LIFESTYLE/TRAVEL

A Grand Vision For Africa

One of my visions for Africa is that we as Africans in America begin to partner with Africans to help create lasting institutions that move beyond the shortcomings existing in the United States. By this I mean that institutions in the United States were set up to serve a certain purpose at their inception, and that purpose was not intended to benefit Africans that were slaves here at the time.

What if we invested our time and money into creating an Africa that actually worked better for us (all Africans) than the United States and Europe? What if we created an Africa that was environmentally sound, socially aware, and as Muhammad Yunus might say, consciously capitalist?

The good news is that we are blessed with an Africa that does not have an overwhelming amount of infrastructure. That makes this process of creation much simpler. This might be the first time that some of you have heard anyone refer to Africa as blessed for not having infrastructure, but that is actually the truth. There is less to undo in order to create. But before we create, we must transform the way we see Africa; from a place of lack and limitation, to a place of opportunity. Where there is lack, there is good business opportunity. Don’t let yourself get twisted around into thinking that lack means there is something wrong.

Someone responded to my previous blog, asking me where I came up with the idea of creating a clothing business in Africa. There was a vacuum, and I chose to see it as a unique opportunity.

Doing business in Africa has its challenges, some of which I mentioned in my first blog entry. My biggest challenges are the fact that quality standards and expectations are a bit lower than the United States. Mainly, Africans tend to not be as picky as people in the West about product quality. They tend to be more concerned about functionality. As a business person creating product there for export, you have to understand that this is their thought process so you know how to work within it.

Africans move slower on average, perhaps that’s why they look younger and less stressed. Nonetheless, they cannot always produce at the rate and volume required by the West, but that is because very few people are asking them to. With the exception of South Africa, most African nations are not yet set-up to supply the volume of goods and services that the West or the East provides.

Another thing about doing business in Africa is that they do not always have the most current technology, because their circumstances do not require it. This sometimes makes it hard to do business with them remotely, as they may not have the same internet capacity that we do.

You must prepare yourself for these eventualities, and be ready to fly over and straighten things out if necessary.

As I see it, the overall benefit is that Africa has a tremendous amount of multiple resources. With regards to my business, it is a unique cultural product to offer the world. Yes, I could have my shirts made by children in India, but that does nothing for Africa, let alone the children of India. What I have chosen to do is to include the story of how things get made into my branding, so that the obstacles become a part of what makes the brand successful and unique.

My vision for Africa is that people will begin to see the value in the obstacles. I encourage potential businesses to build this into their strategic plans and branding in such a way that doing business in Africa is as much about the interesting experiences (bad or good) as it is about the business itself.

Mobolaji Olambiwonnu is the founder of “African Cowboy: Cross-Cultural Dialogue Through Clothing” and is committed to a new conversation about Africa that focuses on what works rather than what doesn’t. You can take part in the African cowboy or cowgirl experience at www.AfricanCowboyClothing.com.


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