Bridging the Chasm: Tackling the Knowledge Gap in the Large-Scale Infrastructure Industry. – Femi Awofala

In an age of unprecedented technological advancement and global connectivity, it’s no secret that large-scale infrastructure projects are the lifeblood of any nation’s progress. The predictions that 26 African countries will double their population in the next 30 years suggesting that the increase of demand for electricity will increase by 93% by 2035 and 47% of roads will need to be paved to keep up with the continuous economic growth show the vast viability for the infrastructure development industry. The World Economic Forum has stated that Africa runs the risk of sacrificing about 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) growth per annum, without adequate infrastructure endowment. Roads, bridges, airports, and power plants form the backbone of a nation’s development, facilitating economic growth and enhancing quality of life. However, the success of these projects do not come to life on the wings of bricks and steel alone but on knowledge. The knowledge gap and need for capacity building in large-scale infrastructure is a challenge that looms large and clear.

The African Development Bank studies have suggested that the continent’s needs for infrastructure amount to $130-$170 billion a year by 2025 with a financing gap in the range of $68-$108 billion. These recent figures are higher when compared to previous reports published by Agence Francaise de developpement and the World bank which were estimates of $93 billion in annual needs and annual financing gap of $31 billion. The infrastructure consortium of Africa has shown that poor roads,and rails inhibit infrastructure while adding 30-40% to the costs of goods traded among African countries.The question is ,what can we do to fix this ?

It has been rightly stated that knowledge is power and to that I will add , capacity building .For project finance and large scale infrastructure projects to be thoroughly executed, project sponsors must have adequate knowledge. Insight into the processes and necessary parameters of delivering a top notch project are non negotiable skills. When these skills are integrated with fully formed capacity , a ́bankable’ project is realized. Large-scale infrastructure projects often entail intricate planning, design, and execution. They require the harmonious collaboration of a variety of experts. In essence, it’s a complex orchestra where each instrument must play in perfect harmony. But what happens when some instruments are out of tune or missing altogether? That’s precisely what we’re facing when we talk about the knowledge gap in large-scale infrastructure.

The need to create a learning programme to fill the gap in the infrastructure space by helping first time sponsors in Africa gain the requisite information and provide a platform for continuous learning is vital . To tackle this gap of awareness in the large scale infrastructure industry, one must fully appreciate and grasp the basic project finance awareness to create synergy with other project stakeholders and be able to appreciate finance principles and pillars that affect the value of these projects . It is not enough to know there is an early development stage or financing stage in a project development and financing cycle. One must sufficiently have the capacity to deliver at each of these stages while maintaining a variety of interests and delivering on the project at hand.

There have also been instances where the basic knowledge of limited resource financing is available but has not been successfully translated into a viable project . It’s one thing to have knowledge and another to have the capacity to translate it into actionable , workable solutions . The large scale infrastructure industry has been earmarked by inability to attract the right investor and lender funding , failure to mitigate risk properly and inadvertently lack of completion of designated projects .The lack of attention to environmental and social impacts while navigating the myriads of policy restrictions

and inadequate legal framework are issues faced in the industry . These however are surmontable with the right skillset and innovation .It can be rightly stated that lenders hate surprises and when there is no clear framework for project finance, there is no funding for such. For project sponsors to be able to tick the right boxes in large scale infrastructure projects they need the right knowledge .

The ripple effect of such a knowledge gap has left an industry with so much potential grossly undeveloped. The World bank study on infrastructure has highlighted that the poor state of infrastructure in sub saharan africa (electricity, roads,water) have reduced economic growth by 2% every year and cut business productivity by as much as 40%. Projects which would increase economic participation and viability while ensuring a better standard of living for citizens are not achieved . Mismanagement and losses are carried along the journey while attraction of foreign direct investment and lender financing are greatly reduced and a nation’s full potential in industrialization is hindered.

It is pertinent that as the numerous challenges especially the knowledge gap in the large scale infrastructure industry is discussed, a way forward is of necessity. One must not only look at the dark clouds but find the silver lining behind them.

Recognizing the knowledge gap in large-scale infrastructure is the first step towards addressing it. Here are some key strategies to bridge this chasm:
1. Collaboration and Communication: Encourage open dialogue

between project stakeholders, including local communities who are to be end users of these projects. Gathering local insights can lead to better planning and community buy-in.

2. Continuous Learning: Invest in ongoing education and training for professionals involved in infrastructure projects. Ensure they are up- to-date with the latest technologies and practices.

3. Project Management Excellence: Implement robust project management practices to streamline execution, minimize delays, and control costs.

4. Skill Development: Support vocational training programs to ensure a steady supply of skilled labor for construction projects.

5. Knowledge Sharing: Establish platforms for the exchange of knowledge and best practices among experts in the field.

6. Awareness of development in policies and environmental developments while maintaining a proactive approach to such.

In the grand symphony of large-scale infrastructure, every instrument must be in tune, and no notes should be missing. By ensuring the knowledge gap is addressed , we not only enhance the efficiency and success of such projects but also pave the way for a brighter and more connected future for our communities . At Brickstone through the platform of The African Catalyst, we believe in making African infrastructure happen. We strongly advocate that the first step is acquiring the necessary knowledge . The use of a proactive capacity building and training programme laced with bankability analysis and commercial analysis are non negotiable. We understand that to strengthen this industry we must first empower project sponsors with the right knowledge . After the right knowledge comes development of the right capacity and strong ethics to ensure that whatever infrastructure project is brought to fulfillment. We translate decades of project finance experience into simple and relative terms , bridging the gap one project sponsor at a time.

The first step we can take to fix this alarming gap in large scale infrastructure development is to obtain requisite knowledge. The time has come to take action and work collectively towards creating a harmonious infrastructure landscape that truly benefits all. It’s not just dreaming of a better tomorrow but taking tangible steps. Your registration for the course at Africa Infrapreneurs Program is your first step towards making a difference. Join us in this journey of change ,one bridge, one road , one railway at a time.

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