By Adeshola Komolafe, 2014 Fellow
Adeshola Komolafe is the CEO of Media Insight, a Nigerian integrated marketing communications firm, and Save Our Future, a non-governmental organization that focuses on introducing young people in less privileged educational environments to information and communications technology (ICT). Adeshola shares her experiences as a Jennifer Potter Emerging Leaders Fellow.
Much has been said about ‘Africa Rising’. New opportunities are emerging in Africa for a greater number of people and the combined economy of the continent is a force to reckon with in the global market. For Africa to truly rise above her dark challenges, an enterprising culture needs to be engendered. How to put in place the mechanism to enhance the needed entrepreneurial spirit remains the key to the puzzle.
This key to unlocking Africa’s huge economic potential is the word “networking”. This term is generally used for the structure of ties among the actors in a socioeconomic system. These actors could be roles, individuals, organizations and even conglomerates. The ties are usually an interplay of economic and information exchange, ideas or anything else that forms the basis of business networking. Networking has come to play a crucial role in enhancing entrepreneurship in a country like Nigeria.
Becoming an IGD Fellow
A few days prior to the World Economic Forum on Africa in 2014, I was introduced to the Initiative for Global Development (IGD). I met IGD for an interview on my experience of being a young female entrepreneur. This was a part of their campaign on addressing the misperceptions of business and investing in Africa. Seeing me as a potential candidate,, the IGD team suggested that I check their website and apply for the Emerging Leaders Fellowship.
What attracted me to IGD is what they refer to as ‘Africa Now’. The values they stand for, which for me was succinctly captured by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his interview with Charlie Rose, “Today, what African countries need is partnership, they need good governance, they need quality investment, they need to move out of aid dependency.”
To replace the ‘hand me down’ syndrome, IGD is working to help African and global companies connect and overcome mutual barriers to growth in new markets. IGD’s strategy which focuses on developing a network of respected, influential CEOs and senior executives with the interest and capacity to drive significant business growth in priority sectors. It is just the type of opportunity that every young entrepreneur in Africa needs.
First Journey to the U.S.
Within a few weeks of receiving the announcement that I was selected, I was on my way to the U.S. for my first IGD emerging leader experience which included: gaining exclusive access to IGD’s network of sector-leading senior executives across Africa, the U.S, and the rest of the world; and participating in exclusive mentorship activities with CEOs in the IGD network.
The occasion was specifically organized for me. IGD brought together Seattle’s business community to meet me. I was indeed honored. The three Bills that founded IGD were there: William H. Clapp, William H. Gates Sr., and William D. Ruckelshaus. The first President of IGD who the followership is named after, Jennifer Potter, played a great chief host. It was a great opportunity that led to the expansion of my business network internationally.
With the help of President & CEO Mima Nedelcovych and the IGD team, I had private training and series of business discussions. It was an experience that provided me with the opportunity to learn from seasoned professionals operating successful businesses in Africa. Later that year, I attended the Frontier 100 Forum in New York, where I had the tremendous opportunity to meet CEOs and senior executives from IGD’s prestigious Frontier Leader Network. Being an IGD Emerging Leaders fellow has exposed me to business networking meetings in Washington D.C., New York, and Cape Town.
Being a young African entrepreneur
Becoming an entrepreneur in Africa is does not happen overnight. Instead it’s being effective in turning challenges into opportunities, with verve for transcending obstacles. Apart from the challenges of being young and a female, I face a consumer marketplace that does not allow for local competition. Other bottlenecks like lack of supporting infrastructures, a dearth of confidence in local entrepreneurship, and government policies tend to make a joke of any reasonable entrepreneurial endeavour.
The African marketplace is usually referred to as “dumping ground” for products of varying degrees of standards from overseas. In other words, the dearth of industries and small scale enterprises in Africa creates an undue reliance on products from other economies. This in turn creates a transfer of per capita income for potential entrepreneurs.
The lack of infrastructure also encumbers entrepreneurial advances. A lack of steady electric power and social services prevent an efficient flow of ideas from conception to production. Added to a low index in the “ease of doing business”, as computed by global economic monitors like Forbes and Goldman Sachs, there is no denying the negatives impacts of these roadblocks to Africa’s economic growth.
These challenges frustrate Africa’s economic rise. A true measure of entrepreneurship is the how these challenges are confronted and their effects minimized, especially given the abundance of potential in the continent. With a determination to succeed in the economic venture, an entrepreneur can surmount these encumbrances and chart new frontiers towards maximizing potential.
Networking, networking, networking
Combating the myriad of challenges to entrepreneurship in Africa requires networking. Networking with others is needed because entrepreneurs depend on the information, raw materials, and technology, in order to develop their enterprises and be acceptable to societies. Numerous indicators have proved that networking, usually but not limited to international organizations, provides many benefits and encourages success of an enterprise.
It is understandable that when ideas are interchanged, new frontiers emerge which makes the means of doing business easier and less herculean. Africa, a market place for opportunities, requires avenues to networking with the rest of the world. This will help bridge the development gap.
With various opportunities abounding in networking between Nigeria and other African enterprises with international ventures, it becomes more imperative to highlight these advantages. When a more modern means is developed to maximize business potentials, cost in terms of human and material resources is reduced. This is an advantage to the small but growing enterprises. There is also the equally important benefit of improvements in service delivery and standard production that is inherent in entrepreneurial networking. When improved products and services are at the beckon of consumers, healthy entrepreneurship is engendered.
The overall need to emphasize the importance of networking to entrepreneurship can only make the desired impact if the issues enumerated are placed. This can be done and more organizations should take this role like IGD has done.