Who or what is the Westminster Africa Business Group?
I was asked by a contact here in The Netherlands recently to explain who or what The Westminster Africa Business Group is. It stumped me for a minute. The most concise definition I could think of was: “The WABG is a network of people from business, political, educational and diplomatic spheres whose objective is to share experiences in Africa with the aim of helping individuals and organizations with their current and future endeavours on the continent.”
“The WABG is a network of people from business, political, educational and diplomatic spheres whose objective is to share experiences in Africa with the aim of helping individuals and organizations with their current and future endeavours on the continent.”
The problem with this definition, as happens when you try to distil any group down to a single sentence, is that it is far too simple to fully capture the essence of this eclectic mix of people. There are many networks active in the UK with the aim of promoting business ties with Africa: The Business Council for Africa, Developing Markets Associates (not restricted to Africa) and the British African Business Alliance to name just a few. Africa House London, of which Euro-Com International is the translation partner, is perhaps the most ambitious in terms of creating a network of industry leaders to advise companies from the UK in their attempts to trade directly in Africa, via their continuously developing platform.
The WABG is different though. I have heard the group be dismissed as “a social club for old white guys”, and while there may have been a grain of truth to this in the past, the group has evolved over the past decade to be a far more dynamic collective of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. That’s not to say the social aspect has been cut-out. Far from it. The social aspect plays an important role within the group.
From Euro-Com Internationals point of view, our presence in the group is important as it gives us the opportunity to develop a deep network of contacts across various industries in Africa and the UK. The depth of knowledge about the need for translation and localization within the group has been gratifying. Away from the group I’ve had a number of worrying conversations with representatives from trade agencies (governmental and independent) who are more than happy to tell their members that English, as the de facto lingua franca in much of Africa, is more than enough to sell to all social levels across the sub-Saharan. It is not. If you want to reach a market, anywhere in the world, you will always get better traction in their mother tongue. The vast majority of the people I have spoken to at WABG events have backed up this understanding.
Now, my biggest challenge remains to be to convince my contacts at the WABG that a professional translation service is far more cost effective than using in-house staff for translations. Why pay a lawyer/accountant/consultant/sales team to spend their time translating documents when it can be done at a fraction of the cost by a trained team of linguists with the resources to build a stylistic/glossary database allowing for continuity and recurrent improvements in terms of cost and effectiveness?
Another element which sets the WABG apart from other networking groups is the location of their meetings. From a personal point of view, I have to pinch myself every time I walk into The Palace of Westminster. There isn’t a corner of the globe which hasn’t been touched by decisions made in these hallowed halls. If I was to spend too much time thinking about the figures who have graced the chambers, or darkened their doorsteps, I would not be able to function coherently. Still, I can’t help but feel a little star struck every time I cross a threshold in the building and wonder “in whose footsteps I am now walking…”.
This brings me to the key selling point of the WABG. The people involved. As a relatively inexperienced representative of a relatively small translation and localization company, it would have been easy to become overwhelmed in such exalted company in a location which can conservatively be called ‘iconic’. This has not happened to me. Much of the reason for this can be attributed to the board and members of WABG.
At last Thursday’s lunch meeting, during which we heard from H.E. Ambassador Hailemichael Aberra Afework, PhD, of Ethiopia (easily one of the most charismatic and coherent men I’ve had the pleasure of listening to), members of the board of WAGB did what they always do. They spread out and worked the room. There was nothing premeditated or planned about this. It just happens. Tim, Gemma and John instinctively know how to make someone feel welcome. They expedite meetings and connections seamlessly. From this point of view the likes of Alexander Johnson, Pete Osborne and Kevin Smyth (to name but a few members) are just as important within the group. They are visible, knowledgeable and more than happy to engage in conversation or provide an introduction. In the absence of the chairman of the group, Laurence Robertson MP, due to illness (hope you’re feeling better Lawrence!), Annie and Nicole continued in their understated but vitally important role of facilitators. Without them these events would grind to a halt. Conversation during the day covered everything from the development of educational apps, the progress of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump (Robert Hurley should write a book!), the fact that Ethiopian Airlines rule the African skies, to fraud and ambulance chasers in the various theatres in which the British military operates. As always, it was informative, educational and enjoyable.
They say ‘like water finds its own level’. The only reason I knew about the existence of the WABG was thanks to John Mulryan. I was a guest of John’s at my first WABG event. Sadly, John passed away a little over a month ago. John played a central role in the development of the identity of the WABG. There was a shadow over proceedings last week. This was the first WABG event since John’s passing. His absence was felt in many ways throughout the day. For the board members, and his close friends this was a difficult day. This was the day that cemented the reality that John was no longer the affable driving force behind the group. John was just as comfortable talking with Lords and Ambassadors as he was with the likes of me. He probably wouldn’t understand the fuss, because for him, this was effortless; but it was massive for me. He gave of his time willingly, graciously and without prompting. He would even give his time to Liverpool and City fans. The WABG will continue to grow and evolve in his image.
Next Monday, 5th December, we will be having drinks and light refreshments at the House of Commons from 6pm-8pm. The drinks will be an opportunity to meet existing and prospective members of the WABG along with MP’s, Ministers and ‘friends of WABG’.
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