7 Personal Attributes You Will Need To Become Successful In Africa
by John-Paul Iwuoha and Dr. Harnet Bokrezion, authors of 101 Ways to Make Money In Africa
There is this wrong assumption that external attributes or circumstances determine your success. Your school degree, wealthy parents, a cooperative partner, access to finance, luck…. While some of it may come handy, the truth is this is not the case. It is now widely known that success depends on your mindset. Not personal circumstances nor lucky events will determine your success in Africa, but the personal attributes you bring with you.
Many of the newly emerging ultra successful African entrepreneurs have started from scratch. With empty hands. It may be a challenging journey, but there is incredible power in the realization that we can join them, if we just decide to do so.
So if you have been blaming a difficult upbringing for your lack of success, if you have been worrying about money, not having enough time, or missing the business contacts to get you off to a great start, it may be time to focus on yourself and set your hidden potential free. It is never too late to change your path, but you will need to be determined to depart from some of the old to make space for the new.
Let’s look at some of the personal mind tools you need to succeed in Africa.
1. Sense of urgency
If you think you should probably start saving or set yourself a goal to open an Africa business by 2020 you are missing a vital ingredient: a sense of urgency! Yes, Africa is a newly emerging economy with a pool of opportunities, but that pool is getting increasingly crowded by the week. Make the most of this incredible opportunity to operate in a market with a relatively low level of competition. The right time to do business or invest in Africa is now – right now. Having a sense of urgency is an important attribute to your success potential
2. Extra dose of patience and perseverance
Being an entrepreneur is not an easy undertaking and perseverance is what will see you through. Many fail due to lack of patience and faith – there is a delay in gratification when striving for entrepreneurial success and most people are unable to see that through. But the need for these important success attributes are further intensified when operating in an emerging market. Oh, and put that up by a few notches for Africa. Someone who left a comment on my blog (thank you!) said recently: ” I’m an agribusiness executive coming from Brazil to manage a start up soybean project in Mozambique. After 6 months living here and having over 25 years managing agribusinesses in Brazil and Latin America, I can say it’s really a challenging business environment over here.” Yep, this is what we are talking about.
It’s true, Africa’s big cities need basics that don’t require much creativity at all – baby food, shoes, cars, laptops, cleaning utensils. But creativity goes a long way in Africa: For one, it will help you to figure out how to overcome the many shortages and obstacles you will encounter during your operation on the ground, in fact, a lot of creativity goes into how you market and sell on a continent where infrastructure is lacking on so many levels. But there is a more inspiring reason: many of the very successful African entrepreneurs designed incredible products, tools, and services that have managed to solve some of the big needs and wants among both rural and urban communities on the continent that have persisted for decades. We see that a group of creative individuals have managed to solve more problems than some aid budgets combined. Be sure, creativity will get you noticed and far in Africa. In fact adding a creative component to your business concept is how you can often outdo the competition when you get started.
4. Excellent people skills
In Africa having excellent people skills goes far beyond a great attribute you can put on your CV. As an Africa entrepreneur be prepared to discuss with community elders under a tree (if you need access to land or you are introducing a new mobile app), that you then meet some French investors at Hilton for lunch, before you attend a chat with the city’s top young tech guys in a place that reminds you of your old campus cafeteria. What are you wearing for the day? But above all – how good is your ability to communicate and interact with people on the continent who have a very different background and understanding of certain circumstances, and who may all be stakeholders in your industry?
5. Ability to adapt
Don’t try to do things your way on a continent with its own pace and rules. You will only get frustrated or even put people off with your (Western) expectations. I think within your company you will set your own standards and doing so can set you positively apart; but when you operate outside of that, a high ability to adapt will work in your favor many times. I always remember how I attended an appointment in Khartoum some years ago. Shortly before I arrived, the person in charge had decided that he and his colleagues had not eaten yet and he ordered fish, soup, bread, and eggs which were delivered right into his office on a huge silver plate. He did not explain the delay of our meeting or apologize, he simply invited me to join. We ate with our hands (luckily I was at least used to that), and the meeting started only after the tea was served. I had time, and although our appointment had been somewhat disregarded, I decided not to ask questions, but to go with the flow. Actually, in this case I enjoyed what would have been a real rarity attending a meeting in London or Boston!
6. Courage and optimism
Right – so let’s sum up: risk of corruption, armed conflict, terrorism, locus pest, drought, poorly skilled personnel and managers, tropical illnesses. Did we forget anything? If you have a natural tendency to focus on the risks and on everything that could go wrong, you will find it difficult to become a successful entrepreneur in Africa. The issue is that there are many reasons why you should not do something or why something could fail, but there are even more reasons why you should act upon it. While risk management is vital when operating in Africa, you will need an extra portion of courage and optimism to get you through the challenges and succeed. But when you do it pays off manifold!
7. Grand Vision
“I know they don’t know what solar is. But soon the villagers will install it themselves and tell other villages all about it…!” You can bring immense light and hope back into a continent that has collectively suffered for decades and centuries, you just need to believe and act upon it. Carve out your grand vision! See clearly in front of you the positive impact you want to make in the world with your business and the grand life you want to create for yourself. Our love for Africa and its people and our personal desire to live a happy life is what will unite us when becoming successful Africa entrepreneurs!
So, do you think you have what it takes? And above all: how bad do you want it?