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This blog explores insights for multinational corporations, NGOs, academics, social entrepreneurs and others working at the Base of the Pyramid.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Best Ideas of 2011: 2012, the Year of Archimedean Entrepreneurs

By Eric Kacou

2011 will live in history as the year Africa made a dent in the world, to paraphrase Steve Jobs. As previously discussed in this NextBillion series, The Economist, a 'beacon of afro-pessimism', headlined "Africa Rising" late last year. What a jump from "The Hopeless Continent" in 2000. 

Thankfully, the cover underscores solid empirical evidence. Africa leapt forward at 4,9 percent last year in a growth starved world. While the Arab Spring heralded a new era of accountability, inspiring - some might suggest - the occupy Wall Street movement. 

Moving beyond the Survival Trap

Anyone visiting Africa would be hard pressed to see Africans celebrate this feat. This is not for being an ungrateful people. Rather, it is because the growth spurt has not materialized into tangible improvements in the life of the average African citizen. At least not yet...

Who is the average African citizen? It is a young woman (or man) living off subsistence farming on a very small plot of land in a rural area. This citizen feels stuck scrapping to survive in the pre-industrial age while the rest of the world moves forward in the digital age.

In reality, most Africans are still mired in the 'survival trap', a vicious cycle that makes individuals, businesses and nations react to short-term crises instead of developing long-term strategies for prosperity.

This where Haiti and Africa share a lot more than meets the eye. Beyond a shared history and deep cultural roots, one realizes that their development indicators are very similar.

Today's greatest challenge is the struggle for prosperity. It is also, arguably, today's greatest opportunity.

Make no mistake: Freeing the 2.7 billion people struggling on less than two dollars per day from the survival trap is not optional. In reality, it is not only a moral imperative, but it is also an economic one.

Solving the "Starving-Growth" Paradox

Africa must move beyond the "starving-growth" paradox, the type of growth that fails to deliver tangible impact for the streets. The Arab Spring taught us that the patience of the African street is not unlimited.

Make no mistake this solution is no microwave-fast arrangement. It will require some heavy lifting; Education reform, governance upgrades and infrastructure investments deserve committed actions. 

Yet, these are necessary but not sufficient.

What low-income regions often overlook is the business of business in prosperity creation. To be fair, history has taught low-income nations that business-both multinationals and local firms-can be predatory.

Archimedean Entrepreneurs as LIFTS to prosperity

Yet, pockets of hope are rising up in the form of entrepreneurs such as Eva Muraya; founder and CEO of Color Creations advertising firm in Kenya; Mathias Pierre founder of affordable housing construction firm, Kaytek in Haiti; Fred Rariewa, CEO of Pulse Africa, an advertising agency in Kenya that specializes in public health campaigns; and countless others. While not be as famous as Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey, they are leaving a legacy that may prove as lasting.

(Pictured is Archimedean entrepreneur Mathias Pierre in the showroom of his sustainable housing company, Kaytek in Haiti. Image credit: KayTek). 

Around 200 BC, Archimedes made a formidable dare: "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world". Two thousand years later, these leaders are responding to Archimedes's challenge.

Specifically, they are creating LIFTS to prosperity through five key attributes:

  • Lighthouse or a clear vision that encompasses everyone and helps guide a business past success to significance.
  • Intangibles or the values that create the environment that facilitates innovation, cooperation and growth.
  • Forward thinking-short-sightedness often keeps firms stuck in the 'survival trap'. Archimedean leaders are able to look ahead to what is possible.  
  • Trust-in a context where zero-sum mindset erodes trust, Archimedean entrepreneurs recognize the importance of rebuilding this trust.  
  • Solutions-Rather than being crimpled by challenges, Archimedean leaders remain focused on developing real solutions to meet societal needs. 

Learning from Archimedean Entrepreneurs in 2012

Is 2012 already proving to be the Year of Africa? Yes - but only if Africa can unleash its Archimedean entrepreneurs. Paradoxically, the key to prosperity in low-income regions such as Africa and the Caribbean is the success of entrepreneurs that are able to translate growth into tangible impact.

These leaders set a powerful example of what the next generation of world leaders can accomplish. Powered by moral purpose and the right mindsets, Archimedean entrepreneurs are equipped to address the greatest challenge facing us.

It is the belief in the potential of these leaders that fuels our work at ESPartners. We look forward to sharing the stories of success and significance of some of these entrepreneurs as we look forward 2012. 

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