Market Creating Innovation Changes Lives in Africa
May 17, 2020
As I sat waiting in good company for some delicious Mukimo Kienyeji with beef stew on the first floor’s veranda of Leeks Restaurant located in Ruaka, Kiambu county, Kenya. I leaned against the railing on that hot sunny bright blue sky day of the beginning of year 2019 and gazed through my sunglasses on the well known busy street called Limuru road. Little did I know of, neither did it ever cross my mind as a travel objective, that some day I’ll find myself to be in the land of the book “The River Between” written by Ngugi that we read and studied in high school in Mauritius, in our teenager years. Honestly back then, in literature class, I had great difficulty following the narrators story. Just like other works such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth! So it is for a young man who still had to go out there and see the world… Which would shape his perceptions, gain some maturity and gradually understand a little more the languages of those great thinkers! I will soon read “The River Between” again with great anticipation, after several decades, and am pretty sure the same book, will speak to me very differently… Have you experienced similar in your life?
Back to Ruaka. I was curiously looking at the various comings and goings of this street scenery in a relaxed state feeling more in touch with the present moment. At first we spotted a white man sitting right in front of the main street seemingly waiting for someone. A funny comment was made that no one actually ever sits in such a position facing the main road so close. Shortly after, we saw a car stop and someone came out whom he greeted with great rejoice, both of them raising their arms in the sky which eclipsed into a big hug. Then they both left in that car.
A few minutes later, a white Toyota Land Cruiser with military escort stopped not far from the restaurant which is not far from the Northern Bypass road. Several Chinese men came out wearing helmets who I deduct could have been civil engineers, architects, etc., they pulled out some big paper plans and looked in all directions while a few soldiers stood not too far from them. So these guys need that much security I pondered. I observed with great interest how these Chinese men displayed this sense of being busy, determined, they have a goal and mean business.
Why were they there?
That roads future is about to be changed soon. It’s predicament to be turned into a super highway has been sealed. It is only in Kenya that I have heard for the first time the term super highway! I come from the land of the Autobahn and how highways manage traffic fascinates me. So a term like a super highway gives me the image of a highway with more lanes than usually to be expected. On a side note, there are humps on Kenya’s highways of which you have to be very careful especially at night.
Limuru road is a long stretch of a road that goes through densely populated areas such as Ruaka, Ndenderu, Gacharage, then through outskirts of big garden properties that people can rent for events, industrial zones, followed by beautiful plantations of flowers and tea to end at a big intersection meeting with the Eldoret Malaba road and Kamandura – Mai Mahiu – Narok road.
Not too far away is Limuru Town that also has the famous Bata brand factory. Speaking of Bata, I should get out my Bata Safari boots! This is a very popular boot from Kenya, designed in 1939 and still enjoying great success! Do you also sometimes say to yourself, this shoe is special, with it’s sole I walked in Africa and the Americas and then see those places in your mind conjure up where you have been, go by in memory lane nostalgia… and wondering, when that sole has worn out, I’ll have an excuse to get a new pair of shoes!?
…So, before reaching that intersection there is a beautiful road to your right called the Kabuku Tigoni road which goes through big tea plantation fields. It is a 2 lane road as large as a 4 lane road. It is so pretty! For my personal taste, one of my many favorite places! Definitely worth a drive through if you are doing some sightseeing around. Add to this also the Kiambu road. This region also offers many beautiful holiday accommodations that you can rent via Airbnb or booking dot com. I’m not a great fan of such multinational retailing websites who take a commission on your payment to the landlords. Now, back to our few sightseeing tips, you can also have a meal at Brackenhurst, or visit one of the clubs such as Kentmere Club and Limuru Country Club.
Diversity in Grid layouts
I have a personal hobby and interest in maps, civil engineering, city builder game simulators, road layout grids, smart cities and urban planning. I like to look at how cities and urban areas are structured, the roads design such as lane width, amount of lanes and how traffic is managed through various bottlenecks. When you look at Kiambu county, you see road grids that seem very organic and the neighborhoods that spin off from the main roads are adapted to the terrain making for some interesting shapes and patterns that I haven’t seen before. My friend Joe would like such a structure. Are you reading this Joe!? There are also other places and towns that come with the more common grid, those rectangular shapes of neighborhoods also called blocks.
Along many main roads, I have noticed that there is a standard width of large space kept to the right and left of the main road, which is followed by an unpaved road, on each side, sufficiently wide for 2 lanes and in addition has parking space plus walking space, then followed by usually commercial buildings. Which means you have 2 lanes for the main road traffic, and then on each side 2 lanes of unpaved roads for traffic of cars that have got some business to do and need parking. These then do not obstruct main traffic. In total this makes up for a 6 lane spacious structure. This large space also leaves room for the future if the main road would need more lanes. Is this a common standard in Africa? Zooming into Nigeria via Google Map I did see some places there having similar layout. It seemed to be a standard in Kenya, I wonder who envisioned it like that, and why. Here in Mauritius, in many places, the roads are narrow and there isn’t much space on the side to enlarge them, let alone space for a sidewalk!
The last days of what once was for the new is?
First of all, arriving late at night at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya, the service levels in some departments still have a lot of room for improvement, however am more amazed by the new surroundings, so I just take it all as it is, and curious for what is waiting outside the terminal. By the way they also scan your fingerprints at the customs, are you OK with that? The serious looking customs officer finds my duration to stay in Kenya for 1 month only too short and recommends I stay another month. A welcome suggestion that I like. Considering how most countries prefer foreigners to leave as quick as possible! Before reaching the last milestone to open the door to meet greeting friends, I hear an officer calling for persons to stop so she can check their luggage if they have items to declare. I observe that some persons ignore her, some have put on their headsets and pretend not to hear and simply walk out the airport. …I think to myself, that’s a reality check right in your face where authority simply gets ignored, which I conclude with: Guess I have arrived huh!?
Once stepping out from the airport, I sense a sort of calmness. I like the beige colour of the terminal. It is not hot, and not humid like in the tropics back home. I have the impression, coming from Mauritius, I left behind an intense fast paste stressful environment. Made aware by the peaceful atmosphere I find myself in to be calming and relaxing. I see persons holding name plates up of their distinguished guests coming for safaris. Not far I can spot the unbeatable, long lasting durable Toyota Land Cruisers in which those guests will be driven to long range journeys to places I have not yet experienced and distances over hundreds of kilometers we aren’t familiar with on a tropical island. I love that continental feel of endless space. After a few weeks, their guests will return to their countries of origins, and those who know all these beautiful landscapes will welcome new guests. How does time feel for them? How does time feel and go by for you when you leave home? Are you a very busy person?
Am I already in the future?
