Archbishop Desmond Tutu closed the historic FORTUNE/TIME/CNN Global Forum in Cape Town by offering a benediction and issuing a challenge. He blessed the endeavor but said we needed to show results. It was the first time the forum, which was started by FORTUNE, was hosted in Africa. It was also the first time it was co-hosted by TIME and CNN. The theme was the New Global Opportunity, and the phrase was a recognition not just that emerging markets are more and more where the action is but also that we must build an economy that is truly global and connected. Only then is there a chance to raise all boats. Mo Ibrahim, the cell-phone billionaire turned philanthropist, talked about how the return on investment in Africa over the past five years was better than that in Europe and that new economic models were emerging on the continent. Wall Street analyst Meredith Whitney noted that the insularity of some African nations protected them from the global economic contagion. It was Bill Clinton, interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who put it all in perspective: he observed that emerging markets and new renewable industries must become a corrective for a world that is "too unequal and too unsustainable to be stable."
But over three days, participants like South African President Jacob Zuma, who addressed the forum live via satellite from the G-20 summit in Toronto; former Irish President Mary Robinson; social activist Graça Machel; CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric; Royal Dutch Shell CEO Peter Voser; Deutsche Bank's Josef Ackermann; architect extraordinaire Frank Gehry; Naspers Ltd. CEO Koos Bekker; Bridgette Radebe, executive chair of Mmakau Mining; Sports Illustrated Group editor Terry McDonell; and FORTUNE managing editor Andy Serwer saw opportunities in the dynamism of emerging markets in Africa and elsewhere and the technologies that allow businesses to leap over borders. In particular, the demographics of Africa make it both an engine of production and an extraordinary market. By 2040, the number of working-age people in Africa is projected to exceed 1.1 billion more than in China or India. In that same year, Africa will be home to 1 in 5 of the planet's young people. That's a stunning number for both a workforce and a market. But Machel focused not on youth or numbers but on gender: the essential need to educate and organize African women. That is a lesson Africa can learn from China: you cannot build a modern economy if you disregard the potential of half your population. (To see videos from the conference, go to money.cnn.com/video/fortune.)
China's role in Africa and elsewhere was a frequent subject of conversation and debate. The discussion ranged from the risk that China would repeat the mistakes of the old colonial powers in Africa to the notion that China's model of state-led economic development is better for developing countries than Western market fundamentalism. TIME International editor Michael Elliott, who moderated several panels, worried that an infatuation with the Chinese model might lead countries to the economic dead ends seen in the 1960s and '70s. Yes, much of Africa's growth has been fueled by China's endless need for commodities, but the goal for African nations as well as other emerging markets is to manage those resources and maximize their economic potential. The Global Forum offered myriad ways to do that and in itself is an example of a new model for both Africa and other emerging opportunities around the globe. Over the next year, we will also listen to Archbishop Tutu and monitor the progress being made.