Start Up Continent: Towards A Tipping Point
Africa Needs an Entrepreneurial Revolution
When all of Africa goes into start-up mode, great things will happen. New solutions will begin to emerge to obstinate challenges and problems. An new entrepreneurial class will assert its political, social, and economic rights and begin to hold governments more accountable. Jobs will be created to absorb the millions of young African graduates who are joining the continent’s labor force which is projected to become the world’s largest. Countries will begin to industrialize and broaden their economic activity. New products and services, arising from research and development, will begin to be d e v e l o p e d . T h e i m p o r t a n c e o f unlocking entrepreneurship and private sector development across the continent cannot be overstated.
Thankfully the conversation and dialogue about unleashing African entrepreneurship and private sector development is becoming increasingly important. It is-as it should-snowballing into a movement that should gain even more momentum. The continent must create a new generation of industrial manufacturing, technology, financial services, agribusinesses, service, and healthcare companies. In all strategic sectors really. Africa must create a new wave of innovators and wealth creators who will drive the systemic and structural change that high quality entrepreneurship is known to deliver. sector and Africa’s entrepreneurs that Government alone will not be enough to deliver the change and inclusive prosperity that African needs. More than any sector, it will be the private sector and Africa’s entrepreneurs that will be the source of l o n g t e r m e c o n o m i c g r o w t h a n d competitiveness. As whole new set of economic and social institutions can emerge to fill the gaps that governments are not filling. Those institutions-seeking to achieve returns on their investments-can become deliver critical products and services which can lead to improved standards of living and economic growth. Such is the power of market driven, and incentives based enterprise. It transforms today’s s fledgling enterprises into the bedrock institutions that under-gird the functioning of society.
Still governments in Africa hold a very powerful place and will still need to play a strategic role in unleashing African entrepreneurship. In many places the power and reach of the state is almost unlimited. This power should be used to deepen the role of the private sector in driving economic growth. In many African countries almost all business activity is driven by small and medium enterprises (SMEs), accounting for over 90% of all economic activity. Many African countries a r e h o t b e d s o f u n s t r u c t u r e d entrepreneurial activity. Go to any major African city and you will see and feel the pulse of the continent’s entrepreneurial spirit. It runs in the DNA of the continent’s cities, markets, and byways. The challenge, however, is that many of these enterprises are micro businesses operating in an informal sector where they are caught in a low productivity trap. Thus there remains the strategic challenge of undertaking a c o m p r e h e n s i v e u p g r a d i n g a n d modernization of African entrepreneurship. The environment in which world class and globally competitiveness African enterprise can flourish needs to be created.
That should the ultimate goal. It is important to have short term interventions which, for instance seek to promote formalization of informal enterprises or that seek to provide incubation or acceleration services to high potential enterprises. Such interventions have traditionally been treated in an uncoordinated and fragmented manner which has not reflected the strategic importance of entrepreneurship to the African economy. But if there is one thing that is clear, it is that entrepreneurship’s place needs to be elevated on the list of national priorities.
African countries will need to develop bold and ambitious programmes that are going to unlock entrepreneurship and private sector development and to position it as Africa’s engine for long term growth. Countries will need to make radically innovative moves that will provide targeted interventions designed to address the often d e e p s t r u c t u r a l c o n s t r a i n t s t h a t entrepreneurs across the continent face. They will need to to what it take to get the job done. These constraints are anything from accessing capital to fund growth to skills in developing new products or skills to strategically assessing and planning new business opportunities . But if a goal is worth achieving, then the price is worth paying.