Fast forward in time… Here I’m sitting in this restaurant and wondering, am I seeing and experiencing the last days of how things currently are before a huge wave of development comes and changes everything? I’ve seen that happen in Mauritius. Granted that we do have a smaller land surface, which means we can fix all our infrastructure faster added to that a stable government practice in place.
Is socioeconomic mobility actually happening?
At an astonishing rate, all our roads were resurfaced. Here in Mauritius. Pot holes were very common in the nineties. Nowadays we are just used to having excellent surfaced roads with an improved and extended road network with new highways, bypasses and fly overs. Soon we will also have a light rail service operational by 2020. My mum just received 3 tickets for a free train ride tomorrow the 23rd of December 2019.
With the new roads, came other rapid changes in various sectors of the island. Quality of life and income increased also reaching both the blue and white collar workers. I had a friend who in the nineties lived in a 2 bedroom house with his parents, poorly built, the living room was also his bedroom, and the kitchen at the back was the bedroom for the parents, the house was covered with corrugated metal sheets. The typical lodging of a low income household.
He was unfortunate not to know how to read and write (we were actually in the same class at the same school for 1 day after which I got promoted when the teacher noted my ability to read and write…, which would be another story for another day) and started to work early in construction and later on as a handy man at a resort. I went abroad for a while, and when I came back to see him, I saw that they had modified the whole place. An additional room was added on the ground floor, and another floor on top was built with bricks and concrete. The house had all the accessories you can expect for a descent living. A complete upgrade.
He was happily married, the wife soon expecting their first child. His parents were happy too. They love playing music, and they own a whole setup of instruments. They occasionally play as a live band in resorts, anniversaries and weddings. Being able to buy and own music equipment is also a sign of prosperity. Life is good. Same could I notice with all his relatives who lived next door (they live really close, Mauritius has a high population density per km square and in such courtyards you can see it live) and around him on the same property, they all had upgraded their houses, added floors and were all busy with jobs. No one was jobless, even though many of them were illiterate. There was more work than enough for stone masons, welders, electricians, plumbers, etc., jobs they all carried out.
For me that was a sign, that the economic progress in Mauritius has spread out to various segments of the population and hasn’t remained concentrated in the hands of a few elites. Yes, we still do have a rich elite just like in any other capitalistic society and we still do have some stark contrasts between those who have more and those who have less.
Back to my friend, in my perception, this makes up for a good example that socioeconomic mobility is actually happening and working in Mauritius. Would you say that too? My example that I mentioned took place around 19 years ago!… Imagine how much Mauritius has progressed since then… My friends son attended a private school, where the school offered him a scholarship as he couldn’t afford the fees. These kind of dynamics were unthinkable of a few decades back.
This economic progress also makes up for a good example of the benefits that result from Market-Creating Innovation which led to the creation of many jobs which began the industrial revolution of Mauritius through various innovative initiatives such as the creation of the economic free zone. I could make you a whole list of items to which the nonconsumption of Mauritius had no access to and now does.
It is important for you to know the meaning of Market-Creating Innovation, it took me personally some time for this to sink in, once you get it, you might have an aha effect! It will also serve to get a better understanding of the content that will follow. I will quote Clayton Christensen’s definition who explains this best, in addition to Market-Creating Innovation I will also quote his definition on 2 more important terms on innovation which are Efficiency Innovation and Sustaining Innovation. These 3 terms are key to understand and will allow you to look at businesses in a different way.
“The first type of innovation is efficiency innovation. This helps companies make good products cheaper. They’re important in our economy because they help maximize free cash flow. But efficiency innovations don’t create growth. Because you’re always trying to make things more efficiently, it maximizes free cash flow but it causes you to minimize growth and job creation. In America today, much of the investment in growth is misguided because it focuses on efficiency innovations. Such innovations don’t create growth; they eliminate growth.
The second type is sustaining innovation. In this, you try to make good products better. Almost all the innovations that we see around us are sustaining innovations. This type of innovation also doesn’t create net growth for a corporation or for the economy. Imagine that I am working for Toyota. If I convince you to buy the Prius from me, you won’t buy a Camry. If I sell you this year’s product, you won’t buy next year’s product or last year’s product. So, sustaining innovations allow us to make good products better, but they don’t create any new growth.
It’s the third type of innovation that creates net growth for a corporation and for a country. We call these market-creating innovations. They transform products that historically were so complicated and expensive that only the rich had access to them. A market-creating innovation transforms them into products that are affordable and accessible so that many more people can own and use them.” by Clayton Christensen Reference: Want to Foster Prosperity? Focus on Market-creating Innovations
In 2018, the minimum wage was introduced in Mauritius in it’s quest for progressive advocacy. For many, their income was in some case three to two times less than the minimum wage, this meant a real improvement for their financial situation.
When it comes to social justice, which also contributes into laying down a framework for progress through various policies, after the independence from the British Empire in 1968, Mauritius made changes in various sectors such as offering free healthcare, free education including tertiary education (university level) and applying projects of various visionaries such as the development of the free economic trade zone, textile and tourism sector. The innovative approach back then, created a spark for the infrastructures to follow paste.
New pillars of the economy in Mauritius are services in the financial sector, Information Communication Technology (ICT), Business Processes Outsourcing (BPO) and real estate (PDS schemes). We still have a bit to go in the IT sector to diversify into more complex fields such as creating a large work force that is highly skilled and experienced in programming languages. Not only to have knowledge skills, inter personal social skills are also a must.
Ideally it would be great for many Mauritian young adults to also gain some experience abroad in different countries for example via exchange programs. It will broaden their horizon positively in many ways. I would also welcome the idea and put into action if we could collaborate more closer with the African continent and have more student exchanges, internships, traineeships, learn on the job, formation courses etc. taking place.
The Economic Development Board of Mauritius mentions the following:
“The ICT/BPO industry represents a key driver of the Mauritian economy with a GDP contribution of 5.7% for 2018 and employing around 24,000 people. With some 800 ICT-BPO based enterprises, the country has one of the richest technology ecosystems in Africa that thrives on innovation and collaboration across sectors. The industry is vibrant spanning from startups to multinationals across various segments such as e-commerce, digital services, support desk, applications development among others.
Besides offering a distinctive proposition in bilingual skills (French, English) for UK/European companies, Mauritius has demonstrated its capabilities in offering a compelling alternative for serving non-voice and IT needs of multinationals.
Global players such as Accenture, Ceridian, Convergys, Huawei, Orange Business Services, and Allianz amongst others have successfully established their operations in Mauritius due to their ability to serve global clients with high-quality, innovative solutions.”
Reference: Transitioning towards a Digital Industry
If you open that page, you will also see a section called Investment Opportunities, where you will see a list of key areas that Mauritius is currently serving. Some of these fields require highly skilled workers to organise and carry these out which has brought a new dynamic in the labour market where Mauritius has attracted workers from all over the world. Mauritius is also an attractive destination for foreign highly skilled workers who are looking to work on a tropical island, in warm climate and enjoy leisure after work. For many (relatively speaking) this is a dream come true.
