Understanding Countries Drives Africa Fund Manager’s Strategy

In an effort to continue learning about different regions around the world, Robert Scharar – Commonwealth Fund’s Africa Fund portfolio manager and advisor – visited Africa in June. Touring the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Trading Region, Scharar spent a considerable amount of time in Ethiopia where there currently isn’t a public stock market, but work to open the economy to external investors is progressing.

As part of his investment philosophy, Scharar finds it imperative to visit countries and regions around the world because as he says, “You can never really know a place unless you get to know its people and the vibrancy and pulse of their economy.”

While technology has allowed us to “travel” without leaving the comfort of our home, the internet cannot provide authentic experiences that drive our decisions. Going to places and seeing first-hand the culture, consumers, and businesses gives a person the insight necessary for a disciplined investment approach.

During his time in Ethiopia, Scharar met with a variety of people. This included a tour of Maji Coffee, an organic roaster in Ethiopia, with Tutu Bekele of Bekele Molla, PLC. Along for the visit was Honorable Gezahgen Kebede, Honorary Consul General of Ethiopia. Through these relationships – and those with people from all over the world – Scharar looks beyond the numbers to determine investment potential. He gets to know businesses and management on a personal level to ask his own questions and review more than just the analytics.

Also while in Africa, Scharar visited construction sites, tourist destinations, hotels and a university, He spoke with people in a variety of industries including banking and insurance. Through his travels, he was able to see Ethiopia for the bustling country that it is. Scharar saw the broad picture and came to an understanding about the viability of a future stock market there based on the interactions he had with the citizens.

Taking the time to understand people and their homeland has been Scharar’s priority as he continues to invest globally. There is a wealth of information out there to make sound investment decisions – information that cannot be fully grasped until you go to new places and open yourself up to learn it.

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