Economic ExpertSpeak: Mauritius must transform itself into a ‘virtual city’
Maggie Gorse, Managing Director of Verlion Pte Limited, an international consulting and executive training company located in Singapore, spoke to AfricaMoney on how Mauritius has the capacity to transition from a middle-income country to a high-income country. (Image: Marie-Lorry Coret)
Maggie Gorse, Managing Director of Verlion Pte Limited, an international consulting and executive training company located in Singapore, spoke to AfricaMoney on how Mauritius has the capacity to transition from a middle-income country to a high-income country. She also noted that, an issue for Mauritius in 2014, and looking forward as well, is innovation; and went on to suggest how Mauritius can overcome physical limitations by transforming itself into a ‘virtual city’.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Please tell us more about your experience as guest of honor at the MIoD’s AGM last Thursday where you spoke about “Boosting profitability through competitiveness and innovation.”
It was an extremely interesting meeting and I was happy to meet some of the major business decision makers in Mauritius. From the questions I received during the networking, as also from the discussions at the annual meeting, I found that people had considerable knowledge of exactly how business is run. So, the event left me with very positive feelings. The biggest issue that came up from the executives and directors that were at this meeting was on how to innovate. There was a frequent commentary about Mauritius facing a pressing need for innovation as the world economy slows down. So, very clearly,the issue for Mauritius in 2014, and looking forward as well, is innovation.
At the MIoD AGM, you said that Mauritius has the potential to transition from a middle-income country to a high-income country. Could you elaborate on what it would take for Mauritius to achieve this transformation?
I think Mauritius has the capacity to transition from a middle-income country to a high-income country. It has already reached a high level and has overcome many limitations in order to reach this threshold. But in the current scenario, the methods that were used in the past are not adequate. I think Mauritius should reach outside of itself, try to discover what is happening in successful areas of the world, and adapt those approaches to its own economy. And that is why I spoke about services, telecommunications infrastructure, methods to innovate and seek ideas outside of one’s own area of expertise. I think also that Mauritius can further develop internally. There is a very large part of population that is involved in industry and services, but I think that these activities can be driven forward through training, as well as by engaging more people in the global business sector and the export sector, including tourism. Essentially, it is critical to focus on all activities that bring foreign currency to the country.
You also spoke about Mauritius having vast scope to become a ‘virtual city’. What are the factors which can contribute to make Mauritius a ‘virtual city’ and what are the implications of being a ‘virtual city’?
I think that the numbers available from several different sources and our own observation over the past 30 years, shows that there is an explosion in concentration of both population and economic activity in very large cities. Obviously, Mauritius is not going to have several large cities but the area of the country is such that it could offer one large city and it could offer a city that is connected with the rest of the world. What is the characteristic of a city? It is connected, it has access to skills and talent and it has innovative activities – and I believe that Mauritius can achieve this status without having to increase its population to, let us say, ten million people. It can achieve this in several ways, and the first way is boosting national infrastructure so that communication throughout the island not only in terms of the internet but even physical communication – such as automobiles, public transport, and so on – becomes much more fluid. So, people are able to quickly get in touch with each other. The second is a telecommunications infrastructure, which has an internal purpose. But, most important is to have an external purpose because this would allow Mauritius to position itself to the outside world, by extending beyond its own territory and its own population. I think this is very important. A lot of the work I do with Mauritius is in fact done from other countries through telecommunications and I think that this skill can be developed. It is as if I were here, almost is as if Mauritius has a larger population without boasting a large population in its physical territory. And the third factor, of course, is seeking new ideas by having antenna such as representatives in hot areas in the world that would connect Mauritius with other major cities and make it part of those cities as if it was a virtual city. So, those are the three recommendations I would make.
Over 30 years, you have provided companies with practical consulting and training for their business models across a wide range of industries in Europe, North Africa and Asia. Please comment on some experiences that standout,particularly with focus on Africa.