You can see from there, that Mauritius is transitioning away from it’s traditional sectors. While the anticipated desired growth is wishfully higher, while our momentum isn’t gigantic, we are still moving, and we are progressing towards somewhere, which is better than stagnation.
“innovation is a change in the process by which an organization transforms labor, capital, materials, or information into products and services of greater value. That definition helps us understand that, from an economic development standpoint, there are primarily three types of innovation: market-creating, sustaining, and efficiency.”
“When we understand that there are different types of innovations, we begin to see how each impacts both a company and an economy differently. It turns out that, contrary to the conventional wisdom that a society must “fix” itself — its infrastructure, courts, legislatures, financial markets, and so on — before innovation and growth can take root, our research at the Christensen Institute suggests that innovation is the process by which a society develops. Innovation funds our infrastructure, cultivates our institutions, and mitigates corruption. When a country’s prosperity stalls despite a lot of activity within its borders, that country might not have a development problem. It might have an innovation problem.” by Clayton Christensen
Mauritius has a diverse population of people coming from different ethnicity and cultures who follow different forms of beliefs and religions. It requires skills, flair, smartness and wise diligence on how to manage such a population and getting social justice right, which will always be a work in progress. The future of Mauritius in 1968 didn’t look very promising. It looked very gloomy and international economists predicted only the worst possible futuristic outcomes for the island. Mauritius did indeed go through some tough times!
Yet, Mauritius managed to perform an economic miracle through hard work. It is coined as an economic miracle, not by me but by economists and research students who have analysed the Mauritian economy. You can do a Google search on the Mauritius Miracle and you’ll get a long list of websites that will enlighten you with more details. While this is the reality of Mauritius, things are quite different from country to country in Africa, the big continent of which Mauritius is also part of. Especially innovation wise.
Avinash Meetoo, Senior Adviser of the Minister of Technology, Communication and Innovation in Mauritius (2019) mentions the following on his website, a strategic perspective on how/what is required to take Mauritius to the next level which can foster an environment conducive to innovation, inspiration and smart living (in short):
“One of the things I have realised over the years is that hardware and software are not important. What is crucial for the development of a country is peopleware. Having smart citizens is the only way to obtain a smart country. And, of course, this starts with smart education (for young people) and smart training (for adults and professionals). This is, according to me, the biggest challenge the country is going to face in the coming years : how to transform 1.3 million Mauritians into smarter Mauritians.
Only then will we have a smart government (consisting of smart citizens) which will then make sure that we can all benefit from a smart environment, smart mobility, smart utilities and smart infrastructures.” Reference: Innovative Mauritius
As I mentioned above, visionaries, entrepreneurial ambitions to bring in investment and a government setting up the frameworks for it’s population to be able to have access to education, healthcare and jobs brought in change and progress for Mauritius. This was Mauritius innovative approach and hope for a nation that was left with an island where it had to start from scratch.
Mauritius is currently (still) like a construction field, that has laid a foundation that it is optimizing and will soon start raising the floors of it’s tower. Mauritius aspires to become a high income smart economy which it calls Vision 2030. Looking at the track record of Mauritius, it is aiming high, and it will get somewhere even if it doesn’t hit the goal on target, having a goal for a country is better than none! And just ask yourself about your own country, does it have a vision and a plan? Many do not… 10 years go by quick and looking back these last 20 years, from year 2000 or if you want to take it back 30 years, from 1990, Mauritius has changed a lot. With the change have also come new challenges… Do read the article of Avinash Meetoo that I linked above which also addresses various challenges such as ecology, food security, wealth gap etc.
I also like what Min Lee, Chief Executive Officer of Red Dot in Mauritius says in an interview with BIZweek.mu on the following question:
>> As you might be aware, Mauritius aspires to be the gateway to Africa. But you expressed some reserves on this issue. Why?
“Mauritius can definitely become the gateway to Africa. I do not have enough data. From what I know – which is very little – I do not think so. Even when we talk about Mauritius, it’s almost like we are not part of Africa, when we actually are! It is very similar to my experience of Singapore and the South East Asia. Everyone says that “Singapore is a gateway to South East Asia.” But we know that South East Asia represents so many different countries, so many different languages, and so many different levels of development. And for Singapore to say that we know enough of every country to be a gateway, I think that is a good vision to have, but we need to be very smart about how we do it.
There are start-ups in Singapore going into Indonesia, into Myanmar… Each of this requires a very different strategy, a different product and a different team.
I would say it’s the same over here. I do not think you can innovate from Mauritius for Africa. You need to be there. You need to do your human centre design and you need to understand the market. You need to be strategic about how you do it.”
Reference: You cannot innovate from Mauritius for Africa
What would interest me to know more is, why she thinks that we cannot innovate from Mauritius (the island) towards the huge continent Africa of which we are part of, she must have some deeper reasons of her own analysis. For many types of innovations, it absolutely makes sense, that it has to be on site for impact, change and for the people to benefit and infrastructure to follow up. It would be great to know more! I’ll give it a try and ask her?
…Ok, so I got some interesting feedback from Min Lee! Here you go:
“A few lines won’t do justice, my opinions are based on my experience in Singapore which touted to “innovate from Singapore for south east Asia” which is already a challenge and SO much has to line up in terms of the ecosystem for this even to happen:
– I understand that ”innovating in Africa” is a complex challenge which requires presence on the ground to innovate = which requires build – test – learn cycles
– in Mauritius, very low connectivity to Africa (frequency of flights and high price), if you look at “hubs” the key ingredient is connectivity (Eg Singapore To Jakarta, 50 flights a Day at $35 a flight). Simply not accessible Or convenient for most people.
– entrepreneurship in Mauritius is still at a very early stage, In terms of the ecosystem (Kenya is way ahead) especially in the professionalism and ambition of High-Growth entrepreneurs.
As you said Mauritius sadly is only seen as a jurisdiction for incorporation etc / regulatory frameworks, but unfortunately this does not really build the ecosystem nor wealth if all the activity and money flows just bypass the country.
Also, the press in Mauritius usually does not pick up nuances, because I meant that you can innovate from Mauritius for anywhere in the world, not necessarily just Africa! and in fact you might have a better chance scaling to other tier 2 cities in Asia etc..”
Mauritius is a small drop of land in the Indian Ocean. We are still at the beginning of the journey where we are bridging the gap with the continent. It’s impact might currently not be very noticeable in some areas, which is normal. This journey has begun, the train has left the station, and things are moving. I personally believe this is a journey of growth.
While the definition of innovation is quite broad, innovation can also mean one thing for one person and something different for someone else. Let’s stick to the definition of Clayton Christensen I quoted above. By the way, Management also falls under innovation. Small changes can compound and create for a massive momentum change.
