Iliana Björling Lindeberg currently lives in Kampala, were she works with Global Business Labs, coaching high growth potential start-up companies. She shared her experiences of the business environment in Uganda and her former country of residence, Botswana on the article titled “A Horizon of Opportunities – The African Dream”
The feeling of falling in love is usually fantastic, overwhelming, intriguing and scary all at the same time. The last 16 months of my life have taken me from an initial crush, to dating, and finally to a proper relationship with hope of long-term commitment and a “happy ever after”. And no, I’m not talking about my love life. I’m talking about my relationship with Africa and more especially, Botswana and Uganda.
It all started in July 2012, when I for the first time came to this part of the world. I had jumped onto an opportunity to head a youth entrepreneurship project initiated by two friends and colleagues from Sweden. With the support from SIDA (The Swedish International Development Agency) we were going to coach young people in Botswana in how to start and run a business. The project got the name YoungDrive Academy and was based on the Swedish concept UngDrive, a successful concept established by dear friends and by young entrepreneurs. As a young and relatively naïve, Westerner with the ambition to set up a sustainable project based on a concept never tested outside Sweden, I met obvious challenges. Learning how to cope with a different work environment and how to absorb a different way of doing business was as frustrating as it was educating. After learning simple things such as that if you ask someone to do something for you “now”, you have to say “now now” or even “now now now” if you actually need it the same day, I started to see beyond the cultural differences and found a horizon of opportunities.
Eight months later when I came across another opportunity to explore more of Africa, I couldn’t resist falling in love with this continent. I joined the Swedish organization Global Business Labs, as the country manager for Uganda, with the mission to set up operations and recruit start-up companies with high growth potential in Kampala. Eight months in, I have to say that the horizon of opportunities has become very clear. After exploring the business environment and interacting with hundreds of young entrepreneurs in Botswana and Uganda, I can only agree with the well chosen words of the former Finance Minister of Nigeria and current director of The World Bank, Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela “Those who miss the boat now will miss it forever”
Ms. Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela is not only referring to Nigeria but the whole Sub-Sahara region. Out of the top 10 fastest growing regions, six are within the Sub-Sahara region. With a more stable political climate than ever before, and expected yearly growth rate of 6%, this region is the boat you cannot afford to miss to be aboard.
Working at the hub of the future, Makerere University, the fourth highest ranked University in Africa, I have realized that apart from the hard facts there are a number of less tangible reasons to do business and invest in Africa. Here are a few of them:
The African dream
Young people in Africa are hungry for success. Nowhere in the world have I seen such outspoken motivation to becoming rich. It is sort of the “The American dream” but “The African dream” in a 2.0 version. Young people see wealth, power and status as the meaning of life. From a business perspective this has two implications. The first one being that the young generation will soon start tapping into the markets still untapped, where the rapid internet penetration knowledge can flow freely and be utilized in ways like never before. So if you don’t act now, you run the risk of loosing out. Secondly, these young people can be part of your resource and key competence. Let these young, hungry, business-minded youngsters guide you in their context and market.
Yes, I’m saying it’s easy to do business in Africa. And no, I’m not naïve, I know that there are challenges in terms of culture, corruption, bureaucracy etc. However, these challenges are minor compared to the challenges you face when start a business in Sweden or Europe. First of all, you have the opportunity to be a first time mover and take on a market at its infant stages. And the beauty in that is that you don’t have to come up with a unique business idea to find a field that is not tapped in to. No, you can simply take something that already exists in your home market and introduce over here, copy-paste will work for at least another couple of decades. And if you decide to go into a market already tapped into, well then you can create a competitive advantage with very small measures (I will elaborate on competitive advantages in my next post).
It’s our freaking responsibility to do business in Africa
It’s no secret that China has entered Africa with a bang. Wherever you look, a Chinese company is there, taking the opportunity of doing business and making money. Hands down, I’m impressed by their ability to seize the opportunity of business in this region, but it’s no secret that many of the Chinese giants don’t do business in a very sustainable or responsible way. That is exactly why I hope to see more Swedish, Scandinavian and European companies taking up the competition of the Chinese giants and actually do business in a sustainable and responsible way. Traditional aid can only take us so far.
These tangible reasons to do business in Sub-Sahara, Africa are all based on my own (rather limited) experience and shouldn’t be taken for more than that. But, it is clear that the boat is already launched, now it’s just a matter of catching a ride before it is too late.
In my next post I will talk more about why you already have a competitive advantage coming here, and how you can add on to that by simply using very small measures.
Iliana Björling Lindeberg
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