Leading infrastructure development solutions for Africa
Bigen Africa’s vision is to improve the quality of life for all through the development of sustainable infrastructure solutions
Writer Annette Van Zyl & Emily Jarvis
Project manager Stuart Shirra
Bigen Africa, established in 1971, has evolved into a leading infrastructure development company operating in the health, education, agriculture, water and sanitation, property, energy, road, rail and mining sectors.
The company has successfully expanded the delivery of infrastructure projects from its original South African base into other African countries – first expanding into neighbouring countries and, during the past few years, in line with its Africa expansion strategy, into West Africa, which will be followed by ventures in East Africa. The company now operates from sixteen offices across Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Ghana, with formal representation in Kenya, Nigeria, Congo Brazzaville, DRC, Madagascar and Mauritius.
The company’s in-house capabilities and strategic partnerships enable it to integrate the entire value chain in the infrastructure process – from feasibility studies through project preparation, management and implementation to development finance and ongoing asset management. this approach creates cost effective, sustainable projects and sets it apart from other engineering companies.
Sustainability is further entrenched through its principle of “doing good while doing business”, which aims to improve the quality of life of all stakeholders in its infrastructure solutions. Optimum impact on community stakeholders is ensured through the Intuthuko Foundation, a non-profit organisation Bigen Africa established in cooperation with other project stakeholders. Intuthuko addresses socio-economic development imperatives by acting as a facilitator and mobiliser of funds for integrated development projects and a catalyst for creating socioeconomic investment opportunities for corporates through coordinating strategic partnerships.
“Bigen Africa is constantly identifying changing industry needs and adapting to meet them, to position itself as the thought-leading multinational infrastructure development consultancy with core capabilities in engineering, management consulting and development finance,” says Dr Snowy Khoza, CEO. Goal-setting is based on the company’s five-year strategy, S-Vision 2016, which has motivated the strengthening of a competent leadership core to drive growth in both the public and private sectors.
The company recognises the business benefits of consistent investment in its staff, building skills and capacity to make it an employer of choice. Tools to achieve competency and career growth include performance management, integrated across the organisation to effectively determine the accurate calculation of individual performance scores based on individually-agreed objectives. Performance plans are aligned with the overall short- and long-term strategic and financial objectives of the company.
African Challenges and Opportunities
“We attribute our success in Africa to our in-depth understanding of the continent’s unique challenges and expectations, accelerated by our approach to project implementation, fund mobilisation, job creation, poverty alleviation, skills transfer and indigenisation requirements,” says Dr Khoza.
Africa poses both risks and opportunities:
● Political risks, including corruption and land or asset expropriation;
● Insufficient developed human capital;
● A lack of proper planning and coordination of natural resources;
● Economic disparity between countries;
● Rapid population growth;
● Weak institutional and legal frameworks in some countries;
● Governments which struggle to roll out infrastructure projects due to fiscal or manpower constraints;
● The price of exports out of Africa has increased as trading has improved.
● The African economy is growing. Increased foreign direct investment is flowing into the continent. R593 billion has been invested in Africa by South African businesses;
● Africa’s demographic factors and its demographic pyramid point to its percentage of world population increasing, both as far as youth and ageing population are concerned, as a result of its higher fertility rate than other continents;
● Old-age dependencies will have an impact on public finance;
● Regional trade has overlaps and inconsistencies and requires streamlining, including efficient and transparent border services; and
● Private-sector interest in Africa is growing and participation in public sector infrastructure programmes should be stimulated.
“Bigen Africa aims to accommodate these challenges and opportunities in its capacity as a development activist and public sector activist, and through partnering with its private sector colleagues,” says Dr Khoza “The infrastructure development gap in sub-Saharan Africa is not narrowing and it will require all stakeholders to work together to close it. Bigen Africa group remains a partner of choice in this regard.”
Dr Khoza went on to say that “Bigen Africa aim to provide sustainable solutions to these challenges covering road infrastructure, bridge design and construction, electricity provision, water supply and treatment, telecommunications services, housing, construction and project feasibility studies. Our approach will unlock infrastructure development across a wide sphere of infrastructure development enablers and activities, including knowledge-sharing, cross-border cooperation, infrastructure funding, accountability and dialogue.”
Innovation and Collaboration
Bigen Africa encourages innovation within its ranks and amongst collaborators to keep finding improved solutions to development dilemmas experienced by clients. Superior relationships and resources provide the company with more impactful projects and operations.
Currently Bigen Africa is partnered, through Prodelko, with Australian-based wave International as its mining international partner.
During 2013 the company strengthened ties with various international consultancies seeking to establish a presence in Africa and which have limited overlapping capabilities with Bigen Africa and no existing partnerships in sub-Saharan Africa. The group’s relationship with Cardno has progressed to a level of common strategic fit, as evidenced by the successful conclusion of the Australia aid Partnership Facility [AAPF].
Bigen Africa has also signed an MOU with Parsons Brinckerhoff [PB], a wholly-owned affiliate of the Balfour Beatty group. PB is already based in the RSA and various initiatives in the energy, transport [rail] and SIP programme of the RSA government are being pursued. The company has also finalised a preliminary working relationship with a leading French-speaking consultancy, aimed primarily at joint projects development within francophone Africa. This consultancy is also already based in the RSA, which serves to reduce the normal language barriers experienced in similar partnerships.
