When Irene Yuan Sun was growing up in China, a soft drink was considered a luxury. “A generation ago, it was a society that lacked all these basic comforts,” she recalls. “As a kid, getting a Sprite was a real treat. That’s how poor China was.”
Now it’s a very different story, with China rated the world’s largest economy when judged on Purchasing Power Parity (a measure that adjusts countries’ GDPs for differences in prices). By 2029, China is predicted to surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest economy based on other measures too.
Sun co-leads McKinsey & Company’s work on Chinese economic engagement in Africa and is the author of a new book, The Next Factory of the World: How Chinese Investment is Reshaping Africa. She spoke to Supply Management about how African industrialisation is helping the continent to follow in China’s footsteps, and how to make sure the rise of manufacturing is a force for good.
SM: Tell us how you became so interested in Africa and China.
IYS: It was the strains of my life coming together in this unexpected way. I am Chinese by birth and moved to the U.S. in elementary school. I became interested in Africa in high school and through college. After graduating I moved to Africa to volunteer as a teacher. That’s when I started noticing Chinese people. When I joined McKinsey I continued doing work in Africa and kept being stopped by other Chinese people. It occurred to me that what these people were doing was so important for the future of the continent. This is a story that has huge ramifications for the future of Africa, the future of African economies and human development on the continent.
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