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July 19, 2007

Power of the People

At every deep dive, we ask our participants to list what they think are Africa’s greatest strengths; the things that are unique to Africa that will help propel it into the global economic fray.

Many people single out the continent’s great store of natural resources. Some call out its rapidly developing prowess in the mobile and wireless space. But often we will hear from participants that Africa’s people, all 900 million of them, are the source of its power, and the key to its future.

This may sound like soft science at first blush. But in the Atlanta deep dive on the Africa focus area, it seemed that every subject we addressed, no matter how grounded in bottom-line business, circled back in some way to understanding who Africans are, what they want, and what they need. And that, sadly, is not something all businesses, both inside and outside Africa, fully comprehend.

“Africa has often been given what other people think Africa needs,” said His Royal Majesty King Adamtey I, the Suapolor, or traditional ruler, of the Se (Shai) state in Ghana. “But we are a continent, and every country is different.”

It is a theme that came up last week in Lisbon as well. There is a tendency in the Western world to treat Africa as one big market. Worse, there is the inclination to impose Western value systems on Africa through aid or business that has strings attached. The presumption is that Africa wants to be like the West, which is sometimes, but not always, true.

“It’s all about tapping into what’s inside these people,” said Joey Reiman, CEO of BrightHouse, an ideation company based in Atlanta, and author of the book Business at the Speed of Molasses. “Whatever we do about enabling Africa, we need to look at what the ethos is, the core sentiment of a country, organization, or region, and understanding the culture.”

Indeed this two-session deep dive went along way towards achieving that understanding. The meetings featured a fascinating mix of participants, including students from universities in Kenya and South Africa, executives of major multinationals like Anheuser-Busch, Motorola, Coca-Cola, Visa International, and Cisco, professors from Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Princeton, and Cornell, and a host of microfinance institutions, independent think tanks, entrepreneurs, and non-governmental organizations.

And the issue of people came up again and again. When we talked about assessing risk and extending credit, a topic we touched on last week in Lisbon, the importance of having more than just empirical data on borrowers or business partners became paramount. Linda Hill, a professor at the Harvard Business School, put it best:

Another aspect of the importance of Africa’s people is in the diaspora, or the countless Africans that have left the continent to live and work abroad. Many of the diaspora have skills and capital that are badly needed in their home countries. But there is very little known about them once they leave. And it is even more difficult to convince them to come back, invest that capital, and transfer those skills.

There are some early efforts in that regard. The African Union has launched something called the 6th Region Diaspora Initiative designed to identify, educate, and network the diaspora in the Western Hemisphere, the so-called “6th region” of the AU. Africa Recruit has a more business-oriented focus, looking to connect Africans living outside of the continent with those living inside, in an effort to transfer skills and, potentially, investment.

Social networks like these can have a great impact inside the continent. But the overall theme of the day was that if business is going to get done in Africa, it is going to get done on Africa’s terms. And to do that, you have to know the people you’re dealing with. You have to work with them face to face. Because, as Nick Donofrio, executive vice president of innovation and technology at IBM, said in his closing remarks, “In the end, it’s all about people.”

July 19, 2007 in Africa | Permalink

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2009/7/9 Paolo Manzelli
--The FAT ( Federaz.. Africa - Toscana) co-organize with EGOCREANET (www.egocreanet.it) the meeting in FLORENCE (IT) of CO.MO.PA ( WORLD COMMITEEE for PAN AFRICANISM ) the 22 sett.09 a Firenze . INFO: a Paolo Manzelli pmanzelli@gmail.com
vedi in : http://wikipazia.org/index.php?title=Eventi

Posted by: paolo manzelli | Jul 9, 2009 2:00:31 AM

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