Africa after Ebola: what healthcare and economic infrastructure upgrades are needed?

World Finance speaks to Rupert Scofield, President and CEO of FINCA, about Africa’s economic future after Ebola

December 8, 2014

The greatest revelation from the Ebola crisis was how much healthcare and economic infrastructure upgrades are badly needed in Africa. World Finance speaks to Rupert Scofield – President and CEO of FINCA (Fighting Poverty with Financial Inclusion) – about changes in the continent.

World Finance: As we think about how West Africa can recover from this crisis, do you think that the international community, local stakeholders, should focus more on the people who are frankly building local economic infrastructure than on governments?
Rupert Scofield: Kumutha, if there’s two things that I think would unleash the enormous productive potential of the African continent, one would be dealing with rule of law, allowing the smaller people justice through the court system.

Also, investing in infrastructure like power. I was at a conference on energy the other day and, incredible statistic, the World Bank estimates that if all people could get access to power in Africa, the GDP would grow by four percent a year.

I love the African people and the continent. It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life

So I’m optimistic, I think the governments are becoming much more responsive, so hopefully we’ll see change on both these fronts.

World Finance: Beyond governments, who else needs to get involved, and in a more aggressive way? Emerging middle classes perhaps?
Rupert Scofield: You know, there’s an attitude of sort of helplessness on the part of many of, even the elites and the affluent, but certainly the growing middle class. There’s an inclination, I’m going to stay out of politics, it’s a dirty business, but they actually have to get involved.

I can’t really speak of my country, because we have enormous apathy on the political front in America. I think something like 40 percent of the population votes in elections, which is shameful. But if you stay on the sidelines then you have to be responsible for the lack of progress.

World Finance: And speaking of America, if you want to talk about the most vocal business community, the American business community drives elections.
Rupert Scofield: It certainly does.

World Finance: So is that what we’re going to see in a more mature Africa? I hate to gloss over the whole continent as one, but as it moves forward are we going to see that sort of push, the political machine?
Rupert Scofield: I certainly hope so. I love the African people and the continent. It’s been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and the people are fantastic, but they do absolutely have to get involved.

I believe, being a businessperson myself, that is the key to economic development. It’s not going to be government infrastructure or World Bank investment. It’s going to be millions of small and medium enterprises, just like in the US, that provide the employment and the production, and generate the wealth for the future.

We make loans for school fees to the women who live in those communities

World Finance: Finally, Rupert, this is your plug. Tell me how FINCA Plus is going to play a role in this future.
Rupert Scofield: FINCA Plus is the term we use for going beyond just microfinance, and getting involved in energy, education, healthcare.

In fact, what’s really interesting Kumutha is a lot of our clients on their own initiative are entering these sectors. We have teachers who leave the public education sector, take loans from FINCA and set up little schools and communities, and they hire other teachers, and they build infrastructure. So you get a school that is in the community, the children don’t have to walk 10 kilometres to the public school.

Also, we finance the demand side. We make loans for school fees to the women who live in those communities, so their kids can pay for the tuition.