“Management is perhaps the most noble of professions if it is practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.
Management isn’t simply about Profit & Loss statements, meeting quarterly growth and profitability targets, and creating brand awareness. Those are byproducts of good management. Management is about waking up every day and helping people become better people so they can do better work and live better lives.” by Clayton Christensen
That said, please bookmark for later to watch the Ted Talk: How Will You Measure Your Life? Clay Christensen at TEDxBoston
I think Mauritius can innovate and offer a stable location for (not only limited to) African countries to experiment and innovate, to access incubators for setting up start ups (see Turbine), use the Regulatory Sandbox License to launch projects in the fields of Fintech and Non Fintech for which no regulation yet exists, setup structures on which they can also fall back as a backup when things get unstable for a while, as a platform to trade with each other and have a stable jurisdiction to also settle disputes, benefit from stable banking products, and have consultancy services all right on the same spot. (By the way, on another completely different note, something that just crossed my mind, have you checked ARAGON ? You can do all that on there virtually, run on blockchain, you can setup a transparent governance organization in less than 30 mins! It has it’s own virtual arbitration court https://aragon.org/jurisdiction where you can settle disputes, do payroll and more. If you think that’s just beautiful out of the box Sci-fi, Estonia is already leap frogging ahead with its: “Estonia DAO – We’re connecting 60k+ Estonia e-residents to a decentralised organisation. Curious to know what will happen? So are we…”
What is a DAO?
DAO stands for “Decentralized Autonomous Organization” which is a smart digital organisation that can self-govern. In the case of Estonia DAO, it is made up and governed by token holders that are ID verified E-Residents with equal voting. Each verified member receives 1 membership token, called an EST token.”
Imagine how communities in Africa could manage and run their societies with such inclusiveness and transparency. The tools are there. And they will evolve. Hey, and if you want to run a project with a group of people and find that setting up a company in your locality is a complicated hurdle, consider running your organisation on Aragon. That’s going to be very innovative, since we are talking about innovation.
Now back to Mauritius.
“Several enterprises, particularly those aiming towards Africa, are already using Mauritius as a viable Fintech platform. For such institutions, with its facilitating business environment and its array of Investment Protection and Promotion Agreements; Mauritius can be considered a safe International Financial Centre that acts as a buffer between source jurisdictions and recipient African states. The stable business climate and well-established corporate governance culture in Mauritius, favourable time zone, excellent connectivity and highly-educated labour, mitigates the high-risk profile of certain African countries.”
Reference: FinTech & Innovation https://www.edbmauritius.org/opportunities/financial-services/fs-fintech-and-innovation/
“Mauritius is also well poised to be the risk-mitigating platform that would provide the security and peace of mind to investors with 23 Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (IPPAs) signed with African states, which include clauses for protection against expropriation, compensation for losses and free repatriation of capital profits.
Also, Mauritius is a member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which is part of the World Bank Group, since the 28th December 1990. Hence, companies incorporated in Mauritius are eligible for MIGA guarantees which protect investors against the risks of transfer restrictions, expropriation, war and civil disturbances, breach of contract and failure to honour sovereign financial obligations.”
Reference: Investment Platform for Africa
For more extensive details, look into:
The Africa Strategy
Mauritius Innovates as an Education Hub
Mauritius has become attractive for students from Africa to select it as a location to do their Bachelor and Master degrees at competitive costs compared to other countries. Several international well known universities have setup base on the island. English and French speaking. Here is a list to give you an idea that Mauritius means business:
Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nantes
SUPINFO International University
Ecole Centrale de Nantes
Université Paris II Panthéon-Assas
Middlesex University Mauritius
African Leadership College, Mauritius
Charles Telfair Campus
University of Mauritius
There are more educational institutions on the island.
The arrival of students from Africa in greater numbers to Mauritius is something recent. Especially with the setting up of the African Leadership College, it was quite rare for me and my friends in the north of the island to ever see, meet, be in contact, play sports and have friends from the African continent. This has brought cultural exchange. An exchange of which we are grateful and learning a lot from our friends, as we in Mauritius, the isolated island nation that we are, do not know much about the continent! This gap has to be bridged.
Flights to the continent must be made more affordable. We can all benefit from visiting each other. I went to the basket ball court the other day and got to play basket ball with students from Rwanda and workers from Madagascar. I went for a hike with students from Namibia and Zimbabwe. I went to a retreat where I met students from Kenya, Nigeria and Cameroon. I went to an entrepreneurial event and met someone from Tanzania and South Africa with whom I am still in contact. I went to a friends dinner and got to meet a professor from Ghana who worked at ALC and a programmer from Nigeria who was working on a project for the State Bank of Mauritius. I have also had some nice bring and share moments with friends from Malawi. There have been many more occasions.
So many countries, so many different cultures, and I have been so fortunate to meet so many of them here, on the island of Mauritius over these last 3 years. This was unthinkable of a few years back. My Nigerian friend recently shared with me his thesis which gave me new insights about his country. We just completed a project together about which you can read here or bookmark for later: An introduction to the basics of electricity and solar systems in Mauritius
Africa is a huge continent, and many of it’s countries span over huge distances, which means that it requires long distance travel to visit other countries. I believe it must also be an enriching rewarding experience for our friends from the continent who are studying and working here in Mauritius to be able to get to know people from the other countries of the continent all in one place.
While Mauritius will not be able to provide education for the masses of young adults of Africa as a physical location, while it can keep innovating in that area digitally, it can and does train leaders and entrepreneurs of the future who can share their knowledge and impact their environment back home. Education can bring disruption and change. I find that this also qualifies Mauritius in a way to be innovating for the continent. What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to share in the comments section below.
Perpendicular Innovation in Africa
Well, Africa is not a country to begin with. Which means, I will not write about innovation in Africa as a whole nor define how it is – because this topic is vast, constantly growing and changing. We are a part of it, we are living it. We are each sharing our own stories. And you have your story to tell too. Quoting my friend Bill Masuku from his latest Medium guest post titled: “Black Panther is NOT the Messiah of the African Comic Book World” → “Africa. It’s an ancient chaotic magic that conjures a different vision for everyone who speaks it. Fifty-four unique national boundaries for independent countries, each with its own set of laws, cultures, customs, tribes, traditions, and stories to tell. That’s always been an important part of shaping history, what shapes myth, what warns of failure, what inspires generations to come, and more importantly, who tells those stories.” Reference: Black Panther is NOT the Messiah of the African Comic Book World
There is also an interview with Bill that I did which you can read here in the blog later: Let’s talk comics with Bill Masuku creator of Captain South Africa, Razor Man and a Book series
This article on innovation, yes I mean this one that you are reading right now, is more a story in it’s own end. And not a dry academic research essay. You’ll soon come across some gold nuggets if you continue reading, you’ll get to discover personal accounts of persons who have grown up or experienced a chapter of their lives on the continent, and how they have seen and experienced change take place in their homelands. Of course certain ways of getting results such as in the pursuit of ambitious economic prosperity, certain working methods and theories that have worked in one country can be applied adapted to each countries local context to make it work there as well. For example mobile payment is becoming a well accepted mainstream mode of payment in more and more countries.
