Developing an export presence: a look at the opportunities in Côte d'Ivoire

Nine innovative French companies have been selected to take part in the "Mission Smart Energy Côte d'Ivoire" initiative spearheaded by Societe Generale and Bpifrance, in partnership with Business France. This initiative promotes and accompanies French excellence in this fast-growing country, within the framework of its energy transition.

Côte d’Ivoire is a COP21 signatory and is highly active in the field of green electricity. So much so that it is to invest 15 billion euros in this sector between now and 2030. Solar PV, biogas, etc. projects are beginning to emerge. West Africa is without any doubt a land of development opportunities for French businesses.

Interview with Alain Piou, Societe Generale’s Head of International Trade.

How were the 9 businesses chosen and what criteria were used?

This year we decided to focus our work, with our partners Bpifrance and Business France, on the topic of Smart Energy, i.e. companies’ ability to make the production or distribution of energy more efficient, more economical and cleaner. We also chose to concentrate on non fossil fuels within the framework of World Environment Day, on 5 June, which marked the start of this mission of accompaniment.

On this basis, Societe Generale and Bpifrance selected, from our respective portfolios, efficient and/or innovative small and mid-sized companies that provide a response to the smart Energy challenges. What they all have in common is their desire to rapidly develop their business in West Africa, and in particular in Côte d’Ivoire.

The ultimate goal, this initiative’s shared objective is to help these companies find and meet with the right contacts in that country in order to accelerate their development and make their export process a success.

What can these companies offer?

New technologies vis-à-vis the smart-grid, MtoM and energy efficiency in general are sectors with considerable opportunities for innovative French businesses.  We therefore chose firms that can offer new production and energy-saving solutions and take this country’s specificities into account.

They are experts in energy self-sufficiency, for example, or in using drones to monitor high-voltage power lines more easily – Côte d’Ivoire exports electricity to neighbouring countries thanks to these power lines, so drones can be particularly useful. The aim is to highlight these businesses and their know-how.

We chose:

  • Designers / producers of solar energy, given that Côte d’Ivoire, a signatory of the COP21 agreement, is encouraging the development of this type of energy, notably regarding the energy self-sufficiency of industrial companies ;
  • A manufacturer of solar street lighting, a family business that is already present in Africa but wishes to further develop its activity there ;
  • Energy self-sufficiency specialists regarding industrial electricity projects ;
  • A specialist in energy recovery and recycling ;
  • A specialist in drones for the aerial monitoring of major electricity transportation infrastructures (very high voltage lines) ;
  • Lastly, we asked a major French construction company, the FAYAT group – through its Fayat Energie Services subsidiary – to accompany these SMEs as a sponsor.

Why did you decide to focus on Côte d'Ivoire to promote this accompaniment?

Côte d’Ivoire is no doubt the most mature country in West Africa with regard to renewable energy and innovations. Indeed it is implementing numerous projects, such as the Aboisso biomass plant project headed by private operator SIFCA that will use palm tree waste.

A number of calls for tender have been initiated to develop green energy, and Côte d’Ivoire is making electricity production a major pillar of its development policy.

But Africa in general also lies, for Societe Generale and for Bpifrance, at the heart of their international development and support strategy.

In this respect, a cooperation agreement was signed by the two banks in 2017.

Societe Generale has had a presence in Côte d’Ivoire for almost 60 years, is the leading retail bank in that country (SGBCI) and has reiterated its belief that Africa is a land of opportunities and growth. With 17 retail banks on the continent and the intention of opening additional franchises, Societe Generale wants to continue strengthening its presence and helping the development of African economies.

What does this market represent for French companies that wish to export their technologies?

For these companies, it is primarily about developing practical partnerships or even joint ventures. Abidjan was named a Sustainable City by the French Secretary of State for Foreign Trade in 2016.  Since then, businesses and investors have been working on business cooperation there to launch joint projects by both countries and create the environmentally-friendly city of the future.

The country has no lack of opportunities. It is thus planning to invest over 15 billion euros in the electricity sector between now and 2030 (production, network, distribution…), mostly financed by the private sector. Electricity production should double by 2020, and the country exports electricity to its neighbours – in particular since the Soubré damn became operational in 2017.

However, there is fierce competition not only between French and European companies, but now also with the massive presence of Chinese or African companies.

Does the country need foreign companies to meet its growth challenges?

Our objective is of course in no way comparable to the old European methods employed throughout the African continent. It is based on a shared goal with Côte d’Ivoire, or other countries with which we are collaborating and in which we are accompanying businesses: to develop solutions together through joint projects.

But we are not arriving on land that has already been conquered. Africa is a place where anything is possible but you need to be humble and patient.

A number of companies we have accompanied have understood this; it is by working hand in hand with investors and Ivorian companies that the French will be able to win the lion’s share of the market.

This is what Alexandre Maymat, Head of the Africa/Asia/Mediterranean Region, has reminded companies in Abidjan. It is now the African development model that has to take precedence on this continent, not the old European model in Africa.

You accompanied these companies for four days in early June in Abidjan. How did the meetings go? What was learned?

The meetings prepared by Business France were unanimously acknowledged to have been very fruitful by the companies themselves. The aim is clearly to make the most of Bpifrance, Business France and Societe Generale’s clout amongst investors and local players to enable them to meet these contacts they wouldn’t have been able to meet without our help.

Interested companies were thus able to obtain appointments with the Ministers of Construction and Energy, the French Ambassador to Côte d’Ivoire, the CEO of Compagnie Ivoirienne d’Electricité – the country’s former public utility company that is now a private company – and foreign trade advisors who work in the electricity sector in Abidjan, some of whom are particularly active in the Club Abidjan Ville Durable (Abidjan Sustainable City Club) run by the French Embassy’s economic department.

The companies learned of the country’s strong desire to develop its electricity network, but also the need to be well-established locally to be able to efficiently develop their business. Having a regular and long-term presence on the ground is the recipe for a successful export policy.

How will you continue this support? Will all these 9 companies be able to work with Côte d'Ivoire?

Our 9 companies now know that we have a substantial presence in Africa, and more specifically in Côte d’Ivoire with SGBCI. They have met various key players within the sector. However, we are going to continue the support we provide them with by meeting their requests concerning financing and secure transactions. Our role as a banker with substantial expertise is an everyday factor for them.

Furthermore, we have planned to meet up again in 6 to 8 months to assess the opportunities they have reaped during this mission, share each other’s experiences and feedback, and monitor things. A number of them have already told us that they have found serious avenues of sales opportunities.

How do you see the future of these French companies – and others – in Africa?

The African continent is a land where "everything is possible". Nevertheless, you need to be prepared and be patient, and our 9 companies know that! I predict a wonderful future for them, because they now have additional keys to success. In the future, they will still be able to count on the support of Societe Generale, Bpifrance and Business France. That’s an illustration of the "Hunting in packs" motto we’ve used during these missions!

Societe Generale in Africa

A solid presence

For over 100 years, Societe Generale has been present in Africa and today counts activities in 18 countries. Beyond our commitment to local economies, the Group also supports and partners numerous charitable associations and projects through its Foundation and other local initiatives encouraging, for example, professional integration, the fight against social insecurity and skills development.

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