Gagan Gupta, CEO, ARISE
How free zones are fostering education, sustainability and prosperity in Africa
ARISE was founded in 2010 with a focus on addressing three critical issues: unemployment, income inequality and environmental sustainability. The company aims to empower individuals through education, by creating sustainable infrastructure and leveraging natural resources like solar energy. ARISE is also dedicated to training women in traditionally male-dominated industries, promoting self- sufficiency and gender diversity. Special economic zones play a crucial role in transforming industries and driving economic growth, as seen in Gabon's wood sector. This holistic ecosystem approach aims to attract investment, foster trade and ultimately build prosperous and environmentally conscious communities in Africa. global platform
Arise was created in 2010 and Arise focused on solving three problems. The first problem was about unemployment. We believe that unemployment is a massive problem globally, but so much in Africa. Secondly, income inequality.
When I say income inequality, it is about the person who owns the resource gets a very small portion of the overall value. And this owner of resources can be the government, it can be a farmer. Our whole focus was how do we ensure we put more and more value in the hands of the farmer or the owner of the resource. The third thing was about Mother Nature.
So we know that climate change is accelerating and we are seeing the impacts. But what can we do in terms of aiding that? We believe that sustainable industrialisation is a way forward to solve these three problems. First, it is important to have a robust educational system, one that allows women and children to have a comprehensive education, to have a complete education and to have an education that enables them to have a broader vision of the real opportunities they have in their lives.
Secondly, it will be important to have an infrastructure system for water sanitation, in particular, and also for waste management. Today, in Africa, especially in Benin, we do not have infrastructure capable of sustainably managing our waste. And finally, I am also talking about energy infrastructure. We are in a country with natural brightness thanks to the sun, which enables us to achieve sustainable energy through solar power.
Today, we recycle everything that is plastic. Plastic bottles, in fact, are used to make straps used for packaging, as well as veneer sheets. So today, one of the raw materials we use is actually the waste from household products. So it's a bit of a circular industry.
We no longer have the same approach at all to industrial development in the fields of forestry, industry, and technology. Today, we are specifically encouraging the consideration of these issues. There are significant environmental challenges, particularly the issue of carbon, and deforestation issues. So these are particularly important issues that we have integrated into our development strategy.
In the infrastructure sector. And the forestry sector, among others, is not a sector that traditionally employs women. And at GDIZ, we wanted to increase the proportion of women in our workforce, but we encountered a problem because there were no women trained in these trades in the job market. So, with CDC Group, we initiated a programme to train women in heavy equipment and heavy vehicle operation.
We received a large number of applications, close to 300 applications. and after a fairly rigorous selection process, we selected 50 women. Out of the 50 women, approximately 27 were trained here in the Ivory Coast. And some of them were able to find employment in these trades.
So today, we have approximately 900 people. So far, 55% women, 45% men. Exactly. We encourage women to go out, to work, to support themselves.
We are supporting them and we are encouraging them. We will integrate them into the textile industry, and we will encourage them to be independent. The textile unit should be predominantly dominated by women, because the project also aims for women to be self-reliant, self-sufficient. They are really happy, they say they are learning something and today, we call it a diploma, a certificate.
The project to integrate and train young Togolese in the textile industry is a project in partnership with the Togolese government. We rely on our partners, who are the National Employment Agency. They are the ones responsible for job placement and integration of these young people. There are criteria that must be met, including a minimum level of education.
It is for self-improvement and to increase efficiency. Because the idea is to prepare these young people to enter the textile industry. Special economic zones allow for the diversification of industries established in a country because they promote the development of this industry by creating tax incentives. Special economic zones will play an increasingly important role as the one that exists today has shown that it is possible to transform an industry sustainably.
Today if we take an example, since we were talking about the wood sector, in 2009 the total amount of wood processed in Gabon was greater than what is processed today. Why? Because in 2009, indeed, more people did not process it. Today we cut less wood, but with local processing, we are able to create much more added value.
In Gabon, this experience in the wood industry has shown that it can also be replicated in other industries. We look at industrial transformation as an ecosystem approach whereby we look at the entire set of problems and see what we need to solve for and what others will help us in solving it. But for example, we know that in Benin we need 200 MW of energy. So now there is a company that is setting up a 200-MW power plant in the industrial zone based on gas to provide to the customers in industrial zones.
This whole ecosystem that you are are putting up will crystallise many more industries and attract much more foreign direct investment (FDI) in the continent, Industrialisation within Africa. Is also going to create massive trade within Africa and help Mother Nature create jobs, reduce inequality and ensure we have prosperous communities.