East Africa Brazil: Your Local Partner for Project Finance, Infrastructure, and Agri-Business Solutions

Interview with João Ramos, Managing Partner at East Africa Brazil International

Could you provide an overview of your background and professional activities? Your involvement in diverse businesses, notably across Africa and beyond, suggests you serve as a bridge between businesses and different regions. Could you share insights into your experiences and the value you offer in this role?

I consider myself a business advisor, primarily because of the lessons learned from past failures. It is often said that failure is the best teacher, and I have certainly found this to be true. My journey began in Africa, where I have spent the last 12 years since 2012, initially as a civil engineer. Alongside my engineering role in Mozambique, I ventured into diverse businesses, such as automotive mechanics and property rehabilitation for rentals, seizing opportunities as they arose.

Starting out as a young, inexperienced individual from Europe, I faced numerous challenges adapting to the realities of doing business in Africa. The abrupt shifts in economic landscapes, as seen in Mozambique’s sudden downturn, further emphasized the complexities and instabilities inherent in the region. Transitioning between countries, I gained invaluable insights as a Country Manager, navigating diverse cultural landscapes. Subsequently, my stint in a large corporate engineering firm provided a deep understanding of corporate strategies and operations.

Venturing into business development and advisory services, I partnered with seasoned advisors, leveraging their extensive expertise. Drawing from a wealth of experiences spanning diverse sectors, including agriculture, I have honed a holistic approach to business consultancy. My aim is to help businesses structure themselves for success while minimizing risks, a task often hindered by misconceptions and lack of international perspective.

Gaining insight into the diverse dynamics of local markets has been pivotal throughout my journey. This understanding has been honed through extensive experience within various African business landscapes. Each region presents its unique set of challenges and opportunities, emphasizing the importance of adapting strategies accordingly. Whether navigating through economic fluctuations, regulatory frameworks, or consumer behaviors, my approach is rooted in comprehending the specific realities of each locality. This localized perspective is instrumental in devising effective business strategies and mitigating risks.

After over a decade of multifaceted experiences, I find myself uniquely positioned to offer comprehensive business advisory services. My journey underscores the importance of embracing diverse perspectives and continuously learning from both successes and setbacks.

We have observed your participation in multiple organizations, like East Africa Brazil Ltd and the Portuguese Business Council. Could you specify your primary affiliation? Also, regarding companies with “Brazil” in their names, does this indicate exclusive collaboration with Brazilian and East African businesses?

My main focus is East Africa Brazil Ltd. The inclusion of “Brazil” in the company’s name, East Africa Brazil Ltd, stems from its founding partners – two Kenyans and one Brazilian. The original vision, dating back to 2011, was to establish a connection between Brazil and East Africa. Our Brazilian partner possesses extensive networks in Brazil, facilitating partnerships for companies seeking entry into the African market. When I joined the team, I broadened our scope by leveraging my European and US networks, enhancing our Brazilian connections. Additionally, our team members bring diverse expertise; the Brazilians specialize in agriculture, one Kenyan is an experienced architect, another excels as a project manager, while I contribute engineering experience gained from large corporations. Together, we offer a comprehensive range of services, leveraging our combined strengths. While we maintain significant ties with Brazil, our focus extends beyond the Brazilian market.

Could you elaborate on your competitive advantage? How do you set yourself apart from other advisors? What distinguishes your company?

Our primary competitive edge lies in our extensive network. Many of my contacts affectionately refer to me as “Mr. Fixer” because I can provide solutions or connect them with relevant individuals or resources in various industries. Over the years, I have cultivated relationships with major investors, development finance institutions (DFIs), and large corporations spanning Portugal, Mozambique, South Africa, Brazil, and the US. Being based in Nairobi, Kenya, has been instrumental in this regard.

You have noticed the range of organizations listed on my LinkedIn profile, which was a deliberate strategy to expand my network. For instance, founding the Portuguese Business Council aimed to establish a presence for Portuguese companies in Kenya and enhance business opportunities between the two regions. Similarly, my involvement in founding the European Business Council locally has further broadened our access to international companies seeking investment opportunities.

This network is crucial because it bridges the gap between local businesses and international corporations. Many local entrepreneurs lack direct access to international markets or investors, which is where I come in as a facilitator and connector. Additionally, having local partners further strengthens our ability to facilitate and connect businesses effectively. In essence, we serve as facilitators and connectors between local and international companies, leveraging our network for mutual benefit.

