Focus on OPIC’s diaspora partners: Belstar Capital’s Arthur Polk
Second in a series of posts looking at OPIC’s work with diaspora partners. See the first post here.
In its work supporting global development around the world, OPIC recognizes members of diaspora communities as valuable partners who bring not only a strong understanding of a particular country or region but also a strong motivation to support economic growth in these places.
Arthur Polk, CEO of Belstar Capital Ltd., a Miami-based OPIC partner that serves as the lead investor in in some major infrastructure projects in Ghana, was born in the United States but has spent much of the past two decades in Africa. At Belstar, he works on projects that are bringing sweeping improvements to Ghana’s healthcare system and water supply. Earlier this year OPIC awarded Belstar an Impact Award for its work on Ghana’s National Medical Equipment Modernization Project, which is supported with OPIC political risk insurance.
Here Polk talks about how having roots on two continents has helped him in his work with an American investor supporting investment in Ghana.
Explain how you came to have strong roots in both Ghana and the United States.
I was born in Laurel, Mississippi, raised mostly in Kansas City, Missouri and went to college and graduate school in Tennessee, New York and Massachusetts. After graduate school I worked on Wall Street and started traveling to Africa for work and to visit friends and classmates from Africa. My business partner Kofi Ampim, who was born in Ghana, and I have been friends and business partners since the late 1970s.
For more than two decades I have been a permanent resident of Ghana and Nigeria, while also maintaining a U.S. home. Belstar’s business development and execution requires boots on the ground in Africa as well as frequent visits to the U.S.
How do these ties support your work in development?
To properly execute a development project, you need a thorough understanding of the local business and government environment and an understanding of a country’s needs so that when making decisions on which projects to pursue, you know which projects offer the potential to add the most value. Local populations must be consulted and government development objectives must be considered in project determination and selection.
At the same time, it is important to understand where in the U.S. you can find support for economic development and investment. Without sourcing this support, development finance is scarce to nonexistent. Having an understanding of the U.S. business world is fundamental to the success of many development projects in Africa.
And on a more personal level, I would say that my roots on both continents have helped me develop trust both in Africa and in America. Sometimes, even though both sides are speaking English, they are not understanding each other. I believe that I can help everyone understand each other better and ultimately achieve the necessary trust to move forward to a successful transaction closing.
How has living in Africa given you perspective on some major development challenges?
Living in Ghana offers firsthand experience in recognizing the problems that the local population faces on a daily basis. Understanding these problems and the constraints in solving these problems is best learned through experience. Visiting and living with my partner’s family and friends is the best teacher, as it would be in any country. When we apply some economic development approaches that are utilized successfully here in the U.S., these approached must be modified to work in countries where there is a lack of mental, physical and financial infrastructure already in place in the U.S.