Reflections on doing business in Africa
The quote above was provided by Joseph Orji, Georgetown MBA Candidate 2013
I know the Georgetown's MBA Admissions staff has been planning and hosting the summer "around the world" happy hours in the US, South America and China. But I wish we could host happy hours in all the countries current MBAs are stationed for their internships. This list includes South Africa, Kenya, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, India, England (actually, the Oxford exchange program), Dubai ... and NIGERIA! Truly, we're a global minded class.
This past Friday, two of my fellow associates, Takemune and Emma, from IESE and GWU respectively, and I met up with Joe who is working for a real estate development company in Lagos. Naturally, we're sharing our work experiences and Emma mentioned that due to Africa's lack of infrastructure and development, business solutions by default will have a social impact. I found this statement to be true and very well put.
Joe and I both ended up in Lagos for the summer but we came about it differently and with different career goals. As I mentioned in my first post, I wanted an experience in social impact and international development. I primarily relied on my involvement in Net Impact and secondarily my involvement in Emerging Markets Network during my overseas job search. Joe is Nigerian-American and he relied on his DC networks to secure his summer internship, he's also worked here before and hopes to return full-time after graduation. Regardless of our professional aspirations, the work we're doing is still part of a larger goal to develop Africa's economy.
BBC, via NPR, has an African Entrepreneur series that is worth listening to. "It's spot on." to borrow a phrase from ccHub's CEO. Each episode features different entrepreneurs who have established successful businesses and they address the challenges of corruption and creating products marketable to the bottom of the pyramid.
Since I'm a Georgetown woman in business, my ears immediately perked up when Njeri Rionge's interview came on. She's a Kenyan businesswoman who has dabbled in Internet infrastructure, human capital consulting and creating a tech hub environment. Each of the entrepreneurs in the broadcast cited human capital as one of the challenges in Africa's business development and she saw an opportunity to address that challenge as part of her consultancy business. This is definitely bang on because:
- Government corruption is an avoidable challenge. Each of the entrepreneurs featured mentioned that if you establish a company that buys into corruption, you're setting a bad corporate governance example and this sends the wrong message. They basically echoed commonly held organizational behavior views. Njeri mentioned that she's started numerous ventures in Africa and she's been successful at avoiding government corruption and that it's not as hard to avoid as foreign businesses may think.
- Nigeria has a high young population but they're coming into a culture that's not incentivized to work hard because previous generations were burned by their experiences and this has colored the younger generation's perceptions. Addressing human capital is a definite need whether it's through improvements in the education system or offering professional training programs, as was the case of Nigerian fertilizer manufacturer, Norotore Chemicals started by Jite Okoloko in the Niger Delta.
- Nigeria (and likely other African countries) is experiencing a brain drain: The well-educated and successful ones are moving abroad because of better opportunities. Note, I'm also including other countries on the African continent, such as South Africa.
- A lot of Nigerians work in South Africa. After apartheid ended, companies started mandating a minority quota but there was a lack of educated minority South Africans so those spots are filled by other Africans.
Business is more than just financial returns and other metrics. In Africa's case, improved social returns will contribute to financial returns. In emerging markets, it's especially about understanding, sourcing and utilizing human capital which is core to how every business runs. After all, we each know how important it is to work for a company with a great culture. So why shouldn't that apply to Africa (and beyond)?