On this journey, we’ll say that my impressions and expressions have been more shaped by Kenya and Mauritius within this article, while I will not be precisely be writing about innovation on Kenya either. You might conclude later why did I not cover about Mpesa for example? I think there is simply enough written about it out there already. We’ll let the story flow. Stay tuned! And you’ll do get a little bit of the impact of some of these disruptors.
That there is a lot of homework to be done in the social justice arena is clear. How and what must be done, would be like talking what I would do if I won the lottery. The article would become an endless chatter. People want to see results coming from their leaders.
There is more than enough shortcomings to look at, if you want to do so, you’ll be able to compile a long list. And least be said, it’s what many people on other continents know Africa for. For what it lacks.
In Germany, (I’m just taking Germany as a generalised biased example! The example could also apply for other locations and other people.) in places that I have been, especially during my childhood, Africa’s only image that we would perceive is one of poverty and the land of adventures, rich fauna, stereotypes and nature. Many young Germans would in their mind think, that they would like to help after their Abitur (A levels). They feel emotionally very sad about poverty and injustice. Which compels some of their energetic youth to enroll in volunteer activities. A personal experience of mine was when my family left Germany for Mauritius in the mid eighties, our great teacher in primary school decided to dedicate sometime to discuss my departure and describe to where I am going. She held a map of Mauritius for everyone to see what it looks like and there was a short discussion round. So far there was a good vibe. I felt proud – I was receiving attention. After the class, one of my best buddies approached me and told me that his mum had told him that I’m moving to a poor country where people don’t have any food to eat. There was a mixture of emotions that followed. On one side, we were both very sad that we were not going to see each other anymore. On the other hand he had expressed it with a bit of anger to why am I leaving anyways? It felt like I was supposed to feel guilty about that. Why am I moving to a poor country!? For the kids logic that was the wrong thing todo, it just felt like voluntarily setting oneself up for harm and a lack of comfort from modern city life. And I felt kinda of intrigued/disappointed because I had never looked at Mauritius being poor in that sense. It was for me a tropical island where things are different. I was a kid then. So I thought like a kid. He then handed me his favorite book, in which he had written: In the memory of your best friend. When I was 10 000 Km away from my friend, in the tropics, I would sometimes pick up that book, and when I read the page with his handwriting, I would feel too sad and emotional to ever begin reading that book. The books story felt like something sacred, as long as I didn’t read the story, I believed something mystical of our friendship would remain for ever intact. If I would read the story, our friendship might end… So I never read that book.
And indeed in the eighties the development level of Mauritius was VERY different to what it is NOW. However that kind of perception (on poverty) stuck with me in a painful way for a long time. It felt negative and I couldn’t tell why.
This is a very narrow minded perspective of a very rich continent, which happens a bit to us all how we perceive other places. I don’t mean to discredit by that the virtues of volunteering, this is not the point.
The speech on “The danger of a single story” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on TED explains well where the roots of such perceptions come from.
Maybe this is the path that leads to awareness, that Africa also has a lot to offer. And in the end, the young German needed help himself, for his soul by experiencing the cultural exchange with Love. Germany, that massive industrial behemoth, has many social shortcomings in which Africa is rich. Not only natural resources wise. Africa’s shortcomings are leading to impressive technological innovation and advancement. It just requires a base, on which layers of applications can be built. Or vice versa… Telecommunications in the air, without the need of cables to begin with. Some places don’t have a basis present and are innovating with what they have. These innovations are bringing in socioeconomic mobility. Could these innovations also shake the foundations where social justice needs change? With smart phones, 3 & 4G networks (I don’t know about 5G yet…) in the making, information can travel and be exchanged like it has never been possible before. I think the internet, and it’s access, will bring change. What do you think?
The Poverty Paradox: Why Most Poverty Programs Fail And How To Fix Them | Efosa Ojomo | TEDxGaborone
How to foster innovation?
Efosa Ojomo – The Power of Market-Creating Innovation
For some of my friends on the continent, they feel hopeless about their countries government bringing change and development to their homeland. While in other countries, the complete opposite is taking place. Frameworks have been set for creating an economic market place that is conducive in doing business, attracting investors, incubators are launching start ups. Young entrepreneurs are launching their businesses. You can sense a whole movement has started, there is a sense of positivism in the air. Young entrepreneurs are building apps that turn local challenges into business opportunities creating new revenue streams. Processes are starting to get optimized and made more efficient. Events are taking place where the young minds of Africa’s future meet and they are highly motivated to build in the entrepreneurial spirit. If it’s not in physical locations, it’s happening virtually.
Innovations comes before the infrastructure
I didn’t have that way of thinking nor would I consider markets with low purchasing power offering the terrain where the seeds of innovation can be sown… until I learnt that it can also in many cases work the other way round. I didn’t learn any sort or form of logic at school and college that would lead me to be innovative. It was all a sort of in the box thinking, you build this, then you get that. You learn these skills, you get this job. We were actually learning by heart the names of sugar, textile and tea factories in Mauritius in primary school. As if we were getting primed to become factory workers! Neither did the education offered in high school offer us any sort of mental models, analytical ways of thinking on how to approach problem solving, to be proactive and to have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Apart from that short theory of knowledge class, and this special extra paid course on brain storming which took place a weekend and felt more useful than those 7 years at high school!
We didn’t learn how to think. The priming to be a dependent employee seemed to be more the agenda. All our teachers were employees themselves… What would I have become if I had gone to a university that would have primed me to become a corporate sector employee… Am not saying that there aren’t good schools out there! Learning at a university can definitely be great and for some jobs and absolute must have done thing. No pun intended my fellow academic friends! Watch your ego please.
Which means, if I would look at a market with low purchasing capacity, I would think that it’s not a market with potential. And then I would dismiss any further brain storming of all the opportunities that are actually available. There is a beautiful example for this. I actually found this example by doing some research on the differences between emotions and feelings, impressive how this one will fit so well this context!? You tell me later!:
“On Altering Your Perspective
Most people believe that their mood, attitude or the way they feel is based upon circumstances or other people. Ask anyone you know who is in a bad mood or depressed why they feel the way they do and virtually all of them will tell you about a circumstance or an encounter with someone else.
