The entrepreneur, an agent of change in the emerging markets?

The first edition of Tech4Africa last August proved to be one of the largest gatherings in Africa of international and local bright technologists, business people and entrepreneurs. One in that bunch was Bright Simons, the founder of, who sat on the panel “Mobile content for grownups, being clever with the simple”.

Simons, a young Ghanaian, embodies the figure of the entrepreneur of the emerging markets, as The Economist labelled him in its recent article “The other demographic dividend”. According to the influential magazine, this kind
of entrepreneur has an impressive ability to identify gaps in markets. This is something Simons has shown to have had. His development, mPedrigree, came up with an innovative solution for dealing with the epidemic of counterfeit drugs using the mobile phone. The service helps people to ensure that the medicines they are buying are legitimate and safe.

In his interview “Bright hope for continental scourge” for ITWeb, Simons recognizes that “I felt I could do something more than just write about the issue”. A massive tragedy in Nigeria related to fake drugs that killed 90 children and the daunting statistics about Africa’s plague of counterfeit drugs prompted him into action. From the drugs that find their way onto the market, 30% are illegitimate. And according to the UN, at least half of the anti-malaria tablets that are sold in Africa are counterfeit, meaning a business of about $438 million a year. Simons added that: “A 2001 Interpol research conducted in Lagos, Nigeria showed that 80% of all the medicines on sale were counterfeit.”

With his endeavour to transform lives, he bootstrapped the mPedigree system, which is very accessible and easy to use. Manufacturers place an unique code on the medicine label, which the consumers have to SMS to see whether the medicine is safe. Consumers are responded to with a simple “yes” or “no”, assuring whether the medicine is good for consumption or not. This is in effect a great consumer experience, simple and easy, but it wasn’t that way for Simons to implement it. In the interesting article Innovative Mobile Phone Strategies in the Developing World, Simons stressed that “when you develop new technologies, you are not trying to change the consumer; you are trying to change the manufacturer to serve the consumer”.

The raising figure of the entrepreneur in the emerging markets as an agent of change is backed up by academic research, as the article in The Economist points out. Demographers have often noted that most of the emerging world will stay young while the rich world ages. Among other benefits brought by this factor, this will be favourable due to the boost of a more entrepreneurial business culture. This is being reinforced by two big changes in the emerging world:

1- The information-technology revolution: Many consumers in emerging markets are much more likely to access the Internet via mobile devices rather than PCs. “That gives local entrepreneurs an advantage”, says Rob Salkowitz, the author of “Young World Rising”, meaning that Africans can build companies around coming technology, while their Western peers first have to transform old systems and mindsets to do it.

2- Pro-entrepreneurial revolution: Global institutions such as the World Bank and the World Economic Forum as well as several big companies have helped to popularise entrepreneurialism.

These facts may show that Bright Simons, as many other successful African social entrepreneurs, could be in fact representatives of a new leadership scenario in the emerging markets, which drives change and promotes transparency by connecting people and organizations via communications technologies. If this is true for the whole of Africa, it has to be proved, but cases like Simons’ clearly show that technology and entrepreneurship can be a solution to fight some of the toughest plagues that hit the continent: political and economic inefficiencies.

Do you think entrepreneurialism could be an agent of change for Africa?