Could you share some project examples to illustrate your work? This would give readers a better understanding of how you can assist and why they should consider engaging with you.

Certainly, agriculture serves as a prime example. Recently, I had a conversation with a longtime friend whom I met years ago playing football informally. He happens to be a farmer facing challenges in Kenya’s agricultural landscape. We discussed the dwindling presence of mechanized agriculture and the subsequent struggles faced by smallholder farmers, particularly in accessing markets without falling prey to exploitative brokers.

With the expertise of my Brazilian partner, who has a rich background in agriculture, we aim to introduce methodologies akin to those employed in Brazil during the 70s and 80s. These methodologies, tailored to suit the African context, hold promise for replication and adaptation. The key lies not in merely copying past successes but in understanding the local reality, culture, and community dynamics. Our approach involves active community engagement, empowerment, and securing funding avenues essential for project sustainability.

Our role extends beyond providing know-how; we strive to foster meaningful partnerships conducive to project success. By leveraging our collective expertise and local insights, we aim to make tangible differences in agricultural practices, ensuring long-term viability and impact.

Could you share a different industry example of your role and process, besides agriculture? You mentioned project structuring and presenting to financial institutions, which might not apply universally. Could you elaborate on your process?

Certainly, within the construction and real estate sphere, my partners, including developers, architects, and project managers, collectively bring a wealth of experience. As an engineer, I have engaged in numerous discussions concerning project viability, funding challenges, and maximizing returns on investment in this sector. We excel in developing bankable projects tailored to the specific needs of our clients.

While I contribute technical expertise, we collaborate with a diverse range of consultants to ensure comprehensive project development. For instance, when crafting financial models, we partner with specialized consultants to bridge any gaps in our capabilities. This collaborative approach extends across various industries; for infrastructure projects, we engage with one set of consultants, while for other businesses, we seek out partners adept at aligning business narratives with financial objectives.

In essence, our expertise lies not just in structuring projects but in orchestrating a cohesive narrative that resonates with potential financiers, thereby enhancing our clients’ chances of securing funding across different sectors.

What projects are you currently working on?

We are heavily focused on a proposal for a water Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project here in Kenya, in collaboration with our agriculture partners. Navigating new infrastructure projects in the region has proven challenging due to government debt constraints, leading to increased interest in PPPs. However, garnering international investor interest for such projects is time-consuming due to the complexity of the process, especially in areas like water, where private investment must align with public welfare. Despite these challenges, we believe we have a promising approach supported by our technical expertise, a strong track record, and international partners willing to invest. We have completed initial due diligence on our proposal and are preparing for discussions with the government to explore opportunities and address project feasibility. With capable international partners and a solid technical team, we are optimistic about the project’s potential success.

Could you share any updates beyond project developments? Are there any changes or new initiatives within the company?

Certainly, besides ongoing projects, another area I am currently exploring involves the potential launch of a commodity trading company later this year. Leveraging our extensive network, we are actively engaged in facilitating connections not only for international entities seeking entry into the region but also for local companies looking to access global markets. While it is a complex endeavor, we are gradually navigating the process and gaining valuable insights. The plan is to establish a formal company in this domain in the near future. So, that is the latest news.

What types of partners are you currently seeking? Could you describe the characteristics of the partners you are looking for?

We are interested in collaborating with construction conglomerates or similar large groups that possess the capacity and expertise to develop infrastructure, including water, energy, and agricultural projects. Additionally, we value partners with a proven track record of executing similar projects across various African regions. We are also open to engaging with groups that are active in other areas but are keen on expanding their operations here. So, these are the kinds of companies and groups we mainly seek partnerships with.

How do you envision the development of East Africa Brazil International in the next three to five years?

Our vision is to transition into developers, initiating our own projects without the hurdle of securing initial funding. Leveraging our experience, technical capabilities, and partnerships, we understand the necessary processes and steps to ensure project success. The goal is to undertake projects from inception, which is often the most challenging phase in this region. Once projects are executed, many of the inherent risks diminish, attracting a broader range of investors interested in established ventures. We aim to invest in early-stage projects, develop them to readiness, and then either sell or attract further investment at a later stage and at a higher valuation.

ABOUT EAB: East Africa Brazil Limited aims to provide top-tier project finance, infrastructure, and agri-business advice and service to clients in East Africa. Founded by professionals with varied backgrounds in Project Management, Architecture, Engineering, Agriculture, and Logistics, EAB has extensive networks ranging from major consulting firms and EPC contractors to financing and equity funds.

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