The truth of the matter, however, is that feelings are caused by the thoughts about circumstances and people. People or circumstances in and of themselves cannot directly impact your feelings. Being crystal clear about this concept will give you a great sense of empowerment and freedom. The following story exemplifies this idea.
Two shoe salesmen travel to a distant island to open up a new market for their shoe line. Once they arrive, they canvass the area to evaluate its potential. Shortly thereafter, the first salesman in a very downtrodden mood calls back to the home office and says, “bad news, no one here wears shoes,” and took the next plane home. The other sales person, could hardly contain himself and when he called the home office he said, “great news, no one here wears shoes and we have no competition, we better have a lot of product on hand.””
Reference: Feelings and Emotions: The A – Z Guide
I think that sums up quite well a lot in a way how innovation can happen in a market. At least in this example one sees opportunities while the other sees the shortcomings as a closed door. Are you more the kind of person that sees closed doors everywhere or open doors?
MicroEnsure finds it challenging to offer insurance in Kenya when a mobile payment company has a huge market share on the mobile wallet that people use… check out this podcast!
The Flip | Accessible Insurance for All – A Conversation with MicroEnsure’s Richard Leftley
We can get more technical, go more into economics, use more case studies, but I’ll be beating endlessly around the bush that way. It’s time to get to the announced gold nuggets! So, let’s travel back to the restaurant where I was watching on a busy road in Kenya. While out of my personal intuition, thoughts and feelings I sense that more innovation, development and progress will occur within Kenya of which I am positively inclined, I do not know what the future beholds, and how it is going to be shaped. Let’s pretend that there are several people in the restaurant including one person visiting from Nigeria and that each person will share a part of their life story with us on how they have experienced growth, change and innovation in their own perspectives and environments.
By Loise Ndegwa from Kenya
“ In my opinion, the middle class is who have benefited the most from the development projects over the last 10 – 20 years. The middle class have more money to buy things. The greatest example of this is the number of malls Nairobi has and the fact that people are still building new ones as they see it as the best way to make money.
How the low-income class is benefiting is through road projects which made travel between the city and the rural areas possible. Therefore, more people could easily now travel between the localities. The road projects are also beneficial to those who would be classified as low income because the projects were able to open some localities to become a small scale economic hub. By this I mean, as the road was being built, small scale farmers began selling their produce on the road. So someone coming from the city no longer had to worry about buying agricultural products in Nairobi but can stop on the way and buy the stuff. As they started to do that, more people began building structures that could be used as shops. As the road networks grew, telephone lines were built and more places got electricity. But the problem of now the easily accessible travel has meant more people are moving to the city which makes Nairobi more crowded and the standard of living increases. Also, the negative part of the building of the road networks is that it is based on who is in power and the tribal association. The closer you are to the source of power, the greater the development in your area.
MPESA has been a great source of innovation for Kenya. The fact that people now do not require for most cases to walk around with money is very helpful. In terms of crime, MPESA can save you from being robbed since you have no cash. But now MPESA stores are targets for robbers since they know such shops always have money. Equity bank is equally as important. Most banks did not think people in rural areas were important. What Equity bank did is that they created branches in rural areas, especially in areas that many people are farmers. Those farmers have a lot of money and it was such an inconvenience for them to travel long distances to use a bank. The success of Equity in rural areas made other banks change their strategy and decentralise their branches. Though the case, many farmers still prefer Equity due to loyalty that they came to their assistance when other banks didn’t, even though Equity bank has high monthly charges.
In regards to social justice, social mobility and innovation, I don’t know. Maybe in terms of whatsapp and facebook, it has become easier to mobilise people. But I really dont know.
Kenya is very far from trying to figure out how to build a cohesive nation that all represented communities are included. We are still stuck on tribalism where whichever tribe is closest to power will benefit the most. This does not mean that every single person who is part of the tribe will feel a direct impact of having tribesmen in power. But they definitely benefit from the privilege. Moving away from the eight provinces to the county system we now have one of the ways the government tried to decentralise the system so that each community might be able to benefit more directly from development projects. The main benefit of this is that more places in rural areas have become centres of commercial activity. This is helped by the road networks. I guess that is one way of measuring development in Kenya is after moving to the county system, how many new centres of commerce opened up in each county. Decentralisation through the county system is great in theory, the biggest issue is corruption. Now that each county has a budget and has its own employees and governing system, there are more people who have access to money to steal. The country has not been good at dealing with corruption especially when it comes to people in power. They get arrested and the court case remains in the system of years and Kenyans forget about the case.”
By Onyedika Atuchukwu from Nigeria
“ One could easily say that social mobility has on average, slowed down in
Nigeria recently. The social mobility at different strata of the
population varies due to the conditions experienced by the different
groups. In hindsight, there has been some improvement when one compares the standard of living of the average person now, with 15 to 20 years ago; although one can accurately make a case that the country needs to catch up with most of the rest of the world in terms of development and
utilisation of resources/potential. I can still remember a few experiences from when I was a child, especially around telecommunication
and household energy use.
I grew into being aware of my environment when we still had a rotary
phone at home. I never knew how far in terms of coverage it could go,
but I do remember everything was wired. NITEL – Nigerian
Telecommunications Limited then managed the telecoms service. Poor
service they provided then if you asked most people. They were
eventually phased out with the introduction of the Global Systems for
Mobile communications (GSM) in 2001. It has only got better since then.
The cost of SIM cards could be higher than that of a mobile phone then,
but now, one can buy a SIM card and get two free. Mobile phone
technology/operation gave my dad a good hit after he got his first
phone, which I suspect then had Symbian OS. He gave out the phone to
someone else and went for something simpler – JAVA. Now he can use his
Android phone to talk internationally with data, thanks to WhatsApp and
Years back, household energy consumption was based mostly on Kerosene
for lighting or cooking as electricity supply was abysmal. The then
National Electricity Power Authority – NEPA, did as they pleased with
the provision of electricity. Supply has got better since then, though
there is still good room for improvement. The transition for home
lighting has gone from the use of kerosene lamps to battery torchlights,
rechargeable battery torchlights, solar-powered torchlights, and now
even solar-powered buildings; which attests to the socio-economic
benefits of renewable energy. Energy for cooking has also progressed
from firewood/kerosene to LPG (propane/butane) and electricity. Despite
the positive average social mobility, one can still see some of these
methods/products even in use at different households, depending on where
they are at in society.
What about mobile payments?
is there something like MPESA?
The banks in Nigeria have apps similar to MCB Juice. We do have other
apps like Quickteller and Jumia One, which are like online wallets. Wide
adoption of the apps might be limited.
Is there any particular innovation that you have witnessed that you find
has brought in some very impactful progress? How did you experience the
local film industry?
I didn’t experience much as my dad was against television during the
period of VCR players. It was however fun watching at neighbors and
relatives place. Then we moved on to VCD And DVD players, which we had.
