Statistics have shown that with about 43%, ICT is set to be a major driver for job creation, and depopulation of the unemployment market for discerning countries in Africa. In this exclusive interview with Mr. Mitchell Prather, the Chief Executive Officer of Djembe Communications, African Leadership Magazine’s Ehis Ayere, sought a clearer understanding of how this feat can be achieved. Excerpt:
Recently, Djembe Communications launched a mobile app “Djembe Insights” which gives access to a private social network “Djembe Connect” with over 500 African influencers, experts, and opinion leaders. Please, can you tell us more about the app and what inspired you?
Djembe Connect is a unique mobile application that does not exist anywhere else across the African continent. It has been specifically designed to connect local Africans who exhibit a similar entrepreneurial spirit and mindset about the potential of Africa and developing innovative opportunities. The inspiration came from our research report that identified entrepreneurship as the biggest area for growth in Africa, and there needed to be an online community for which investors and entrepreneurs could connect, share, and engage. The mobile application provides free access to unique perspectives on different topics about Africa. Furthermore, the application also demonstrates our commitment towards Africa, and creating an informed discourse on Africa, whilst providing unique insights and analysis in a user-friendly way and offers a networking platform for users from a variety of backgrounds who share our passion.
In the report of the 2015 survey carried out by Djembe Communications and Forbes Insights, it is stated that “the majority of respondents agree that industries that will create the most entrepreneurs in the next 5 years are technology (43%), natural resources (36%), and agriculture (33%).” As the Managing Director of a renowned Communications & Consultancy company, and someone who has over 26 years of experience in cross border communications, do you see growth in African indigenous ICT companies to meet the increasing market demand?
There are many per-incubators that have provided a space for ICT entrepreneurs, where they come together, share ideas and collaborate on such projects as the Soap Factory in Luanda or Jokkolabsin Rabat, both of which offer community members opportunities to meet, learn, and exchange information and network. In the Insights Report, a key finding was that Angola sees natural resources as the top driver for entrepreneurship, and despite being run by international companies, it is still creating new opportunities within natural resources to secondary businesses such as creating a local supply chain for the oil and gas sector. Furthermore, digital media has become such a driving force within Africa to the point that it is now a socioeconomic equalizer in the sense that your background or economic standing is irrelevant. Once you are online all the playing fields are the same – the knowledge and insights you share within the digital realm are what is key.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges hindering the startup and growth of ICT firms in Africa?
One of the major challenges is definitely inadequate education, and as we can see from the Ghana section of the Djembe Insights Report, there is a high percentage of youth who only finish primary school, as opposed to those who finish high school and go onto graduate school. Therefore because of the lack of education, there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are not given the creative space to start their own businesses, and as a result, will try to imitate existing businesses. However, this trend really limits their potential as small business owners. Another major challenge is the lack of a trained workforce in the software industry around Africa as many foreigners inhabit these positions in international corporations. Finally, government assistance to small business administration and entrepreneurial organizations continues to evolve, leaving small businesses with a lack of financial support and guidance to help realize their full potential.
What could be the right policy framework that can help nurture an environment where African ICT entrepreneurs flourish?
Africa is undoubtedly a continent filled with a young population, with an average of 25 years old. Taking that into consideration, good governance and business transparency for entrepreneurs serve as a good starting point for the right policy framework. With any serious policy for social, political and economic development in Africa, recognizing the importance of young people, especially in promoting social progress, reducing political tension and maximizing economic performance are all essential. The pace, depth, and scope of any society’s development depend on how well its youth resources are nurtured, deployed and utilized. For example, to shape the entrepreneurial ecosystem, there’s also a great need to provide African ICT entrepreneurs with a space to collaborate. These hubs exist globally and provide like-minded individuals with the right set of tools to generate innovative solutions. Great ideas exist and a channel through which they can come to life needs to be made accessible.
Who is Mitchell Prather? Why are you so passionately interested in doing business in Africa?
With the experience I gained throughout my career in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and the Middle East, in the international financial and corporate communications sectors, I developed a mindset to build and grow Djembe Communications into the best Pan-African focused communications consultancy. For this to happen, I recognized that it was imperative to hire individuals who were passionate about Africa and their careers at the same time, whether they were based in Dubai, Luanda, Zurich, or any of our international offices. With respect to Djembe’s offices in African markets, we have aimed to hire talented locals who not only know communications and PR, but also demonstrate a profound understanding of key nuances, including language, culture, and media landscape. This has proven to be a winning combination for Djembe.
My point of view on Africa is really no different from the mainstream view which is that Africa is the last major frontier from a growth perspective for the rest of the world. Governments are committed to reform and educated members of the Diaspora are returning home. There is a lot of institutional money and even more‘money under the mattress’ in Africa. The challenges are that there has not been a lot of opportunities to invest this money in the past. Therefore, creating more in-bound markets will keep money in Africa, helping the region to realize its full growth potential. However, to be successful you must create your opportunities from an African perspective first and foremost. My personal advice -get to know this amazing region, its people and cultures, and you’ll surely discover great personal and professional rewards!