Africa has changed a lot in a short period of time, and, in the past ten years, the biggest change in Africa is the attitude. Ten years ago, people were still saying: “we are left behind, we cannot overcome our disadvantages.” I would say that in fact it was around three years ago that I started hearing a different story and Africans started to say: “I have ideas, I have projects, I can get financing, I am an entrepreneur, I can create partnerships with foreign companies in the rest of Africa or inside my own country.” I have seen many countries explode with dynamism in a very short period of time. The countries I am referring to, apart from Mauritius, which has been like this for a long time, are Nigeria or Morocco. These countries, even a few years ago, did not have the same entrepreneurial drive and promising future for investments that we see today. So, the attitude in Africa has changed, and I am not sure what caused the change. It may be the example of other regional emerging markets, showing that one does not need to be dependent on the outside world to rise and raise one’s citizens’ standards of living. It could be a question of migration where many people were educated elsewhere, worked elsewhere and came back to Africa to drive business because they felt that they prefer to do business in Africa. It may be also be the influence of some pioneering foreign investments which led the way for the rest of the world. I know that both Chinese companies and the traditional US or European companies have continued to invest in Africa. So, it could be that these investments in the recent past have also stimulated many Africans to develop their own business. It is thus a mixture of things, not just local entrepreneurship but also a different type of partnership with foreign players.
Do you think African businesses are displaying progress in terms of intellectual development?
Definitely, there is progress in terms of intellectual development. There is a lot more training of business people on the job and this is very important. When you learn business at school, you do not really have a knowledge of practical problems and so, it is almost as if you only get half or one third of the training because you do not know how to use it. Once you get on the job, that is when you get the training you need and that is when people get to ask their questions and see what they need to learn to drive their existing businesses as opposed to a theoretical menu of skills that has a little application. It is true that there is a tremendous increase in business training today in Africa.
What are the methods that innovators and entrepreneurs should adopt to assess the impact of economic upheavals on their business?
That is a very complex question because it is very different if you are an entrepreneur or if you are an on-going concern. In both cases, growth is critical. In the case of ongoing business, however, the thrust is going to be on sales and profit growth. I think both sales and profit growth are important for an ongoing business. Obviously, they need to be cash generating and cash positive, but in the case of an entrepreneur, the measurement parameters are completely different, and, in that case, if the entrepreneur is building a network, there will be a sacrifice of revenues or profitability or both as the network is being driven forward. So, the criteria of being successful are extremely different in the two cases and it is difficult to generalize.
What are some of the key projects that you are working on for the African continent?
Currently, I have my main activities, which are consulting, teaching and training, and I am doing all three in Africa. Specifically in Mauritius, through the MIoD of course, with different seminars, but also with a number of companies, where I am working with executives either on consulting projects for innovation by innovating their business model or through a commercial approach. I am also providing trainings for several companies, especially in Mauritius and Morocco, which are the countries where I am quite active in training and consulting today. I also teach at the AISEC business school, which provides diploma-based education here in Mauritius. So, these are the projects that I am engaged in today.
Finally, as an international specialist on New Business Models for innovation, please provide your opinion on the way forward for Mauritian directors to contribute to the development of the island economy.
In my opinion, the best way they can contribute is through developing services and also by explaining to people why services are the way forward, when you should manufacture and when you should drop manufacturing, leaving it to others. Another aspect of development, as I mentioned earlier, is training, talent development, diversity, and seeking new ideas within the Mauritian community through interaction with different ethnic groups, learning different skills or participating in different trainings. But, Mauritian directors can also contribute outside of the Mauritian economy, in other countries in and around Africa or outside Africa, as ways to enrich the pool of ideas used in Mauritius. I also believe that they can develop the island through infrastructure, communication with the model of the city in mind but a virtual city that goes beyond the island, and finally, from the bottom of the pyramid,which means that because it is an island, it is very important to bring all groups in the island economically up to speed to move the country forward. When I think of another island, which is the United Kingdom group of islands, they were able to develop their strength by spreading outside of the island, keeping their intellectual skills and leadership within the island but finding ways to be part of the rest of the world. Today, I would say you do not need to build an empire but you do certainly need to connect.