“Their ambitions may be larger than their revenues but collectively they are making a mark,” states the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in its recent report charting the uptick of Africa’s top 40 fastest growing companies i.e. the African challengers.  These challengers not only contributed to Africa’s 5.3% GDP growth during the years of 2000-2008 but are also accelerating the pace for sustained economic growth across the continent.  However, they are not the only entities worth watching as a new non-profit, AfricaSIF, is pursuing an equally ambitious agenda in striving to  put sustainable investment in Africa on the global radar as means to drive long-term pan-African prosperity.

It may come as no surprise that the lion’s share of the companies originate in South Africa, Egypt and Morocco and according to BCG methodology, “the five largest companies represent 55 percent of all the sales of the 40 African challengers.”   Those impressive sales stem from the challengers’ ability to capitalize on local advantages including a growing market, access to natural resources, and an inexpensive labor supply all while operating in regulatory environments increasingly more favorable to business.   Personally, I could not help but wonder how the presence or absence of strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards were impacting business especially in regards to the 18 South African companies on the list. South Africa’s Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) requires the top 40 companies to report ESG information.  I’d ask BCG to comment on how sustainable capital is driving business in Africa today and how it will evolve in the future.

BCG also asserts that what truly sets the challengers apart is “a willingness to be bold and to recognize that a challenging economic environment is an opportunity to be creative and expand globally.”  That commands a long-term vision much like sustainable investment.  With this in mind, I hope AfricaSIF’s efforts force a new battle, the only one that keeps our natural order and the lions on top, i.e. the one that says sustainable investment is the only feasible solution for a continent still dealing with such significant political, social, and environmental problems.