“Putting MEDO in the Heart of London”

MEDO’s Man in London, Peter Burdin is the previous head of BBC Africa and is currently busy with laying down the groundwork for MEDO’s international expansion in London. Read from the man himself about what’s busy happening across the pond. Article by Peter Burdin.

As MEDO’s Representative in the United Kingdom my job is to take the MEDO message into the heart of Europe’s number one financial centre. I find there’s so much interest in the activities of the Treppie entrepreneurs and the Space Trek teams. After all, London is buzzing these days with young entrepreneurs setting up their own ventures so the news that MEDO is working in a similar space in Africa really makes people curious to know more.

Organisations like Start-Up UK and Innovate Britain are just two of the umbrella organisations that have promoted this new wave of entrepreneurship. In the process the UK has seen some 30 000 new companies set up in the past year. Part of my role is to work closely with these entrepreneurs and to fly the flag for their South African counterparts and prepare the way for MEDO’s upcoming international trade delegation to the UK.

This year we’ve built links with one of the UK’s top Business Schools at Durham University and the MEDO entrepreneurs will be hosted by them when they arrive.  I’ve discovered there’s great support for MEDO’s attempts to develop South African business leaders and Durham University  is a good example of this warm welcome. The Business School has already found office work space for the MEDO delegation to use as their base and it has also organised a debate with some of the region’s top business leaders.

On the cultural front the Business School has also organised a visit to Evensong and a welcome tour of the historic Durham Cathedral. The cathedral which dates from 1093 is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture  and has been designated a UNESCO World heritage site. 

The next day the deal-making and hard work will begin in earnest when they visit the Innovation Centre at Teesside University in nearby Middlesborough and discuss with their British counterparts ways to scale-up and develop their businesses.  They will meet leading entrepreneurs from the North East region who are busy playing a big part in creating the so-called Northern Powerhouse – a British government initiative to create jobs outside the prosperous South East and London.

The North East region houses Europe’s most productive car plant at Nissan in Sunderland. Normally car companies are quite secretive about showing their production line but we have persuaded them that the South African delegation would really benefit from seeing this state-of-the-art technology which really gives a great sense of modern industry at its most efficient.

My average day consists of building these networks, arousing press and media interest, and keeping across all the players who are interested in Africa. It’s not commonly known but there is actually tremendous interest in Africa in London. I could attend a seminar or conference on Africa most days of the week. I was recently on the Steering Committees for the Global African Investment Summit and for the Texam Africa Oil And Gas Summit and both events underlined not just the desire for British companies to engage with Africa but also the vast number of potential investors and funders.

I keep across key groups like the Africa Technology Group and the Business In Africa Pays team along with the more formal investors with a big African interest like PWC and KPMG. I work with consultancies who have  a shared interest in promoting Africa like the South Africa-based Homecoming Revolution which tries to get skilled members of the African diaspora to return to the continent and Brand South Africa which simply highlights all the good things happening in South Africa and attempts to counter the rather negative press the country has tended to receive in recent years.

I speak at events on MEDO’s work. Last year I hosted a charity auction for the EY Foundation which raised £10,000 for UK charities – I was  able to enlighten the audience about MEDO’s efforts with African youth and in this way the message gets out to more and more decision-makers in Britain’s financial and business sectors.

The MEDO Space Trek has been an amazing success in the UK and we’ve received lots of press coverage. It has really captured the imagination and I’m frequently asked for updates on the programme. It’s stated aim of getting more young women into studying science and technology has struck a big chord and I look forward to further interest as we approach the countdown to the satellite launch later this year.

Getting young women into science careers is as big a  problem in Europe as it is in Africa and many Europeans find the Space Trek programme a really exciting and effective way of encouraging more female participation in the STEM subjects.

To this end I keep media like the UK-based The South African newspaper, the BBC and the Online site True Africa abreast of all Space Trek developments. I try to secure coverage with Africa-focussed publications like New African Woman and Africa Business and I’m currently in discussions with IC Publications to host Skype interviews with some of our young Space Trek female scientists at its upcoming African Women Forum.

MEDO has a great story to tell and I’m proud to be taking that story into the conference halls, the boardrooms, and the Newsrooms of Britain. It’s a tough job at times but getting the message across that South Africa’s young people are full of talent and raring to go is an extremely rewarding task to be involved in.

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