It is impossible to imagine Africa without entrepreneurs. It would probably be a place of misery, defined by immense unemployment, severe hunger and abject poverty. Basically, a chain of problems with limited or zero solutions. Of course, these problems are still affecting us, but entrepreneurs consistently work hard to alleviate them. That is why it is a matter of necessity and urgency to create sustainable businesses for a resilient future.
There are a few things that entrepreneurs need to practice to be successful in their businesses. They range from prioritising purposeful brands, learning consistently, being innovative, practising gender inclusivity and building their skills. Take a dive into these factors, with insights borrowed from the African Entrepreneurship Forum held by the Shared Value Africa Initiative earlier this year.
Purpose over necessity
African entrepreneurs need to reflect on whether they are building businesses out of necessity or for a purpose. While it might seem necessary to start a business out of circumstance, African entrepreneurs need to focus on the future. Businesses built on a foundation of profits hardly make it past five years of operation. On the other hand, purpose-led enterprises are likely to withstand the test of time.
For Africa to thrive and achieve new heights of prosperity, African entrepreneurs need to rethink their purpose – their ‘why’ of establishing businesses. Entrepreneurs need to aim for businesses that are sustainable and those that substantially propel the economy forward. And what propels an economy forward is delivering products or services that benefit and add value to society.
According to the African Development Bank, African women are the threads that hold together the fabric of the African economy, accounting for the majority of small and medium-sized businesses in Africa. Yet, women are excluded from entrepreneurship opportunities. They mostly lack capital and as a result of this, they lose the motivation to remain competitive in entrepreneurship. In order to strengthen the African economy, women should be given access to entrepreneurial opportunities – financing and entrepreneurship skills.
Africa is a consumerist continent, but most of the consumed products are largely imported, including its food. This leaves African entrepreneurs sinking in losses and sometimes leads to the collapse of their businesses. There are consumer claims that African products are of poor quality.
As much as it is important to appeal to every African to buy ‘made in Africa’, businessmen and women have a role to play in ensuring that what they produce is of high quality. They also need to embrace and be intentional about innovation and exhaust locally available materials before importing. The goal needs to be tailoring African solutions to African challenges.
Entrepreneurship goes beyond mere trade. Sustainable entrepreneurship means providing sustainable solutions to consumers. African entrepreneurs should begin to develop enterprises that impact lives. Incubators and hubs are thriving in Africa, with an intention to leverage the skill set of entrepreneurs. It’s a good initiative that should be lauded. Unfortunately, the aftermath is mostly bombarding entrepreneurs with information without actionable steps. To effectively coach African entrepreneurs, they need to redefine entrepreneurship.
In an interview conducted by the World Economic Forum consisting of business leaders, to highlight what makes businesses successful, Bhakti Vithalani – founder and Chief Executive Officer of BigSpring – said that, “In an increasingly accelerating world, the skills gap is becoming a skills crisis. Moving people from ‘test ready’ to ‘job ready’ is what drives us at BigSpring.”
As you train entrepreneurs, are you preparing them for the ‘real’ job of running and growing a thriving, sustainable business?
The forum also highlighted that the African entrepreneur seems to suffer from impostor syndrome. When self-doubt kicks in to the extent that customers can detect your lack of confidence, they lose trust in you. Confidence gives you an upper hand in competing with other entrepreneurs. Believe in your product or service and pitch it to the world with confidence. It’s important to remember that confidence also comes from believing in what you are selling – which is in turn directly related to your ‘why’, the purpose of your business.
African entrepreneurs are already building and will continue to build long-term businesses that are growing the continent. For those entrepreneurial minds looking to start a business or questioning the viability of their business, consider incorporating these five metrics of entrepreneurship. It’s also important for entrepreneurs to remember that challenges and failure are normal in running a business. This doesn’t make it easier, but it is a reality.
As an entrepreneur, be open and ready to (very often) take a step back and reevaluate your business and the factors discussed above in relation to your business. At the end of the day, money is the outcome or result of doing something that adds value to your customer, and your customer is society.