Africa's entrepreneurs on the rise(Read article summary)
Africa is booming with young entrepreneurs, but they don't always operate like their counterparts in the US.
Yes, saysÂ Benson Honig, a professor in the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.Â âThereâs a demographic time bomb in the aging Western world,â Honig says. âWhere are the young people? Africa.â
Africans already have the right business instincts. âAfrica is a continent of entrepreneurs,â he says. âYou have no choice. If you need a part, you canât order it from somewhere else. It might take six months or a year to come. So you make it yourself.â
Honigâs remarks came atÂ âUnleashing Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies,â a conference hosted last week at theÂ Hult International Business SchoolÂ in Boston.
He believes such ingenuity can be tapped and shared across the world. âMicro-credit, cell phone banking. These are African innovations that are just starting to make an impact in Canada and the US.â
Honig is part of a movement in the business school world, a movement that sees local, on-the-ground entrepreneurship as the most effective way to help kick-start the economies of developing nations.
He was joined at the Hult conference by professors from business schools in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Pakistan, Nigeria, and more. âWeâre all optimists,â says Joanne Lawrence, who teaches corporate responsibility and social innovation at Hult. âWe all see Africa rising.â
One reason why Africa is moving up: access to capital.
âInnovation requires capital, but historically people from outside the US have had limited access to funding,â says Mike Grandinetti, managing director at Southboro Capital and entrepreneurship professor at Hult. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, âthe venture industry has turned on its head. We now have an extraordinary opportunity for new ventures around the world.â
âItâs an open question,â acknowledges David Wheeler, Dean of the Plymouth University Business School in England, âwhether what happens in a Western business school has any effect on what happens in South Sudan or Kenya or Tanzania.â
âYou canât just try to replicate whatâs happening in one region,â agrees Grandinetti.Â âThereâs so much localization required. Every region needs to be clear on what its strengths are.â
Henrietta Onwuegbuzie is on the faculty at the Lagos Business School in Nigeria. She says entrepreneurship is âintrinsic to African culture.â But sheâs also worried about the cultural gap between the West and her home. Because of her Western education, she says, âI have begun to feel like a foreigner in my own country.â She stresses the importance of cooperating with African entrepreneurs and learning from them, rather than just mouthing Western management buzzwords.
âSome solutions are African,â argues Honig. âSome are ours. Some African solutions may even work here . . . we canât say any longer: Weâre doing it here, so you should be doing it there.â
One way business may differ for entrepreneurs in the developing economies of Africa: an expectation that they behave with social responsibility.
âThe old Western model of divide and conquer and exploit is not acceptable anymore,â Honig says. âWe have a responsibility in the globalized world. Weâre no longer capable of saying, âWe donât care what happens over there.â â
Grandinetti points to the work of Jessica Matthews, an entrepreneur and Harvard graduate who has guest lectured to his students at Hult. Matthews, a Nigerian-American, helped found a start-up called Uncharted Play, which has developed the Soccket, a soccer ball thatâs also a portable generator.
Grandinetti says thatâs just one example of how young entrepreneurs can change lives in resource-poor communities around the world.
âWeâre starting to see every corner of the earth embrace entrepreneurship,â he says. âNot just for profit, but for social good.â
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