On certain large and complex projects inter-divisional factors dictate the need for executive decisions as to which division should lead a particular project and which person or external organisation should lead the customer relationship function and/or institutional risk management. The executive fulfils these functions through the Group’s Project Integration Committee [PIC] and its Africa Committee [AFCOM]. Regional intelligence and relations are directed for the Group by those executive members responsible for the operating regions.
In the same manner that Bigen Africa adheres to South African B-BBEE guidelines, it respects countries’ transformation policies, be it affirmative action, localisation or citizen empowerment, because transformation is a prerequisite for fairness and equity, stability within a political economy and new business development, including access to decision-makers and procurement responsiveness and preference. Enterprise development forms an important pillar of the company’s transformation drive in projects it embarks on and it complements its commitment to doing good while doing business.
It’s All about Strategy
Bigen Africa has developed its S-Vision 16 strategy as an overall guide for both business planning and day-to-day operations. It also formalises the company’s evolution from an engineering consultancy to an infrastructure development firm that provides the full spectrum of services in engineering, management consulting and development financing and advisory services.
The strategy encompasses business development, strategic partnerships, geographical expansion, corporate restructure, human capital development and financial objectives, all ultimately aimed at enabling the provision of sustainable infrastructure development in Africa. Bigen Africa aims for full capability in assisting countries to address their key emerging public policy priorities which, amongst others, include integrated human settlements, rural development, renewable energy, road and rail freight transport, operation and maintenance of existing infrastructure.
Bigen is expanding its asset management, roads, rail and transport, and energy sector focus, while continuing to excel in water and sanitation, human settlement, structures, and development financing sectors.
Ground-breaking Projects in a Growing Market
The growth strategy into West Africa is spearheaded through the establishment of Bigen Africa Ghana Limited with a first office registered in Accra. The launch of Bigen Africa into Ghana in 2013 was supported strongly by engagement in local strategic partnerships with notably Jescan Construction and Lithos Corporation. Presentation of the Bigen Africa capabilities to a range of financial institutions in Accra has been very well received.
A focused approach has been adopted in order to optimise investment towards establishing a sustainable revenue stream. To this end, Bigen Africa has been engaged by STX Ghana Engineering and Construction Limited to assess the feasibility and development of an appropriate delivery model for an estimated 30 000 housing units to the armed forces in Ghana. The initiative is co-funded by the South African Department of Trade and Industry Capital Project Feasibility Programme as part of its export promotion drive.
In South Africa, the company will continue to assist the government in achieving national development goals through infrastructure development projects focusing, amongst others, on roads, housing, schools and water and electricity provision.
The company has many projects both locally and further afield, including programme management and support to the Department of Basic Education in the implementation of the R12 billion, SIP 13, Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), currently delivering on average one completed school per week and an electrification project in Ethiopia providing electricity for 100 000 rural villagers.
Secret to Delivering Infrastructure Solutions
The secret to Bigen Africa’s success is a culmination of all facets of the company: a strong history of value-add and innovation in engineering solutions over decades, which formed the foundation for its S-Vision 2016, which is an all encompassing, activist approach to delivering solutions that benefit client, community and country. This approach will increase its lead in delivering infrastructure to the continent.
Partnerships feature prominently in Bigen Africa’s growth strategy and its value proposition stresses that the company integrates the entire value chain in infrastructure development through in-house capabilities and strategic partnerships. Bigen Africa aims to build, through strategic partnering, its capabilities in the renewable energy, rails, mining and industrial, mechanical engineering and project delivery services.
Besides partnering with African governments, Bigen Africa aims to extend its Africa footprint through partners in the construction industry and international partners in mining and industrial, energy, asset and revenue management, real estate, international finance and rail. At Bigen Africa’s first Partnership Conference last year, respected industry specialists conferred for this purpose.
Effective Supply Chain
Bigen Africa’s supply chain involves unique processes which ensure the effective operation of the supply management process and exceptional risk management thereof. Divisional supply chain administrators and risk officers manage risks pertaining to the supply chain in the company. With regard to procurement, quality management is stringent and involves in situ inspections of manufacturing processes, even if it means travelling outside the continent of Africa. As far as possible, local suppliers, partners and labour are utilised on project sites, however far afield, as this agrees with the company’s vision of improving the quality of life of all through the development of sustainable infrastructure solutions, and its principle of “doing good while doing business”. The Bigen Africa Group is ISO 9001 (2008) certified and compliant. Bigen Africa has resolved to drive towards the international standard ISO 31000 (2009) – Integrated Risk Management.
Bigen Africa’s excellence has been recognised through numerous awards – both nationally and internationally – over the years, for achievements in sustainable growth, professional management and business excellence, and for its commitment to empowerment. Recent awards are ranked in the top five for engineering consultancies in South Africa, and ranked in the top 500 companies in South Africa.
Last year, the company was awarded “mentor of the year” in the annual Council for Engineering South Africa awards. Bigen Africa mentors registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa were identified and aligned to the candidate programme and a comprehensive process of mentorship and coaching was undertaken.
Tel: +27 (0) 12 842 8700