Africa Day: Energising African Communities to Take over the World

2017-05-25 15:02

It was CK Prahalad who radically changed the MBA degree syllabus with his pioneering concept of Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. He passed on in 2010.

CK Prahalad in my estimation was the most exciting business teacher ever. After he published his paper Serving the World’s Poor, Profitably  in the Harvard Business Review Journal (2002), I spent my last little money telephoning him at his office at the University of Michigan in the United States. International calls that time were very expensive, but I sacrificed anyway. We discussed on the phone his cutting-edge theories of solving poverty through innovative ideas in poor communities. After some talk he encouraged me to stay in touch. I admired his penetrating intellect and since then he has nurtured my deepening commitment to finding solutions for Africa.

CK Prahalad

“The critical barrier to doing business in rural regions is distribution access, not a lack of buying power. The lesson for multinationals: Don’t hesitate to deploy advanced technologies at the bottom of the pyramid while, or even before, deploying them in advanced countries. We argue that when multinational companies provide basic goods and services that reduce costs to the poor and help improve their standard of living—while generating an acceptable return on investment—the results benefit everyone". – CK Prahalad

We have since seen the race for the pot of gold at the bottom of the pyramid with catch phrases such as “emerging markets” and “Africa rising” becoming buzzwords.

My MBA dissertation in part, was based on CK Prahalad's ideas.

A further strand of CK Prahalad's idea was visible this Thursday, Africa Day at the Sandton Convention Centre, at a summit called Africa Shared Value. Tieckie Barnard the CEO of Shift Social Development and one of the key organizers of the summit says: Shared value is not an add-on: it is a conscious shift in a company’s operations that makes driving social change part and parcel of business as usual. It is about finding more effective ways of working with the communities in which the business operates.

Shared Value is about companies considering the concept of fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. There is yet another strand where you take on the individuals within the community and infused them with golden ideas to the work they do, be it grass cutting, brick laying, odd jobs so on. It is about expanding the dimensions of their work. It is way people develop pride in what they do and that translates into a sense of worth, confidence and self-esteem to the person.

I have been CK Prahalad's surrogate across Greater Pretoria: Soshanguve, Mabopane, Garankuwa. In one project I worked on, with the financial support from the Netherlands Government Ministry of International Cooperation (MHO-NUFFIC), I built a catalog of power ideas that served as interventions in families on how to educate their children early on in life - building in them good habits of success in life. The results of those research intervention efforts were later to be published in one of Africa’s respected journals, Africa Development. Africa Development is owned by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), headquartered in Dakar, Senegal.

I was even accepted to make a presentation at a UN Conference but because of other commitments I was unable to travel. I was part of the Human Sciences Research (HSRC) team that developed "Employment Scenarios". The “Employment Scenarios” programme was the flagship at the HSRC drawing leaders from government, the private sector, labour and academia together to define a vision and practical strategies to address extremely high unemployment in South Africa. At the heart of our research we wanted to know whether policies were correctly targeted, balanced and bold enough to achieve Government’s employment and poverty targets. The top-line finding forms part of Chapter 3 of the National Development Plan (NDP).

Efforts are being made in KwaMhlanga, where a Innovation and Entrepreneurship Strategy has already been approved by the Ndebele Kingdom.

All these little work here and there may lack the drama and attention of the liberation struggles, but make no mistake: it is more significant. I have seen countless people taking control of their destinies making change from the bottom up on their own. Scores of businesses ranging from cell phone entrepreneurs to small farmers, leather, textiles, plastic recycling, and first aid apparatus to gold jewelry, detergents, and groceries harnessed and sustaining communities. The scale of the businesses varies from one-person operations to bigger, well-recognized producers of brand-name products. Africans have shown the capacity and commitment to create their own opportunities. All these things are done despite a difficult painful past and lack of sound credible support from politicians.

“You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes you can. Because in this moment, history is on the move" - Message to Africans from Barack Obama, from his speech to Ghana’s Parliament, Saturday July 11, 2009.

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