Overwhelmingly, the recurring theme was Africa -- not the politically unstable, war-torn North Africa that is in the news daily, but sub-Saharan Africa.
From those discussions and my subsequent research, I believe the continent is roughly where China was 15 years ago on the development and investment scale.
Africa comprises 54 countries, all with different political systems, risks and degrees of sophistication and infrastructure. As such, from an investor's perspective, I would recommend a broad-based mutual fund, for instance, the Nile Pan-Africa Fund or an exchange-trade fund such as Market Vectors Index to achieve this exposure.
According to former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, who spoke to the group, the two largest investment opportunities are in infrastructure and energy -- two sectors that have also been identified by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (see: Mapping Support for Africa's Infrastructure Investment and The Role of Private Investment in Boosting Africa's Energy Infrastructure).
In terms of population, Africa, like China, has more than a billion consumers and prospects for consumer-facing companies are vast. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, if Africa maintains its current growth trajectory, consumers will buy $1.4 trillion worth of goods and services in 2020, roughly in line with India's projected spending and more than Russia's predicted $960 billion.
One entrepreneur -- Akram Khreis, founder and CEO of International Beverages Consultancy -- has already seized this opportunity. Khreis founded the company in 2000 after leaving PepsiCo , where he served as a senior executive.
Since then, he has made the company, which is based in Jordan, a market leader providing infrastructure support for the food and beverage industry: International Beverage Consultancy now has an 80% market share in Africa and employs more than 300 people. Not bad, considering Khreis started the company with $7,000.
As entrepreneurs like Khreis continue to build businesses to tap the vast opportunities that Africa offers, I believe investors can make significant gains.
At the time of publication, the author owned shares of Pepsi.
At the time of publication the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.