Power Of Context: How Africa Entrepreneurs Can Create Stronger Businesses

Power Of Context: How Africa Entrepreneurs Can Create Stronger Businesses

Many African entrepreneurs are struggling with the formulation of a clear business model. Or in other words: Many struggle to place an idea into a strong context that has clear objectives.

I have experienced this many times working in Africa as an international development worker and it’s a pattern that I now also witness during my work with Africa business start ups.

I remember working with my partners and colleagues on the formulation of new projects in the Horn of Africa. I was responsible for program design, but would take the ideas of my team (miss them!) into account. Although they were all highly experienced and informed, it would usually sound something like this:

–          Colleague: I think a literacy training would be good

–          Me: Sure, and why?

–          Colleague: Because most of the beneficiaries are illiterate and this is something we could easily do with the help of the  Ministry of Education.

Do you notice something? If it all sounds perfectly plausible to you, you may be at risk of drawing similar business models.

Let me give you a more extreme example.

conc3You are watching TV and suddenly you have a thought. You jump up run in the garden, you take the axe to cut down a tree. You feel pretty good about it. Job done. The tree is gone and you can continue watching TV. But your situation has not much changed, although the tree is gone. Why? Because there was no context surrounding your idea and decision to act upon it.

Yes of course, conducting a literacy training is great, but what is the story behind it? Simply having a ‘good idea’ is not enough. What are the profound needs or problems you are trying to address? Start with that.

Fact is that the profound needs of our target group, the nomads, for example was not illiteracy at all, but the lack of grassland and animal fodder that concerned them profoundly. Land degradation and neglecting government policies were the main cause for this shortage. And every aspect in their livelihood was affected by that.

I pushed for action that met this core need.

So did we keep the literacy training in our out?

We needed the literacy training to fit, or we had to simply cut it out. When you have a certain budget and time frame you need to stick with what is relevant to achieve your main goal. In our case the goal was to improve the fodder situation of nomads.

In your case it is to start selling and grow a successful business.

Literacy was important not because the nomads were illiterate and a training with the ministry sounded like a ‘good idea’, but because the nomadic communities needed to be empowered to represent themselves and their affairs in front of neglecting policy makers, so they could save their grazing land. We opted for organizational management training as a part of the overall goal, and literacy was an important ingredient for successfully forming and managing an organization or association. Literacy was kept in, solely because it helped us to move towards our overall goal. THIS is what was crucial. It now had a powerful and clear context and purpose. It was clear to us, the nomads, and the funders why we did the training.

conc4I think some Africa entrepreneurs need to create clarity and context around their business ideas.

Yes indeed, for themselves, their target market, and for potential funders (banks, investors, business partners). Everyone needs to quickly grasp what exactly you are doing and why you are doing it.

I receive business concepts and plans where I see plausible ideas, but I don’t get it. It seems to go in all sort of direction with no clear goal or purpose or even target market. Why are you doing it? And what exactly are you trying to achieve with it?

The power of context:

I believe that Africa entrepreneurs should develop three sets of context to help them achieve results:

1) A personal context

2) A market context

3) A communal or development context


1) African entrepreneur’s personal context

Why do you want to become an Africa entrepreneur in the first place?

There must be a strong personal motivation and a clear goal behind your action.

Whenever you feel challenged by doubt, slow progress, or failure it is the WHY that will keep you going. Not the what. And in particular not the how.

Figure out the ‘why’. Find your own burning reason, why you will start it and see it through. I translated the ‘why’ into a couple of images and during challenging times I bring them to the forefront of my mind. Here you go, I remind myself, this is ‘why’ you are doing it and ‘why’ you will get going. I march on, because the personal context I have established is strong and valid.

2) African entrepreneur’s market context

Although your passion, talent, and interests will flow into you business model and that really is a good thing, I have been told: it’s not about you, it’s about the customer. And to get it right for your target market is not easy at all. What are the needs, demands, and habits of your target group and how is your business meeting that? It’s like telling a story of your market – and then getting ready to fit right into the narrative.

3) African entrepreneur’s development context

“African entrepreneurs are our new governments” a business partner of mine told me recently on a late-night Skype meeting. I understood exactly what he meant. African entrepreneurs are tackling the problems, needs, and demands of our continent. They create jobs, boost innovation, and increasingly serve the needs of Africa’s communities where both aid agencies and government have failed to achieve much. Africa entrepreneurs, I am convinced, will be a key driving force for Africa’s development. They accelerate growth, reduce poverty, and provide essential products and service through their business ventures.

Here you go, what a powerful business context to be consciously part of.

Are you using it to your advantage?

I suggest you look at your business idea or concept and check if you do have the 3 in place to create a strong business model:

Personal context

Market context

Development context


Africa right now is hiring passionate people for different positions: shapers, leaders, visionaries, performers, the driven, the desperate, the determined, the curious, the caring. Amplify the opportunity for you by building a clean-cut context, a powerful story, around your business model.

You see, we can simply start doing some business in Africa….

Or we can set out on a journey to use clear goals and a strong business model as a path to realize bigger dreams.

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Dr. Harnet
Dr. Harnet Bokrezion is the Founder of africajumpstart.com and co-author of the book '101 Ways to Make Money in Africa'. She coaches individuals and consults existing companies assisting them to make smart and strategic business decisions in Africa’s new emerging markets faster and more confidently. Dr. Harnet also regularly writes for the renowned DHL powered publication howwemadeitinafrica.com. Get in touch to inquire how she can be of assistance to your own Africa business endeavors: harnet@africajumpstart.com

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