Bob Geldof delivered a rousing speech to the Biba conference calling on insurance companies to help build the African economy. Danny Walkinshaw reports.

At last week’s Biba conference in Glasgow, keynote speaker Bob Geldof was happy to admit he knew very little about the insurance world, except from his own experience of insuring his home and car.

However, Geldof’s lack of knowledge did not deny him an opportunity to address industry figures on how they could help develop business in Africa by providing political risk insurance to companies operating in the continent, and so help him in his crusade to fight poverty, famine and genocide.

Geldof’s inspirational address varied from stories of his deprived youth, to becoming a rock and roll icon, his first encounter with poverty in Africa, and meeting US President George W Bush.

But his overall message, given that he was talking to “a bunch of insurance sellers”, was to call on insurance companies to play their part in developing the African economy to a sustainable level.

Speaking to Insurance Times, Geldof said the insurance industry could play a key role in the development of third world countries.

“Unless you get political risk insurance you don’t get capital inroads into Africa from the West,” he said. “I don’t know this world and so when you come to a beanfeast like this and you talk to the head people in the industry maybe you plant a seed; one, that it is a great business opportunity perhaps and somebody should pick up on that, and two, maybe we should put something forward or propose something to the UK government.

“That is the thing that will unleash vast quantities of funds going into the continent.”

He recalled the television news broadcast that first prompted his anti-poverty campaign and the Feed the World single in the 1980s. He insisted that UK insurance firms could also make a massive difference in Africa. “I know for a fact that if there is political risk insurance, you can turn on a tap that will free up millions of dollars to go into African economies,” he said.

Geldof called on the assembled delegates to use their business acumen to fulfill moral goals, saying: “It seems to me that you guys by definition are top of your game. But no matter how top of your game you are, it can’t be the sum of who you are.”

He added that by helping develop business in Africa, the assembled delegates could fulfill themselves personally as well as professionally.

Geldof emphasised that businesses from other parts of the world, particularly China, were already extremely active in Africa, and said that Europe risked being left behind. He added that he had taken many risks in his life to get to where he is today. But in Africa, opportunities for entrepreneurs were scarce.

“I left school and I just went for it,” he explained. “You go around and just try to accumulate experience that leads to a certain point in your life. There are no structures or institutions like yours in Africa that allow people to get going.”

He added: “All life is risk and not even to attempt to fail is to deny life. It comes around one time and it seems to me that the only crime is wasting time. That’s it and so you take a risk, I think the foolish take uncalculated risks and most of us take calculated risk, and then some will call in you guys to help us hedge that experiment in life.”

Geldof told his audience that the business model of insurance firms in the UK would be suited to help businesses in Africa.

He said: “One of the things that inhibits [businesses going into Africa] is political risk insurance. What they don’t have in Africa are the structures that you people have learned to build here. Business, SMEs and entrepreneurs, people who inevitably see life as risk and are prepared to do it and prepared to fail publically. Humiliation is a moment, just get on with it.”

Despite not knowing much about the insurance market itself, Geldof was certainly able to relate his passion for Africa to the role played by the industry. And this time, he wasn’t just asking for money.