In Photo: Ken Poonoosamy, Manaaging Director of Board of Investment (BOI)
By Simon Vella
Mauritius aspires to position itself as the true BPO gateway to Africa thanks to its strategic location in the middle of Indian Ocean, says Ken Poonoosamy – the Managing Director of the Board of Investment (BOI), which is the apex investment promotion agency in Mauritius.
Today, the island nation, one of the world’s top tropical island holiday destinations, is a stable and vibrant platform for corporations interested to explore business prospects in Africa.
Poonoosamy says that the country is taking a wholesome approach to the global services game by ensuring a good ICT ecosystem. He says: “We are not only looking at attracting big names in the Shared Services segment – we are also promoting and assisting our own local providers to expand into Africa and to provide BPO services.
We already have a number of service providers who have created a solid reputation locally and are making good strides to have a presence in Africa and tap into a large market there.” Africa with its 1 .2 billion people is considered by many as the last frontier.
For the outsiders, the tourism industry is seen to be the poster child for the economic progress of Mauritius over the years. According to Statistics Mauritius, the total passenger arrival to Mauritius in 2011 was 1.3 Million and tourist arrivals for the year at nearly 1 million. According the Bank of Mauritius the gross tourism receipts was Rs4.4 billion in 2012. The forecast number of tourist arrival for 2013 is one million.
Interestingly, in the actual sum of things – it is the manufacturing sector (such as textile, seafood processing) that has contributed a staggering 17% of its national GDP in 2012. The financial services sector accounts for about 10%, and the tourism sector accounts for about 8%.
The ICT BPO sector is already hitting 6.8%. Just five years ago, it was just a measly 2%. The growth of the sector has been dramatic and on average Mauritius has registered 15% growth in the BPO industry annually in the past few years.
Poonosamy says: “Tourism and manufacturing sectors are important sectors but we are looking at the bigger picture. Furthermore, the tourism and sector presents tremendous BPO opportunity with regards to work revolving hotel reservation, bookings and other hospitality related segments.”
The key lesson is that the nation has divested its economy from dependence on one source of income, through diversification into various sectors, and established a concerted strategy to create productive capacities amongst the citizenry that can sustain the onslaught of globalization. These astute decisions spearheaded by the government invest and nurture numerous forward-looking business pillars, most particularly the ICT industry are beginning to pay off.
The multi-lingual population (who speak English, French and other regional languages) has proven its ability to serve multiple markets seamlessly.
Supported by robust economic policies, structural efficiencies and the highest readiness in the region toward regulatory environments, transparency, accountability and governance – Mauritius has earned the unwavering trust of client organisations from developed markets.
Its leadership toward adoption and propagation of the value of forward-looking policies and enabling environments is considered an asset by many nations from the African continent who look up to Mauritius for guidance and advice. Mauritius just announced that it is investing US$3.4 billion in Zimbabwe. The nation itself is keen on transforming not just its own ICT-BPO sector, but in becoming the Regional Hub for access to Africa.
“We have put in place solid infrastructure to sustain our ambitions. Many global corporations have trusted Mauritius as a location and have set up a base here. From a strategic standpoint, we have made concerted investments in bandwidth (8 local loops) that connect us with the African sub-continent, Europe, and Asia, making us one of the most highly networked countries in the region. Tactically, trust vested in the nation is reflected in the commitments from large organizations like France Telecom and Deutsche Bank, who are leveraging their shared service centers in Mauritius to expand and consolidate their African footprint.”
“They are tapping into our solid infrastructure, telecom, language capabilities, educated workforce and a transparent regulatory environment – besides of course the ease of doing business in the country.”
“This is a testament to our progress in the ICT industry within such a short span of time of five years. We are also 19th globally and 1st in Africa in terms of ease of doing business, according to a recent study by World Bank.”
Going forward, and thinking ICT in the larger context, Mauritius is already spearheading a national plan for reducing carbon footprint and becoming ecologically sustainable through emphasis on utilizing renewable sources for energy.
Mr. Poonosamy went on to say, “In retrospect, it is interesting to muse about the dismissals the nation encountered right after our independence in 1968, when the term ‘basket case’ was used to describe Mauritius. The growth of the economy during the 1960’s was also slow and uneven – it averaged less than 1% per annum.”
The sugar sector was still the principal economic force, accounting for nearly all the export earnings and for 53,310 jobs out of a total employment of 138,170 in 1967.
Poonoosamy said: “Today we have GDP per capita of US$9000. We have a growing middle and elite class in Mauritius. We have a high literacy rate and mobile penetration currently stands at 110% of the population. The internet is also made available island-wide. We have fiber optic cable that connects us globally with international gateway capacity.”
There is no doubt that the island paradise has indeed come a long way and is ready to take its place as an equal with more established BPO destinations.