to come, country teams will undertake a firm level survey of industrial capacity in each nation, focusing on such issues as agglomeration, firm knowledge gained from exporting and the role of professional skills. Country teams will also finalize qualitative and quantitative papers intended for a comparative volume to be released in 2013.
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