The Post-COVID-19 Landscape in Emerging Markets
Booth’s largest student-led conference explored challenges and opportunities within emerging economies in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.
- July 29, 2021
When the student team planning Chicago Booth’s Emerging Markets Summit realized they needed to hold their 2021 conference online because of COVID-19, they seized the opportunity to go really big.
“Once we decided to go virtual, our goal was to make it as large as possible, with as many speakers and attendees as possible,” said summit co-chair Jessie Chen, ’21. “It felt less like a conference and more like just being part of the conversation about what’s going on in emerging economies today and how things can be changed.”
Held annually, the summit brings together global thought leaders to discuss some of the biggest changes and challenges the emerging world faces. It also gives students the opportunity to build a community with like-minded Boothies as well as peers from other regions who are passionate about global economic issues.
This year, the summit attracted 1,200 attendees and featured conversations with business leaders from more than 20 countries throughout Africa, Latin America, Asia Pacific, South Asia, and the Middle East, making it Chicago Booth’s largest student-led conference. The flexibility of the online format enabled student planners to recruit speakers from around the world, including central-bank governors, founders of unicorn startups (valued at more than $1 billion), and cabinet-level government officials.
Providing virtual presentations also allowed people who couldn’t travel to attend—for example, agriculture experts in Africa who work daily with farmers in some of the most remote areas of the continent. Co-chair Kwame Osei, ’21, said their presence enriched discussions, as they contributed unique insights from their personal experience.
“People were surprised by some of the similarities across regions and some of the shared challenges. Even if you were in Africa and listening to a speaker from Latin America, so much could apply to the region you were living in.”
Many conversations centered on how emerging-market economies could position themselves for growth as COVID-19 begins to recede in some parts of the world. The panelists were largely optimistic about the long-term prospects of emerging markets. They spoke about the potential for entrepreneurship to drive economic growth and the rising participation of established venture-capital and private-equity firms in these dynamic economies. Fintech and cryptocurrencies were other common themes, along with challenges of governance, economically inclusive growth, and environmental sustainability.
“People were surprised by some of the similarities across regions and some of the shared challenges,” said Osei, who was born in the United States and grew up in Ghana. “Even if you were in Africa and listening to a speaker from Latin America, so much could apply to the region you were living in.”
Speakers also highlighted ways that businesses in emerging markets can work together. During the opening panel, Amitabh Kant, CEO of the public-policy think tank NITI Aayog, discussed India’s next growth opportunities in technology and artificial intelligence. Fred Swaniker, founder and CEO of African Leadership Group, covered how the young, upwardly mobile workforce in Africa can contribute to the technology supply chain.
Summit co-chair Aalekh Sharan, ’21, said his biggest takeaway was how quickly remote work culture has accelerated the rise of truly global startups with teams dispersed across the emerging and developed world. More businesses in developed economies are finding ways to expand across borders and into new markets, as COVID-19 has accelerated remote work, innovation, and digital collaboration.
“I always wanted to work in the United States for a while, then eventually go back to India and start something of my own or start my own fund,” Sharan said. “The summit strengthened my resolve toward that.”
In addition to planning the summit, the student leadership team held smaller events throughout the year to further increase engagement with emerging-market topics. Next year, the new co-chairs plan to build on their momentum—and to keep the best of both conference formats by hosting a hybrid Emerging Markets Summit once it’s safe to gather in person.
“Our focus for the coming year is to strengthen the emerging-markets community within Booth,” said co-chair Jay Bheda, ’21. “In addition to our flagship yearly summit, we intend to host panel discussions, fireside conversations, and other events where Booth students will have the opportunity to interact with alumni and their fellow classmates who are working or have worked in emerging markets, in a more intimate setting.”