How would you respond if one of the most powerful leaders in the world said to you: “You and your people have no place in this New Economy. You’re valueless!” As the New York Times reported on 15th January, President Trump was a bit more provocative when he referred to our African countries as a “sh*thole”!
What is our response when our value and dignity as a nation is under attack?
“In a cynical world, we have become an inspiration to many. We signal that good can be achieved amongst human beings who are prepared to trust, prepared to believe in the goodness of people.” – Nelson Mandela
The Africa We Want
Steve Biko’s famous quote, “A struggle without casualties is no struggle”, should get us to stop and realize that within tension lie some of our most profound paradigm shifts. Transformative change is born out of struggle and tension. When the president of America confronts our sense of value, we should ask “what narrative do we want?”
In 2015, the African Union began a narrative titled Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, which calls on each of us to move beyond what cognitive scientists call similarity biases – a tribal mindset that is averse to diversity. This narrative begins with a Pan-African Vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.
This 2063 vision is not meant to be some romantic delusion ignoring the harsh challenges and struggles ahead. Our once-abundant re¬sources in Africa are rapidly depleting while populations, urbanization and consumer demands continue to grow rapidly. We have seen various multinationals and investors pulling back or even completely withdrawing their investments into Africa recently due to: corruption; fragmented and underdeveloped consumer markets; poor infrastructure; and the lack of local skilled labour.
Then there is the issue of the largest global workforce, our African youth, without jobs! Our youth are flooding into new African cities in search of opportunities and finding themselves without a source of income.
How do we turn these wicked problems into thriving opportunities?
Our continent is considered one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with 20-year forecasts for Africa estimating consumer spend of US$5.6 trillion. We have unimaginable opportunities that could quickly turn against us.
The New Economy is digital and increasingly complex, both offering exponential opportunities and creating unimaginable global systemic risks. In this New Economy, value creation and discovering your unique narrative has never been more crucial. Entire industries have become suddenly irrelevant and some of the largest multinationals are losing intense market share to start-ups. New and old recruits in the job market fear that machines and Artificial Intelligence will replace them. Yesterday’s successes are tomorrow’s failures. This struggle has casualties.
South African economist Lorenzo Fioramonti argues that we need to redefine how we measure value and economic performance in this New Economy. Do we really believe that GDP growth and other monetary values can measure our actual value as a society? Professor Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s Shared Value business model is more aligned to Africa’s complex economic ecosystem and our New Economy.
The Shared Value approach reconnects business success with social progress, positing that it is not only possible but indeed preferable from a business perspective to focus business on creating both economic value for its shareholders and for society – summed up succinctly as profit with purpose. Shared Value shifts the business’s purpose from being an afterthought to being the driver of all business decisions, for the good of both the social agenda and the business’s bottom line. It represents a shift in the business mindset where addressing societal and environmental ills becomes an opportunity for business growth.
Like anything new, this New Economy is challenging our outdated assumptions, assumptions that could be undermining your value and relevance in this New Economy.
How are some leaders in Africa succeeding in this New Economy, when so many global investors and multinationals are failing?
There are hundreds of leaders in Africa that are shaping Africa’s creation of Shared Value in this New Economy. Leaders such as Aliko Dangote, Mohammed Dewji and Mo Ibrahim have:
- Identified and grown profitable businesses in response to social problems
- Developed local capabilities and businesses with a global perspective
- Collaborated across multiple geographies and sectors
- Partnered with diverse stakeholders – multinationals, global investors, NGOs, governments, and development agencies – to achieve sustainable changes
- Built a bold vision that no one thought was possible
Each one of them has invested their own money into driving a more inclusive Shared Value economy across Africa. They continue to cultivate the life-blood of our continent’s future – youth and entrepreneurs. Their narrative attracts discerning investors.
To unlock this New Economy requires not only our rededication to “The Africa We Want” but our fearless commitment to changing our default behaviours and our outdated beliefs. This is our time as a continent to revisit Biko and Mandela’s narrative in relation to our New Economy – creating African Shared Value for “The Africa We Want”.
It is with this goal in mind that the Shared Value Africa Initiative (www.SVAI.africa) focuses on building Africa’s most powerful business network, where African leaders work together to break down silos and create a continental ecosystem of profit with purpose. SVAI membership connects business thought leaders, entrepreneurs, organisations and companies from across the continent to share insights, collaborate and co-create sustainable, profitable solutions that speak to the African context. Through the incorporation of social good into business strategy, Africa’s challenges become a source of great growth and profit – the key to Africa realizing its potential in the twenty-first century.
Akiva Beebe is Regional Director at the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL) in Sub-Saharan Africa. He advises Public, Social and Financial Sectors across Africa on how to accelerate growth and development within the New Economy.