Above (left to right): Nicola Probyn and Claire Alexander co-Founders of ASBN
Claire Alexander and Nicola Probyn, founders of Africa Scotland Business Network, a dynamic, globally thinking, Scottish diasporic business network in Africa, share an update on the fledgling network’s rapid progress amid a global pandemic that has seen the network double in size and link a local student to an international opportunity of a lifetime.
To launch and grow an internationally respected and successful business network you need to be dynamic. You also need a big vision and the drive to create real and meaningful economic (and social) impact. During these extra challenging times, resilience and a winning offering also help…
This, and more, the Africa Scotland Business Network (ASBN) has in abundance. Founded in November 2019 by Scottish national Claire Alexander and South African Nicola Probyn, the network has an advisory board of local and international founding members with diverse professional experience and an active partnership with Scottish Development International (Scottish Government). This has stood the network in good stead. Strong management has clearly helped fend off potential harm from the global pandemic.
Business networks are not new of course. Formed to connect individuals and companies to extrapolate reciprocal business or collaborate with experts to share experience and skills so businesses can grow, if done correctly, networks open doors to real business. ASBN however, has taken the concept one step further and the results are speaking for themselves.
“Our founding members are made up of African, Scottish and English business owners, most of us having built businesses on African and Scottish soil. I have lived in South Africa for 14 years, but my national identity is Scottish. I’m proud to come from one of the most inventive, business savvy and community centric nations in the world,” says Claire Alexander, co-founder of Africa Scottish Business Network (ASBN).
“We have brought our native influences on our homes and workplaces to this continent we love, called Africa. This influence is blended with the approach of African business owners on our team. It’s a winning recipe for progress, creativity and understanding.”
In agreement, co-founder Nicola Probyn says: “The Scottish global diaspora’s genuine friendliness, work ethic, honesty and sense of humour has always been welcomed the world over – across Africa too. Scots are big on empathy and finding common ground quickly in business. Businesses really like what they’re seeing at ASBN, so we’ll keep pushing forward with our approach into this new normal.”
Beyond the ethos of strong relationships, ASBN was launched to not only grow a proactive, inclusive and progressive business network and assist members to access valuable resources and connections, but to act as a conduit for foreign investment into and across Africa, leading to much-needed job growth and skills transfer. The network is currently helping members connect with each other in other regions across Africa, Scotland and the wider UK.
Although the global economic lockdown has hindered face-to-face networking action, the manner in which the use of technology has risen to bridge the business distance divide has allowed ASBN to flourish.
For much of its 9-month existence, ASBN’s growth could have been hamstrung by the COVID-enforced lockdown, but it will take more than a global pandemic to keep these determined directors down.
“Being locked down just a few months after we launched could have been crippling, but we’ve been able to welcome members from Lagos to Glasgow, Edinburgh to Nairobi and from Johannesburg to Port Louis into the same digital ‘space’ and for little cost, but excellent output value. We’re constantly finding innovative ways to connect with our members across the continent and into Scotland and the UK.
“We’ve actually exceeded our expectations in adding more value to members, due to technology enabling quick facilitation, monitoring member data points more effectively – we’re online more – and forcing our team to think outside the box,” says Probyn.
Rapid Growth and continental representation
The ASBN has already nearly doubled in size since lockdown was enforced and is currently working on no less than eight international projects across a variety of business sectors.
Alexander explains that there is clearly an appetite for Scottish and UK businesspeople partnering in Africa and their members within African nations looking to cross borders into other African countries. Key to the network’s growth she says has been their highly accessible annual membership package and a contemporary approach to business. This has led to a diverse and dynamic network with members ranging from entrepreneurs, SMME’s, African and global corporates from 25 different sectors so far.
Alexander says: “We believe that there is tremendous power and potential within that diversity. Everything has come together so beautifully and, as a result, we have been able to create a network of cross-sector businesses in nine countries – Scotland, England, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria and Kenya. Ghana and Senegal are next on the agenda”.
The ASBN has tapped into global partnerships such as the well-established Scottish Business Network for support, events and information sharing. As money makes the world (and international trade) go around, ASBN has been welcomed into the Global Scots network, a government-appointed, highly selective network of successful and high net worth Scots living across the globe. Public sector partnerships include an active partnership with Scottish Government as well as Wesgro in South Africa.
“This has been a superb example of how the public and private sector work can together to achieve shared economic development goals,” says Probyn. “We have identified, with the help of such partners, that Africa and Scotland have astounding synergies to partner with each other in our economies, from oil and gas, education, training, technology, renewable energy, agritech and agriculture and manufacturing.”
Cross-border collaboration in action
Beyond facilitating business between the shared economies, the ASBN has recently played a role across the hemispheres on a different level. After connecting a successful ed-tech company in Edinburgh called Tricres.com, with an equally digitally focused student crowdfunding NPO, Feenix.org in South Africa, (both members of ASBN) Tricres.com has since recruited one of Feenix’s student ambassadors attending Cape Peninsula University of Technology, as their social media VA.
Spokesperson for Feenix, Cara-Jean Petersen says: “We are so grateful to Tricres and the Africa Scotland Business Network for making this opportunity possible. Feenix are firm believers in connecting students to resources, individuals and organisations that are passionate about investing in our future young professionals.
“Thank you for sharing our vision and equipping Lunga not only with an opportunity to earn an income during such a difficult pandemic negatively impacting so many of our students, but offering him an environment to learn, grow and build international networks.”
ASBN currently represents over 65 member companies (and growing weekly) and provides value in terms of a variety of events, topical information, business opportunities, funding opportunities, a strong sense of business community, proactive member engagement and sharing trusted business connections across Africa and Scotland. Although Africa is full of developing economies, the potential for creating new wealth, especially amongst Africa’s youth, while building local economies is just enormous. The ASBN’s growing pool of members is testament to that.