A famous and probably apocryphal story relates how in the late 1800s, shoe companies sent scouts to Africa to assess opportunity. All came back and said: “no one in Africa wears shoes – – there is no opportunity” – except for the rep for Bata, who said: “everyone in Africa is barefoot – – there’s a huge opportunity”. Bata shoes are now ubiquitous in Africa.
With its vast population, diversity and resources, why aren’t more companies committed to growth from Africa? Why do EMEA business strategies have no patience for the ‘A’? Certainly with that many people, shouldn’t African commerce, like life in Jeff Goldblum’s Jurassic Park quote, “find a way?”
The challenge is daunting, and figuring this one out is above my pay grade, but thinking about solving for Africa can make just about any other challenge seem pretty straightforward.
There are of course very real reasons that Africa is challenging. A Sept 16 scan of Google News stories across 54 African nations (below), reveals overwhelming existential crises such as Ebola, terrorism, sectarian violence, mixed in with a standard dose of President-for-life type scandal (see: Mugabe, Robert), but not many commercial or consumer focused stories. Where much of the developed world has surplus calories, Africa has a basic food (and water) deficit. A quick look at per-capita incomes shows that African citizens are among the poorest in the world. Barriers, indeed.
Yet we are all still more alike than we are different. We all have needs: food, shelter, entertainment, and yes, shoes. And so within a mass of challenges, there are opportunities. Bata figured this out long ago – – it saw millions of bare feet, rather than cultural or economic barriers, and methodically penetrated the continent.
The key, as in eating an elephant, is to take it one bite at a time. In fact, it’s really just another execution of basic marketing – identifying segments, understanding their needs and barriers, and creatively and selectively applying solutions. Pricing? Access? Promotion? Distribution? Positioning? Unique benefits? A solution is almost always available – it’s just not always obvious. Unlocking this potential may be gaining traction: PricewaterhouseCoopers’s Africa Business Agenda 2014 report was released last week. The report, comprising surveys and interviews with 260 chief executives in 14 African countries, indicates that CEOs are optimistic about growth despite volatility and uncertainty on the continent. From Business Report/Africa: “The Chief Executives acknowledge that a lot more needs to be done in terms of transforming the continent’s potential for exponential growth into tangible business opportunities”. There are examples where creative and focused approaches helped realize growth from similarly unlikely places.
- In India, Colgate has carved out over 55% of the oral care market (~$600 million+) despite toothpaste penetration of only 55% (and only 15% of them brush twice daily), and a per-capita income ranked 120 of 164 countries in 2013 (World Bank).
- This was done by offering more affordable sizes, and innovating a multi-layer distribution system to penetrate the largely rural population
- In Mexico, concrete giant Cemex, through its Patrimonio Hoy (‘Private Property Today’) program, has enabled many low-income families to build onto their homes on an installment plan at affordable levels.
- For example, in this innovative program, one family pays $18 per month for $960 in construction materials, allowing them to add stepwise onto their home.
Whether it is Africa, India or a mass of consumers (or customers) at home, the same principles apply. Where there is need, solutions are always possible.
As Michelangelo said: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”.
A Day In The Life of Africa – September 16, 2014
Country Story 1 Story 2
Algeria al Qaeda Soccer
Angola Sub-Saharan investment Oil Exploration
Benin Ebola Trade
Botswana Crackdown on press Ebola
Burkina Faso Soccer Trade
Burundi 3 nuns murdered —
Cameroon Soccer —
Cape Verde Soccer Tropical storm
Central African Republic Muslim-Christian violence —
Chad Guys named Chad —
Comoros Islamic oil deal Indian Ocean Comm.
Dem. Rep. of the Congo Ebola Mineral dev.
Djibouti al Qaeda Violence
Egypt Fighting Islam Muslim B’hood exiles
Equatorial Guinea UN Ambass. accused Call for national unity
Eritrea Leather export trade US travel warning
Ethiopia Relations with Egypt Egypt opposition
Gabon Soccer —
Gambia Anti-gay legislation Ebola
Ghana Ebola Soccer
Guinea Corruption Ebola
Guinea-Bissau Ebola Political instability
Ivory Coast Soccer —
Kenya Cost of living Investment/trade
Lesotho Coup attempt —
Liberia Ebola —
Libya Migrant boat capsizes Islamic terrorists
Madagascar Lemurs Locust infestation
Malawi Political scandal Soccer
Mali al Qaeda Sectarian violence
Mauritania Moving weekend to Fri/Sat Business/trade
Mauritius Foreign investment Murder invest.
Morocco Anti-racism demonstrations —
Mozambique Elephant poaching Political rivals
Namibia Foreign trade —
Niger US drone base Baby trafficking
Nigeria Building collapse Ebola
Rep. of the Congo Ebola Political corruption
Rwanda Genocide 20th anniv. Rebuilding efforts
São Tomé and Príncipe Infrastructure dev. New: cellular roaming
Senegal Ebola Soccer
Seychelles Tourism Protected species
Sierra Leone Ebola —
Somalia anti-al Qaeda/ISIS anti-Shebab
South Africa Pistorius trial Rugby
South Sudan Foreign aid worker ban Internal peace
Sudan Condemned Christ. woman Peace with S. Sudan
Swaziland UK power investment Royal family antics
Tanzania Foreign investment Infrastructure
Togo Qatar investment Soccer
Tunisia Economic pressure Security
Uganda Foiled terrorist attack US warns Americans
Zambia Political leader dies Soccer
Zimbabwe $3B mining deal w/Russia —