The Economist: Africa is full of schemes to help entrepreneurs

Oct 5, 2019

Down a narrow alley in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, Ivan Zziwa has built a mini-conglomerate. He fixes phones, sells accessories, blends juice, hires out chairs and offers mobile money services, with the help of four people. He says online conversations with a volunteer mentor in Spain prompted him to expand into wholesale and door-to-door deliveries. This offered a way to market his existing businesses to new customers. It may also reduce risk.

The mentoring was arranged by Grow Movement, an ngo that pairs volunteer consultants from all over the world with small businesses in Africa. A forthcoming study finds that entrepreneurs who received this long-distance coaching increased their monthly sales by a quarter. They did so not by changing their business practices, such as accounting, but by changing their entire business. One stationer describes how he started making his own exercise books, which was cheaper than buying them. A rural businessman selling liquid soap and fertiliser decided to expand into solar lights, water filters and cooking stoves after his mentor prodded him to look for unmet needs.

As elsewhere, however, most African success stories involve a lucky break. Ms Buyondo’s came when a savings group at church lent her money and two teachers agreed to work for deferred pay. Mike Duff mentored Mr Zziwa. He recalls how chance encounters and nuggets of advice while studying at the London School of Economics helped his own career (he now runs an eco-retreat). He describes his Skype conversations with Mr Zziwa as the “uberisation” of good fortune. Mr Elumelu talks of his foundation trying to “institutionalise luck”. Starting a business will always be a game of chance.

    You can unsubscribe at anytime and view our privacy policy here.