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The Interview Series with Jos Maria Figueres, Former President of Costa Rica and Former CEO of World Economic Forum


Figueres PHOTO:

Figueres PHOTO:

There is no reason why either Nigeria or Costa Rica cannot participate in these more modern activities of the global economy. What holds us back is a lack of innovation and imagination-Jose Maria Figueres.

José María Figueres Olsen (born in San José, Costa Rica, December 24, 1954), is a Costa Rican businessman, and politician. After he left the presidency of Costa Rica in 1998, Figueres has also been involved in global issues such as climate change, sustainable development, and technology. Figueres was born in the Costa Rican capital of San Jose and is the son of former president José “Pepe” Figueres Ferrer (1953-1958 and 1970-1974). Figueres received a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1979 and a master’s degree in public affairs from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Law and Government in 1991. Figueres served as president and general manager of Sociedad Agroindustrial San Cristobal. He also served as Costa Rica’s minister of agriculture from 1988 to 1990, and as minister of foreign trade in 1988.

He started his career as an engineer working in agribusiness. After a decade, he entered public service as Minister of Foreign Trade and then Minister of Agriculture. In 1994, he was elected President of Costa Rica, as the nation’s youngest elected president of the 20th century. In 2000, he joined the World Economic Forum in Switzerland where he was also the CEO of World Economic Forum. Later, he worked with Concordia 21 in Madrid.

Presently, he wears many hats and since 2010, he has been Chairman of the Carbon War Room, an independent non-profit organization focused on the global transition to a low-carbon economy. On March 27, 2012, Sir Richard Branson announced that he was appointed as the new President of the Carbon War Room.

On the sidelines of the Access Conference 2015, I met and interviewed President Jose Maria Figueres. Do read the excerpts of the Youtube audio interview.

Good afternoon Sir, lets meet you and do give us an insight into how you transformed your country whilst President.
Thank you so much Sir. My name is Jose Maria Figueres and I was the President of Costa Rica (1994-1998). Let me start by saying that I am delighted to be in Nigeria. This is a country with a tremendous amount of opportunities, resources and possibilities. But the most impressive thing it has is the quality of its people, its population growth, its young generation. And on that I believe the country can go very far. This Access Conference has been all about the subject of innovation because in the world we live in today, it is important to innovate with respect to everything we do.

What I mean about that is this, I am sure, we can always find better ways to do the things we have been doing for years and that we would find innovative approaches to problem solving and challenges, if we set our minds to think on how to grapple with the problem in an “out-of-the-box” solution. That type of solution is very much what has helped s in Costa Rica to become a middle income economy.

How was this achieved?
We have used a lot of our natural resources to be a country that develops itself much more with the environment. We have privileged renewable energy resources mainly; hydro-electric, wind, geo-thermo and now some solar. And we have always tried to combine the economy with the environment, fully recognising that. That is first of all, a responsibility we all have to our planets to maintain it in a better shape. And second of all, it makes a lot of sense, to be able to develop the economy with the environment. So, that type of philosophy plus innovation and a lot of investments in our schooling system and education, has allowed us to be able to advance perhaps a bit more than some of our neighbours.

Sir, this is not your first time in Nigeria. How do you think, Nigeria can drive innovation?
When one looks at Nigeria and studies its development, there is no doubt that this country has come a long way in the most recent years. The election you had 7-8months ago, with a peaceful transition from one democratic president to another one speaks highly of the strength of your democratic system and of the way you are approaching governance in your country.

Towards the future, in a world that had a challenging economic situation, with oil prices being half of what it used to be 2 years ago; Nigeria has to think of how it is going to be able to finance infrastructure and development and meet the needs of its people. Also, at the same time, it also has to entertain how with the lower oil prices; it is going to be able to finance everything it wants to do. So, one opportunity is to create an environment which is conducive to investment for Nigerians to invest in their country, for the Nigerian Diaspora and also for investors from other parts of the world. That would create jobs and well being of all and sundry
Another opportunity is for Nigeria to think of how she can diversify her economy which is a very important and relevant aspect of its responsibility moving forward because so far, Nigeria seems to be too dependent on oil. And she needs to be able to export the oil she has but also needs to be able to diversify the economy to create jobs, opportunities and well being.

In terms of innovation; what next for Nigeria and Costa Rica?
Every country has its own set of challenges and priorities. I believe there is a tremendous amount to be innovated in the agricultural sector here in Nigeria; so that agriculture becomes much more of an export for this country. I believe there is a lot to be done in the field of services and Access Bank and other banks in the filed of services have certainly innovated a tremendous amount in financial services. But there is also a lot of innovation that can take place in hardware and software and the world of the internet.
The world we are going into with cloud-computing and the internet of things i.e. big data. So, there is no reason why either Nigeria or Costa Rica cannot participate in these more modern activities of the global economy. What holds us back is a lack of innovation and imagination.
Mr President, thank you.
You’re welcome.

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