By Oscar Nwokeji
Globally, Africa is one of the few places (if not the only place) where you see a large number of young people engage in menial jobs diligently in order to develop their skills and become successful.
Take a walk down the streets of Lagos or Cape Town, Nairobi or Casablanca, Accra or Yaounde, you will come across the most similar stories – young people pushing the limits and breaking their backs to change the narrative of their lives.
It is no news that Africa takes the throne as the poorest continent globally, but what many may not know is the heart, dedication and hard work that young people across this ‘poor’ continent put in each day.
The story isn’t that the continent itself is poor (Africa is home to the most valuable and sought after natural resources in the world), or that the people aren’t hard working (a visit to this continent would convince you otherwise), or that the people are lacking great ideas and talents, the story is that many people [even young people] in Africa are trying to make head way in the new world using old world skills. It is like playing tennis with the rules of football.
There was a time that hard work reigned supreme and labour was the major ingredient to success, but that is not the case today. The world is digitized and a digital world has ushered in a new kind of success that doesn’t depend on hard work, but smart work. This era favours the smart and pushes the hard workers into oblivion. This isn’t to say that hard work isn’t important, but that ‘manual labour’ is doomed to failure.
Africans are industrious and hardworking and have constantly tried to change the narrative of their lives. A good example is the low number of available jobs in Africa, but rather than sit and weep, its young people have embraced entrepreneurship. In Nigeria alone, SMEs contribute 48% of national GDP, account for 96% of businesses and 84% of employment. This is a remarkable feat made possible in conjunction with the Nigerian youths, but a major challenge to this businesses is that most of them are not digitized.
It is as though Africa got trapped in a box devoid of opportunities and the right education for the digital world. Many people are aware that a business has to be digitized and we as individuals have to be digitally literate, but many more are unable to access the knowledge and opportunities they need to make this happen.
In the world we live in today, awe-inspiring success is only possible for a digital entrepreneur, and this means until and unless Africans embrace digital entrepreneurship, it will be almost impossible to make business advancements in the coming years.
Digital entrepreneurship is one of the ways our new world has favoured the smart workers and is beginning to leave the hard workers (traditions entrepreneurs) behind. Look around you and see the testament to this fact: the richest people in the world today have all embraced digital entrepreneurship in one way or another. The businesses securing large investments globally are all digital businesses. The entrepreneurs we see on the cover of business magazines and on business talk shows are all digital entrepreneurs. If this isn’t proof that only the smart workers get the gold, I wonder what is. Digitization is not something going to happen in the distant future, it is already here.
In order to transform Africa, her people and economy, we must embrace digital entrepreneurship.
The term ‘Digital Entrepreneurship’ most commonly refers to the process of creating a new— or novel—Internet enabled/delivered business, product or service. This definition includes both startups—bringing a new digital product or service to market—but also the digital transformation of an existing business activity inside a firm or the public sector. In simple terms, digital entrepreneurship is leveraging on the internet/digital world to create, grow and successfully develop a business.
It involves using the online tools available to you to make improvements in your business even if the actual business is offline. It could be as simple as setting up a website or social media pages, it even involves using simple software to automate certain aspects of your business like sending out newsletters to keep your audience involved.
In the developed world, this is not a new concept and majority of the startups are digital. This simply means that digital entrepreneurship has long taken deep roots in advanced nations across the globe. The same cannot be said for Africa as we are still shacked by the traditional way of doing business and entrepreneurship. Riddle me this: If the countries that have digitized the world are producing more and more digital businesses each year, how is Africa supposed to survive the coming tides with our analog enabled businesses?
In every possible scenario, a digital business will always trump a traditional/analog one, and a digital entrepreneur will always be more successful that a non-digital one. Some of the overwhelming benefits of digital entrepreneurship above traditional entrepreneurship are:
Ease of Entry: It is by far easier to get into digital entrepreneurship compared to a traditional one. Today, anyone can set up an online store for free using Amazon or EBay and now, Facebook has joined the mix. With an internet connection and smart device, anyone can delve into digital entrepreneurship, but a traditional entrepreneur would have to set up an offline store with a lot of money that he may have borrowed.
- Ease of Manufacturing and Storage: A person who sells digital goods would have to manufacture the product once (e.g., an eBook or Software) and upload on a server, and all the customer has to do is to pay and download. Whereas, a traditional entrepreneur would have to publishing more books based (in the case of a book) on volume and pay hefty to store the products.
- Ease of Distribution in a Digital Marketplace: Digital entrepreneurship has another edge over traditional entrepreneurship in regards to distribution. A traditional business faces a lot of bureaucracy with the distribution of their goods and services and would have to pay absurd amounts to send their products to their customers, whereas, a digital entrepreneur can distribute to any customer in the most remote part of the world from the comfort of their homes. Talk about efficiency!
Digital entrepreneurship is here to stay, but the opportunities currently available may not be available for too long. Currently, the window is open for Africa and her entrepreneurs to capitalize on the digital scene to create businesses to transform the continent and her people. The future of Africa hangs on the balance of our ability to capitalize on the digital world and create successful businesses through it.
A lot is on the line and our young people are indeed the future of this continent. The stories that will be told of Africa in the next 50 years are written in these moments. Let us write the stories our children would be proud of.
*Nwokeji, a digital entrepreneur, writes from Lagos