Luc Gérard was born in Boende in the former Equator Province. He graduated as a Commercial Engineer from ICHEC (Brussels) and as an MBA from IMD (Lausanne). He worked at the BBL (now ING), then Caterpillar and Philip Morris. He moved to Colombia in 2003 where he launched Tribeca, the first private investment fund of the country. In 2015, he decided to return to invest in Africa and in particular the DRC.
Mining & Business: You have chosen to invest in your native country. What are your priorities, ambitions and what is your vision?
Luc Gérard: My priority is to make a case study on the possibility to invest in Africa and the DRC in particular in non-extractive sectors and to build a sustainable and profitable business model that improves the quality of life of its customers. In my view, we must find a way to turn the fight against poverty and exclusion into business opportunities. This way, many people will tackle the problem, and the effect of their emulation will bring new and functional solutions. We want to focus on health, education, food, perhaps energy. In health or education, we have the human and technological solutions to provide a broad audience with accessible insurance. If we can organise quality education to 100,000 students, we will have contributed decisively to improve the Congolese society. However, I insist on the fact that we are not a philanthropic organisation but a commercial company with profitability requirements.
M & B: Can you tell us about your business model for health? In this area, the DRC is one of the worst learners in the world. How are you planning to change that?
LG: Traditional health systems are based on certain principles. First, hospitals and doctors work from what is called "acute care response", which means they're here to treat people when they are sick. So the care involved is a response to demand. When demand increases, supply increases. In countries like ours, where the population dynamics is very fast and where the State has limited resources to respond to rapid changes in demand, we accumulate a growing deficit of healthcare supply, as the population continues to grow, age and concentrate in cities. The inadequacy of health services arises not only regarding numbers of hospitals and doctors but also concerning geographical distribution and capacity of resolutions. With the ageing population, clinics that were built to treat infectious or paediatric diseases do not have the technical and human capabilities to deal with more complex and chronic diseases related to age. The second principle is the "pooling" of health care costs that minimises the cost of illness for households. Here, we face two problems: the small numbers of people able to pay and the inefficiency of the public social security system. Contributions to INSS and SONAS are lost to the population in the sense that they do not insure. But, being mandatory, they draw in the pocket of taxpayers and reduce their available capital to deal with diseases. For a middle-class family, it is sometimes the beginning of a downward spiral of debt. In our approach, the focus is on prevention of illness (education, prevention, vaccines, etc.) and quick support of the sick to avoid the escalation of costs, which makes it possible to offer an accessible affiliation system to many. To achieve this, we make heavy use of technology and information while ensuring strict medical protocols. We need to spread health centres well to provide a good geographical coverage and centralise complex cases in hospitals of expertise and training.
M & B: What can your company offer to Congolese businesses?
LG: Strategos Medical Solution (SMS), our subsidiary in the DRC, can support in full the health management of their employees and their families, as well as the occupational medicine. We develop the capacity of local resolutions in our facilities through partnerships with the best hospitals in the country. But we also bring in our medical specialists for the most severe cases or move patients to our hospitals abroad. Our information and management systems allow companies to have better control of health-related costs with substantial savings and online medical records restore control with regards to patient health.
M & B: Oil and gas, mining: what is your analysis of the situation in the DRC?
LG: The DRC’s mining potential is known to all. But I think that we are still far from being able to take advantage of this potential. Limitations in energy supply are a real barrier to the increase in the production and cause prohibitive production costs. Transport and export infrastructure remain problematic. The weakness of justice and business law means that we continue to be a market which is "banned" by the majors in these sectors who alone can invest. The insecurity of the borders and the presence of informal and illegal mines keep the mining industry struggling to get the place it deserves as the major contributor to the economy. The country has completely missed the big boom of the oil business in the last decade. Given current prices and stocks, it is unlikely that the major players in the sector will come to risk exploration in areas where safety and evacuation facilities are non-existent. Voluntary policies for the protection of investors and State participation in the reimbursement of certain exploration costs or the financing of energy generation can revive activity. Finally, medium-term, one should encourage the local processing of ores to increase added value, but above all create jobs. The country has a vital need for industrial jobs.
M & B: Where do you see the DRC in the next 20 years?
LG: We are at a historic crossroads. If we make the right choices today, our country can take a turn towards institutional consolidation and create a virtuous dynamic, which, by 2030, will make us the most important economic and political actor in Central Africa. The assets are there. Our subsoil is a major asset, but I think there is not enough interest in the surface. Our hydro-electric potential, our 80 million hectares of fertile farmland, our wildlife and our flora are all assets that can support several decades of economic growth. The DRC can give Africa a voice that she does not have today on global issues such as global warming, immigration, inequality, the fight against terrorism and money laundering. Finally, our wealth, our biggest wealth, is our people. It is necessary to be vigilant, because we may not make the right decisions, or to extend our inaction that will leave us without response to the 1.5 million people who arrive each year on the job market with precarious training. To the 350,000 retirees who can not retire due to the inexistence of a functional pension system, to the country's rapidly growing Islamisation that is funded from abroad, or to the skyrocketing deforestation and the plundering of our natural wildlife. Also, if you add a climate crisis that will push millions of Sudanese and Somalis to migrate in search of water or a conflict in Burundi that will spill over into our borders, you have all the elements of a humanitarian disaster from which our country will never recover.