Africa needs engineers as much as doctors to stop people dying needlessly, according to the South African entrepreneur Ivor Ichikowitz.
The industrialist says so many more people will survive if sanitation is made more effective, clean water better transported and other projects better maintained – that the importance of engineers to Africa should be put on a par with medical staff.
Ivor Ichikowitz is the founder of Paramount Group, Africa’s largest privately owned defence and aerospace business, which employs 1,500 people, including hundreds of highly skilled engineers.
He said: "Doctors are clearly essential, but all too often they end up reacting to medical emergencies such as natural disasters which are made worse through weak infrastructure due to a lack of adequate engineering skills.
"Across Africa, poor sanitation systems and environmental defences consistently lead to people requiring medical support, particularly during floods and droughts.
"If we dedicated more engineers and investment to pro-actively tackling these problems in the first place then we could save many more lives across the continent and doctors could tackle other emergencies."
According to research, South Africa, the most developed African state, only has 473 engineers per million people, as opposed to developed countries such as Japan which have 3,306 per million.
Engineers are critical to most economies, providing the backbone for large public projects such as hospitals, roads and environmental defences.
One of the sectors that promotes engineering talent is the defence industry, including Paramount Group, a South African company which manufactures equipment for peacekeeping, internal security and defence forces across the globe.
The ‘spill over’ effect created by demand for equipment amongst suppliers also stimulates the development of engineering skills throughout the economy.
Paramount Group is one of the fastest growing defence and aerospace companies in the world. Both the workforce and production in its SA land systems facility have more than doubled since the start of the year to meet global demand.
Under the leadership of Mr Ichikowitz, the group has seen annual growth soar by up to 50% year after year and turnover is expected to reach US$1billion by 2015.
The company is taking on the global manufacturers at their own game, shaking up the industry through a winning combination of 100% African design and engineering, (achieving world-class standards in new product design) and by developing with global partnerships to expand into new markets.
Entering the Middle East, South America and Asia has boosted demand for Paramount Group’s products, with even NATO countries now approaching the firm about its innovative and affordable defence solutions.
While global defence spending has suffered due to a slowing economy, in Africa it continues to increase, with governments understanding that internal peace and stability are as important as sound economic policy for further growth.
New-found oil and gas riches in a number of regions and the growing threat of terrorism has forced many African governments to bolster internal security and increase military spend.
Key to Paramount’s success is its approach to finance and manufacturing in an economically challenged era: offering emerging economies a complete defence and aerospace solution from protected/armoured vehicles to reconnaissance and supersonic aircraft, training, maintenance and life cycle support.
It also allows them to finance the cost over several years to smooth the budget as well as manufacture the armoured vehicles in their own countries, boosting jobs, skills and the overall economy.
However, it is the firm’s products that most demonstrate this African company’s innovativeness.
The company continues to build on its world-class product portfolio, launching the Marauder Patrol, a new highly protected light vehicle with best-in-class agility and adaptability at this year’s pan-African trade show, African Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2012.
The Marauder Patrol builds on the proven success of the iconic Marauder to set a new standard in protected utility vehicles, combining mobility and high levels of protection into a versatile platform.
It will be the best-protected vehicle in this light class providing a competitive advantage in the market. The Marauder Patrol is aimed at military, police and Special Forces that require an agile and quick response vehicle for tough environments. There is a huge global market for this vehicle where the firm believes it can become a major player.
Paramount Group is also the proud creator of Africa’s first domestically conceived, designed and built aircraft, AHRLAC, a flexible, affordable two-man aerial platform with a swelling order book.
Paramount is just one of several African innovators using technology to drive growth, provide jobs and boost the image of African abilities globally. Mr Ichikowitz said: "For Africa to reach its full potential we need to drive a new era of industrialisation across the continent.
"Africa has the potential to overtake Asia as the world’s manufacturing hub. The role of the defence and aerospace industry in this is critical but mostly its importance is widely underestimated.
"No advanced economy has developed without a strong defence industry. Africa will be no different. Paramount Group is a developmental asset and we hope to transfer our technology and skills to boost jobs and economies across the continent.
"South Africa, together with other developing nations such as Brazil, is already involved in defence collaboration. This is an important signal of a new era where developing nations will join forces to manufacture cutting-edge technologies that can compete globally and in time bolster the countries’ local economy and skills base."
However, beyond innovating and developing new technologies, Paramount Group’s prime business success comes from believing there is no limit to what Africans can achieve, if they only have the confidence to do so.
Mr Ichikowitz added: "Africa is proving that despite the global downturn it is one of the most innovative places in the world to do business. Across all sectors of the economy – particularly defence – its CEOs and workers are coming up with ground-breaking ideas that are essential to the future prosperity of the continent.
"The defence and aerospace sector is a prime example of how innovation plays a leading role in securing jobs and economic growth. At Paramount Group we are challenging conventional thinking with the same entrepreneurial flair powering our economy in these challenging times.
"The growth of firms such as Paramount is creating hundreds of hi-tech jobs, stimulating other sectors of the economy, such as IT, and creating revenue for the nation."