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Connect African Development (CAD) Blog set out in October 2011 to provide a platform that would bring together development actors across the African continent. This target group we aimed to reach is quite diverse and none more so than that of entrepreneurs.
On our examination, we have noted there to be many kinds of entrepreneurs, running different sizes of intricate, and in many cases, innovative enterprises. However, despite their efforts, a large percent do not get a chance to realize their entrepreneurial aspirations. Being an entrepreneur for those lacking in conviction, resilience, vision and exploration can be quite challenging. But from what we understand, it does not have to be. Perhaps the fact that the practice of entrepreneurship is so shrouded in complexities and the character of being an entrepreneur defined with the wrong notions is the issue.
We looked around and sought to find a way to make it simple to understand and if possible, practice entrepreneurship and being an entrepreneur. For one, the continuous use of the word "risk" demotes the true essence of these two attributes. What we settled on to be the basis of our discussion here were the following;
Entrepreneurship; is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled. Source: www.inc.com
The element of risk is still present here, but it does not define the description. The issue of risk at all times is about whether someone has the resources to take action. The focus on and use of the word "resources" in this case is fitting because it communicates to the individual a clear solution to whatever challenge or success in their undertaking.
Entrepreneur; are those individuals who are able to identify a need and fill it. Inspired by content from www.forbes.com
Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurs in Africa
The entrepreneurship spirit on the continent is as ripe as it is anywhere in the world. People are keen seeking new opportunities for business to invest their hard earned money. They are traveling to different parts of the world to acquire products and services to bring back to their countries. An elite few have made significant strides and are seeing tremendous success. The ripple effects of their achievements are echoing across the continent. From a cement tycoon in Nigeria, a telecoms magnate in Zimbabwe to a media mogul in Tanzania. These are the big examples to speak of, but there are numerous others, albeit with a smaller turnover, across the continent who are an inspiration.
While these few have made significant strides in pursuit of their aspirations, many others struggle compared to what are relatively supportive enterprise environments in other parts of the world. The challenge for them according to our assessment has included the following;
Capacity to manage and grow their enterprises/ entrepreneurial endeavors; by capacity here, we refer to education and mere raw experience and informed decision making. Anyone can start a business or pursue and income generating endeavor, but not everyone see to their growth and realize the intended aspirations. There is no one particular skill-set that is written that an entrepreneur should have to pursue their ventures. The diversity we are speaking of here is too great. But what is clear is that a number of supportive environmental parameters can complement this process. They include access to information, technology and financing, supportive legislation and economic incentives.
Market Penetration; there are many areas to deliberate here, but one aspect we saw as critical is intra-Africa trade. This was the theme of the 19th African Union Summit. It is difficult to do business in a country that is not your own, let alone work there. Traveling within the African continent itself is very expensive. A 2 hour flight can easily cost you the same as a flight to Europe in most cases. And legislation in most African countries is still not supportive of intra-Africa trade.
Where we are seeing some headway is at Regional Economic Communities level, where there is some degree of freedom of movement of people and goods. Regardless, market penetration remains a challenge that ultimately means, for many entrepreneurs, that their aspirations will remain small and reaching a smaller target.
Access to support structures and programmes; this is critical to operationalizing your ideas as an entrepreneur. Remember earlier we dismissed the use of the word risk in defining both entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs. Well, it is true. Whilst doing of online referencing, we came across a notion that in most cases, entrepreneurs avoid risk. As one source put it, think about it; does an entrepreneur wake up in the morning and say - what business direction should I take today that has most risk. What they do rather is defer risk to investors, on partners, lenders etc. Support structures come to play here by helping to "grease the wheels" if you will.
Structures to recognize, provide incentive, a learning environment, a platform to grow your ideas, financing and hands on capacity building are what we are referring to here. And they are lacking extensively.
Working our way through the challenges
The three challenges highlighted, we believe, are key if addressed. The lessons in other parts of the world can serve to inform the direction the continent can take. We have the right environment at the moment for that to happen. Many countries on the continent are seeing remarkable economic growth, surpassing global expectations. And the continent is expected to continue growing and some analysts even coin the phrase "...Africa is becoming the new Asia".
Lets not talk the numbers or politics, but instead reality. If we can not;
- Support the immediate creation of economic zones that will be the melting point of innovation, excellence and take-off,
- Be smart at spending by directing ample resources to finance and fuel African grown enterprise,
- Address the inequalities in the economic agreements we have with the outside world and increase confidence in local production,
- Practically encourage enterprise to enable local product and service saturation towards the goal of increasing diversity of our economies,
...we would in simple terms be saying that we are okay with being consumers of what we do not produce and what we eventually produce would not be for our consumption. We would be saying that we do not trust local enterprise to service a mining operation that is being established in country A with all their logistical needs while in the field. We would be saying that we completely rely on the outside world to provide for our technological expertise. We would be telling those engaging in agriculture that they should stay at the subsistence level and that we are okay with the increasing land-grabbing by rich, grain-poor countries.
We would be saying we have no confidence in the local economy drivers taking the lead. But that is not what we want, is it?