Join the quest for innovation in Africa
By Mikael Koldby
New African businesses are increasingly turning to technology with success. Companies that work in areas such as telephony and IT are moving full steam ahead with ample growth. But similar to the West, technology has become indispensable in terms of communication and innovation.
Small fashion companies, for instance, stay up to date via social media so they always know what’s happening at trade shows in Copenhagen, Milan and New York, customising clothes to suit local styles and materials, explains Associate Professor Søren Jeppesen. Throughout most of his career Jeppesen has studied business development and entrepreneurship in developing countries. He has taught the Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) Entrepreneurship & Innovation module for four years, generally conducting classes in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
“Young people, who increasingly use new technology, are the ones who manage the best in Uganda and other developing countries. They have a global mind mindset and use technology, for example, to stay abreast of what’s happening in an area and then mix it with local preferences. They use the best of several worlds,” he says:
"On top of that, they’re incredibly hardworking. In some industries, a high level of education is important, but there are many growth areas where education is not as crucial to whether you succeed or not, for instance in areas such as transport, food, construction and clothing,” asserts Jeppesen and explains part of the reason why Africa and Kampala are so interesting.
“Good business ideas in developing countries often come from the informal sector. It might be a single individual who’s pottering with a new way to do things in a local context and based on the poverty people face in daily life, for instance, purses made from plastic waste. But we also look at what’s happening in larger companies, especially within mobile telephony and mobile banking, for example. Ten to 15 years ago, for instance, it was impossible to find a bank branch outside major cities across most of Africa, but everyone had a mobile phone and someone got a great idea. Some companies in Uganda have invested heavily in mobile banking and today it’s a bigger business than mobile telephony,” explains Jeppesen.
For almost two decades Jeppesen has published research on especially companies and the private sector in Africa. One of his newest, ongoing research projects is about African companies and what makes them successful. Or, in other words, what traits appear in the difference between success and failure? According to Jeppesen it is a question of having a good coach or a qualified mentor who can help open doors.
“We’re also familiar with this in the West, but in African culture there is an even greater need for an extra hand from a mentor. There is a heavy focus on age. Older people are respected, which is not the case for young people. One should preferably be married, established and have a job before being taken seriously and seen as an adult. These are some of the challenges a young, 20-year-old African entrepreneur with a brillant business idea is up against, which is not the case in our part of the world."
What does a businesswoman from, say, Europe have to do to get the most out of collaborating with young, African companies?
“The best tactic is to come with a relatively open mind. Then there’s a variety of other approaches that can come into play. The right way to proceed often turns out to be a combination of several different tactics. Finding a solution is possible when you’re flexible because things have to happen in a certain way: delivery times, payments, distribution etc. You may have to respond to a thousand things, which is why it’s simply necessary to feel your way as you go. You have to remember to be patient and to spend time on finding the right local business partners. It quickly becomes resource-intensive if you have to get people from home to help with the business locally,” advises Jeppesen succinctly.
What would you like students to get out of doing this module?
“First of all, that they have gained some new perspectives on innovation and entrepreneurship as seen from an African context. But we also give the students an understanding of the general conditions in Africa through company visits. Getting things done with the public authorities takes a little longer, for example, if you need a permit to build a factory. It also takes longer to become known in the local market, which is why you face extra challenges as a business and gain experience with being in far-flung places. Doing business in Africa might not be easy, but it has become much easier. The course puts people in a better position to get the most out of the opportunities that arise – and the number of opportunities available with African companies are growing more and more,” states Jeppesen.
Why earn a Global Executive MBA at CBS?
“It provides a tremendous shot in the arm professionally and personally. You set in motion a development that all business executive can use in their further development. Your fellow students also represent an excellent, inspiring network. What’s more, you encounter a string of skilled instructors at CBS and other reputable institutions of higher learning that provide the right foundation of knowledge. I would definitely recommend taking a GEMBA at CBS,” he says encouragingly.