Africa is the world’s youngest continent and the world’s 2nd most populous continent. It’s also, arguably, the continent with the most potential for development and growth. According to the UN, about two-thirds of the predicted growth in population between 2020 and 2050 will take place in Africa.
There are some similarities between China and Africa that we can learn from, starting with their populations of over 1 billion people each. China had the most potential of any geographic region in the early 2000s, but much of its exponential growth has already passed. There are certainly many companies still pining for success in China, but the real innovators have already turned their attention to Africa.
And even though China saw much of its growth in the 2000s, companies that entered the market after that point were already too late. Veritable juggernauts like Amazon, Uber, and Google all failed for various reasons including cultural competency and local competition, but issues with timing is a common denominator.
Stating that time has a causal relationship with failure or success is surely an oversimplification, but time in the market generally beats timing the market.
One successful case study from China is Nike, which has had a market presence since the 1970s and a consumer presence in 1981. They were first-movers in China, and they now enjoy unrivaled brand recognition and customer loyalty. They have recently faced PR issues but have historically been able to weather the storm and remain a favorite brand, especially amongst Chinese youth.
Similar to China, being an innovator or early adopter in Africa is not without its challenges. When entering into a new market, many companies commit too few resources, too little time, and rely too heavily on foreign teams.
However, there are many benefits to entering the African market early. A company or brand can become embedded in the cultural fabric of a country, gain critical insights through experience, access local talent, and tap into a growing middle class.
However, countries that have been exploited before are acutely aware of companies’ intentions to extract as much as possible, but what if companies could help build the middle class that it will one day benefit from? Companies no longer have to operate exclusively in an extractive manner, especially as Africa becomes a source of both consumption and creation.
Africa should be in charge of shaping its own future, but that doesn’t mean that companies can’t contribute. Job creation is vital in Africa’s future success, and early adopters are crucial in expediting Africa’s inevitable future success.
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