Friday, September 14, 2012

The Conscience of a Capitalist

I am a capitalist. I have been my entire life. And although some people would have you believe that making money is a sin, I believe that having money keeps you from sinning. So therefore, I personally strive to be as profitable as possible in any business venture I chose.  So what does this mean for my ventures in
Africa? It means that I pay local prices and wages for everything and everyone.

Now, occasionally, I catch flack from my friends about this. "Oh, how could you pay them that way?" they exclaim, or "Why would you argue over a few cedis and its so insignificant to you versus them.", they state horrified. I simply reply, "It's business."

You see, I agree that is horrible that wages are desperately low in Ghana. I also agree that I really don't have to negotiate a dealer to their bottom price. But would I be considered a business person if I didn't do these things?  I think not. Historically, if you look at the richest people in most societies they have made their legacy wealth during the industrial revolution- its why I came to Africa. You may also notice, that during the industrial revolution things were not as fair as they could have been and workers were never paid as well as they should have been. But that, my friend, is capitalism- the world we have chosen for ourselves.

So my business in Africa, is not to give people allowances not already afforded by society. Instead, I am here to create a legacy wealth that will hopefully have a greater impact on society than giving a man an extra cedi. After all, why should I give a man one cedi to waste when I can spend it properly and create opportunity for all of us?

Now some of you will cry out for social enterprise in Africa, and I agree. That is why I applaud those businesses that are here not to make money, but to benefit society. But once again, let me reiterate, I am a capitalist. I also encourage those who feel I am taking advantage of Africa to look at the injustices in your own country. After all, when is the last time you rallied for fair wages for the migrant farmer or illegal house help? Think about how many times you have refused to give money, food and shelter to the homeless and hungry in your own society. And never forget, you still have the working poor where you live too. In fact, are you the working poor?

So if you decide to embark on a capitalism venture in Africa, remember, it is just that. Also remember, it is easier to pull a man up once you have climbed the mountain yourself.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It Takes Two

For most of my life I have never been a team player. Perhaps its because I never participated in sports. It may also be attributed to the fact that everything I have ever been good at, in life, has never required a partner. Oratory contests just required a succinct memory and a pleasant speaking voice. I have never needed a study partner, since I seemed naturally inclined to do well in class. And, well, even as a child, when I was on Scholastic team, I singlehandedly carried the team. Might sound cocky, but its true- I even won the award that year for answering the most questions in District 150. So teamwork, has never been a natural thing for me.

However, since moving to Africa and starting a business. I now understand the importance of having a partner. You see in Africa, since funding is almost nonexistent and the terrain is ever changing partners/mentors are really an essential component to success;without them it is almost impossible to succeed. Now don't get me wrong there are plenty of people doing well by themselves- they also happen to come from a strong family support system- aka they are wealthy. But for those of us with limited resources and time, if you don't have a partner you may find yourself churning the wheels without moving forward.

In Africa, the more hands on deck you have the better. The more brains you have that can anticipate/understand the needs of your consumer, the better. And the more people who can contribute financially to the success of the business, the better.

Does this mean that you can't make it in business by yourself? Absolutely not. But don't underestimate the time and energy you will be required to make your business a success. And as a person, on ground, I am telling you, it can easily burn one out within a short period of time. Choosing a partner will not only help you save your energy so you can focus on additional projects, but they will also at times be your saving grace. After all you can't be in every place at once, and since meeting face to face is essential most times to do business in Africa the extra body will always be needed.

It has been said no man is an island and this is especially true, if you want to do business in Africa.