In his article “Why does being in Africa make you untrustworthy?“, Erik Hersman points out to the fact that Africans are generally suspects by default to the eyes of global corporations, which often put the continent off their radar.
Africa could be a continent of contrasts, but with lots of potentiality too. If only the world stopped making easy generalizations and looked closer to realize that.
One of the key factors for any business is to assess and be real about the context and the market in which operates. Thus, more accurate solutions can be provided to address specific needs, what improves the chance of success. If the context is problematic, that means there are needs to be fulfilled, and therefore that could be seen as an opportunity.
An example of this could be Hersman’s own enterprise, Ushahidi, a website that was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008, and which now it has become a platform with global reach.
Ushahidi is a world-class technology service, but owes its roots to providing a solution to the very African need of transparency, which turns out to be a global issue.
The organization’s technology is open source, and it is often used by Internet writer Clay Shirky as an example of a successful crowdsourcing movement.
Other entrepreneurs and businesses are also working to provide services tied up to specific regional socio-cultural and economic facts, as were seen at Tech4Africa 2010. Services like PesaPal (a mobile payments company in Nairobi, Kenya) or mPedigree (allows consumers to verify with a free text message if their medicines are safe), are proving to be on the right track when addressing local needs via the most used and available technology in their target markets.
Many other startup services in Africa are choosing to use SMS as their trading platform, among other things, due to the scarce Internet connectivity and the broader use of the cell phone in many areas of the continent. And companies are focusing on that too, such is the case of Zain Nigeria, which is offering its customers access to Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo via SMS.
Nevertheless, whether focused on local, regional or global needs, African technology startups and companies must build their products based on the highest standards, and for that it’s important to keep in touch with the world’s latest developments and practices, if the continent wants to get into the world’s radar and export its innovative products or play globally.
All in all, one of the ways to bootstrap Africa to the spotlight might be what the aforementioned African organizations are already doing; which is, as Erik Hersman put it in his article: “to come up with our own business solutions that work here first, and then interact with other global systems.”
Do you agree this could be a solution? Should Africans see the problems or the opportunities?
Photo courtesy of @whiteafrican via Flickr/Creative Commons