“Too few entrepreneurs who want to do business in Africa sufficiently understand their own context. They have a product at hand and want to make it fit, regardless of whether their product meets a need. What Africa needs is context-sensitive entrepreneurs: those who faced a problem in their local context and decided to fix it”, says Africa Business Coach and Consultant Dr Harnet Bokrezion.
Dr Harnet Bokrezion is contributor to Forbes Africa and How we made it in Africa, wrote a book titled 101 Ways To Make Money in Africa, and writes a blog for her company Africa Business Jumpstart. Dr Harnet, who is based in Frankfurt but frequently found in Africa, assists entrepreneurs and established companies interested in doing business in Africa: “Moving into an emerging market in Africa is not for the faint-hearted. Persistence is a must-have and step-by-step guidance is scarce”, she tells Club Africa. For 14 years, Dr Harnet worked among the rural communities of the Horn of Africa as development aid worker. She grew increasingly unhappy with the traditional understanding of a continent in need and when time came, she took her chances and became entrepreneur herself. “Doing research for my new-born business, I found multimillion-dollar investment advice but no information that helped me get my start-up off the ground.”
Picking and riding trends
“African entrepreneurs have difficultly navigating the landscape”, Dr Harnet explains. “I help them choose the right market taking into account their service, circumstances and objectives; evolve from newcomer to respected stakeholder in their market of choice; and help find the right business and alliance-building partners. But not every African entrepreneur is sufficiently sensitive to their context. Africa is full of demands and needs. Meeting those is a very powerful and inspirational thing to do. There are plenty of trends and developments across the continent, and an entrepreneur’s role is to pick a trend and ride it. Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs have a product at hand that they try to make fit in a market, regardless of whether there is demand for their product in that market.”
Changing their thinking
One of Africa’s current trends, according to Dr Harnet, is local value addition: local processing of raw materials or agricultural produce, before export. Much more than a trend, it has become a key priority for African policy makers. But before riding a trend like this one, entrepreneurs and businesses need to change their thinking: “Instead of providing machinery for the agricultural sector, it is much more powerful to say that your machinery enables local companies to add value to their locally sourced produce. You do not only sell X, Y or Z – you contribute to value addition and job creation in the market you focus on.”
An extra dose of persistence, patience, resourcefulness and creativity
“What Africa needs”, Dr Harnet finished, “is the kind of entrepreneur who dares let go of self-conceived ideas and focuses on the needs and problems of his or her community. Once they get past their own perceptions, indeed they need an extra dose of persistence, patience, resourcefulness and creativity. But I believe in Africa’s entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need to be aware of the role they play in Africa’s development, and today’s generation of entrepreneurs has got what it takes. More than entrepreneurs – they are becoming dire-needed activists, leaders and influencers!”