Then cable TV. My dad rarely buys video CDs now.
With the entering of DSTV Into the Nigerian market, Nollywood gained
more popularity. More audience have been reached by also introducing a
budget version of DSTV, called GOTV by the same company. So most people
at different class of the society have access to local and international
contents, and the content even gets wider as the amount one puts in
What kind of new innovation would you like to see for the future of Nigeria?
I would say that whatever innovation that has to come to Nigeria has to
promote transparency and accountability.
It’s no new news that corruption is high in the country. Innovative
solutions that will make operations more transparent would greatly
improve the state of the nation.”
Dietmar: Nollywood is an interesting example of innovation coming from Nigeria! Quoting: “Barely a blip on anyone’s radar 25 years ago, Nollywood today produces about 1500 movies a year, employs more than a million Nigerians, and is thought to be worth $3.3 billion. In terms of volume it rivals both Hollywood and Bollywood. This homegrown industry has attracted attention of banks and other financial institutions, some of which now have “film desks” designed to invest in its productions. By some estimates, Nigeria is home to more than 50 film schools. The government has established funds for training filmmakers and financing new movies and is beginning to take privacy and copyright protection more seriously. In 2018 both New York and Toronto hosted Nollywood film festivals, while Netflix bought its first Nollywood film, Lionheart.” You can read more about it in the Harvard Business Review in the article titled: Cracking Frontier Markets by Clayton M. Christensen, Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillon
By Josiah Nyangaga from Kenya
“ I did intend to leave out Mpesa yet have found something that is closely linked to Mpesa that I think has had the biggest impact on my view of Kenya developing as a nation. Banking in particular has become a lot easier because of financial innovation. I remember how as a younger adult my dad would send me to the bank and I would have to queue for 30 min- an hour to deposit Ksh. 400 (Probably around 10 USD at the time) in the bank or pay an equivalent water bill. Right now, I am able to move money from my bank account to wherever I would like from wherever it is I am. Be it to pay bills, to give a friend some money for a project we are doing together or just to move it between my own accounts. MPesa definitely made people more comfortable with the idea of money existing as a virtual commodity but banks have followed suit and also allowed transactions to be made remotely.
This also reminds me of, and is closely associated with, the internet penetration. Granted, I am middle class and most of the people with whom I interact in Kenya are also firmly in the middle class. However, even among ourselves, the internet penetration just 5 years ago was very low. I remember during the entire time when I was at uni (2011-2015) it was so difficult to get access to the internet that you would have to go to 1 particular building from 1 a.m till about 7 a.m to be guaranteed a decent internet connection. It was not even feasible to think of having internet access in the home. We stored everything and anything we came across because you never knew when it would come in handy and if it did come in handy, there was a 90% chance you wouldn’t have access to the internet at the time. Last year(2019), I saw my sister’s laptop. She is in uni and her laptop memory was empty except for Windows and a PDF reader. I asked her where her notes were and she told me she can always access the email where they were sent so she has no need whatsoever to store the notes in her laptop hard drive.”
Also check out Josiah’s Ted talk: Rethinking AI possibilities | Josiah Nyangaga | TEDxALC
By Elizabeth Mwangi from Kenya
“ So if I was to really think of something that has had a huge impact on my life, it’d probably be the young youth engagement and culture that I have seen amongst many Kenyans I’ve come across, influence by technology and internet of course. I think internet penetration has had a profound impact on just how Kenyans have embraced it and used it for their own good. For example, I’m quite passionate about nature and wildlife conservation and in recent years Kenya has seen a vibrance of socially-centred engagements led by young people who’ve turned to social media to pass across their message and share their passion with the world. Whether through existing platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, I’m always amazed by just how much they can accomplish. A great example is “Teens4Wildlife” started by a young teenager to protect and save elephants and promote awareness against poaching within the country or another one, “Lion Lights” started by a young guy called Richard Turere who, because of social media, was able to scale up his project that is now saving a huge number of lions and also reducing the existing human-wildlife conflicts in the Southern part of Kenya.
I personally get excited every time I go back home because I can’t wait to see just what newest innovation is happening within the country, more so on the environmental end. As someone who spent (and still spends) a lot of time in the countryside when I’m Kenya, I love that I can be in a place where it seems as though the youth, currently the largest population percentage, is taking matters into their own hands and realising that they’re the ones crafting what their future looks like. Politics and propaganda aside, I can say that I’m quite optimistic by what internet penetration has done in Kenya and will continue to do.”
Lion Lights Links
- Ted Talk
- Richard Turere and the Flashy Lights
- A piece on Richard Turere a few years after his project was captured around the world
By Hope Mukeli Mutua from Kenya
“In 2011, Kenya’s then president, H.E. Mwai Kibaki called a national press conference and declared a national disaster. Northern Kenya which had long been plagued with issues such as tribal battles and lack of water now faced with drought. Over 3.5 million people including mothers and small children were severely affected. While this was happening in Northern Kenya, other parts of the country failed to understand the severity of the situation. In cities such as Nairobi, we rarely encountered situations such as drought. We couldn’t begin to imagine what was happening.
What changed our perspectives? The media. Over the years, the media has rapidly developed into a major source of not just spreading information but also shaping culture. In 2011, as the government went through traditional methods of hoping to appeal to the national public, companies understanding the impact of the media took to TV and social media to illustrate the direness of the situation. I remember one particular company that took the country by storm. Safaricom, one of the country’s largest telecommunications company created an advert dubbed ‘Kenyans for Kenya’ which encouraged Kenyans to send in money from as little as $0.10. Through the media and social media, this message was spread far and wide and allowed people who had never even heard of the situation to contribute and become a part of the solution. In the end, about $7 million in cash and $2.8 million in kind was raised and over 200,000 Kenyans were assisted with emergency food and water. Additionally, the funds raised were used to “finance a number of programmes designed to further alleviate suffering and underpin long-term food security in affected areas” as reported by Safaricom Foundation. As illustrated by this case, the media opened our eyes to the situation and the realization that we too could help out. For once, Kenyans were not only relying on foreign aid, but they also decided to be a part of the solution by contributing both financially and also through sharing the message both online and offline. Various media channels and personalities also joined the movement by sharing the message on TV, Radio and Social media. Eventually, what started as a media campaign soon turned into a culmination of national unity.
Similar to this tune of national unity, I also believe that social media has helped alleviate the distance and disparity between Kenyans. Social media has given a voice to people who would otherwise be excluded by traditional media. Especially on platforms such as Twitter, Kenyans are becoming very vocal with their celebrations, their opinions and their frustrations. It’s not as easy for politicians to get away with things because now people will call it out and demand consequences. Social media is also being used to drive change. So many times, I have been led to donate to a cause because I found out about it on social media. Overall, its giving many people an opportunity to share their story with not just Kenya but the world.”
Do you have a story on innovation you would like to share? Let us read about it in the comments section below.
Great talk to watch! Some keynotes on this talk: Upstarts can come in and upend and disrupt big players… | Push vs Pull | Model of disruption | Non consumption market is bigger | Example for diabetes treatment. Instead of starting a non-profit and figuring out how to fund it, create a business model that makes it simple and affordable for people to afford the treatment. Creates jobs. Creates a new market.
Prosperity Paradox | Clayton Christensen and Efosa Ojomo | BYU Strategy Professional Conference 2018
Innovation Mentality & Perception
A few years ago, during the year of 2017 there were some start ups out there raising funds for their projects in the blockchain space with slogans such as catering for the +2 billion unbanked humans with blockchain technology. Their solutions would provide the unbanked with solutions such as having an identity via an app that scans their face, a wallet to hold funds, the possibility to take a loan and more services that these persons do not have access to. These projects have so far either disappeared from the landscape, not been successful or are still works in progress. Until that time, I had never heard of the term “unbanked” and neither was I aware of how many people are actually unbanked. +2 billion humans not having access to financial services is a huge deal. It left a mark on me. How blockchain could bring financial services to the unbanked is a big topic of it’s own for another time. Technology wise, I do think it is possible.
Unbanked is defined as follows by Investopedia:
“Unbanked” is an informal term for adults who do not use banks or banking institutions in any capacity. Unbanked persons generally pay for things in cash or else purchase money orders or prepaid debit cards. Unbanked persons also typically do not have insurance, pensions, or any other type of professional money-related services. They may take advantage of alternative financial services, such as check-cashing and payday lending, if such services are available to them.
While often an issue in the developing world, there are pockets of unbanked adults in developed countries, including the United States. Reference: Unbanked
Keep an eye on that definition, while we go a level deeper. If the unbanked could pull these financial services into their lives, it could help them to make progress. This can be coined as “Jobs to Be Done” which I heard Clayton Christensen mention several times in his speeches that I saw on youtube. What does this mean?
“The theory of Jobs to Be Done is a framework for better understanding customer behavior. While conventional marketing focuses on market demographics or product attributes, Jobs Theory goes beyond superficial categories to expose the functional, social, and emotional dimensions that explain why customers make the choices they do. People don’t simply buy products or services; they pull them into their lives to make progress. We call this progress the “job” they are trying to get done, and understanding this opens a world of innovation possibilities.” Reference: Jobs To Be Done – Christensen Institute
Before I learned about frontier markets and that innovation comes first and infrastructure follows, my view of the worlds markets was limited to only markets that I knew of, which are existing markets that have high buying power. I would find a market with low buying power uninteresting and used to believe infrastructure comes first… here it comes, I didn’t know at all that there is a non recognized market segment called the Nonconsumption that is waiting to be harvested in a way to speak. This was for me a new discovery that I find awe-inspiring! The same feeling like I have felt when I started this stories introduction for what I felt when I sat in that restaurant in Ruaka, Kenya. An eye opener for not only potential unseen, unknown of and amazingly there are also approaches you can learn on how to get started with nonconsumption. For you as well?
So, what is nonconsumption?
“ Nonconsumption is the inability of an entity (person or organization) to purchase and use (consume) a product or service required to fulfill an important Job to Be Done. This inability to purchase can arise from the product’s cost, inconvenience and complexity, along with a host of other factors—none of which tend to be limitations for the rich, skilled, and powerful in society. For its part, a Job to Be Done arises when an entity is struggling to make progress in a particular circumstance, such as when someone gets sick and tries to recover. If there are not adequate facilities that can aid their speedy recovery, then that person is a non-consumer of basic health services.” Reference: Nonconsumption
We could latch nonconsumption to the unbanked – what do you say? Makes for a fitting example right?
Here is a quote of Efosa Ojomo that highlights well the importance of considering the nonconsumption: “Targeting nonconsumption is one of the most effective strategies for corporate renewal and, in effect, economic development.” Reference: https://www.christenseninstitute.org/blog/eight-attributes-of-successful-market-creating-innovations/
Let’s say you are a perfectionist, would you launch a product that even though it works, has a few flaws yet gets the job done at a lower cost than the competition, though according to your measure of standards is mediocre in comparison to what the competition has to offer? Or, there is no competition out there, and you have invented a product that solves a problem, it works, though you just don’t find that it is perfect enough and your anxieties make you believe that it is not worth it…
What would you do if you do not have more resource capital left to keep forever improving your product until it is the most perfect product in the world and you have no other option left than to launch your product and generate sales for the survival of your project. Would you launch or walk away? Do you know how many people have reached that stage and have …walked away, and given up! …I personally did reach that stage with my first company Isla-Mauricia and I went ahead and launched (I was actually trying to make the perfect back office system to manage bookings and run out of capital for further development so I had no more options left than to launch and start selling!) and it was a business that led to the creation of jobs and I ran it for +10 years.
Some of the very successful companies of today started off with products that were not the best, yet cheap enough to cater to the nonconsumption which allowed these companies to grow, improve and at some stage even dethrone companies that have been around since a long time before them. That brings the quote above of Efosa Ojomo into perspective.
Let’s say your product is a product that the non-consumption could afford or that you have had already in mind and targeted when you began your project, what could be the reasons for you to give up and walk away? Just imagine for a second the improvements your product could bring in for the nonconsumption! …hey if you walked away, you can still come back! Don’t let low self esteem, over sensitivity and self sabotage stand in your way.
Does our modern individual way of life obscure our views in only seeing limitations in everything that could be an opportunity?
We are herd people, you can call it tribes, communities, societies, nations etc. It has since our early days been an important factor of survival to be good, caring and giving to each other. By giving and sharing with others in the tribe, community or society, whatever way you want to call a group of people formation living together, we want to optimize our survival. When we are doing well in life, we share some of our resources with others so that they can also do well too. Like an investment with returns. When misfortune strikes, we hope to get back this token of help. If we misbehave, are selfish and do not help those close to us when they are in need within our peer group, we reduce the chance of survival and our genes are under the risk of dying away when the day comes when we need help to survive and get left behind as the tribe moves on. This is just an illustration to set the stage for …drum roll please: RECIPROCATION tada!
What does reciprocation mean?
“In social psychology, reciprocity is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions. As a social construct, reciprocity means that in response to friendly actions, people are frequently much nicer and much more cooperative than predicted by the self-interest model; conversely, in response to hostile actions they are frequently much more nasty and even brutal.
Reciprocity makes it possible to build continuing relationships and exchanges. Fukuyama  states that “If the institutions of democracy and capitalism are to work properly, they must coexist within certain premodern cultural habits that ensure their proper functioning” (p. 11). He goes on to say “Law, contract, and economic rationality and prosperity…. must as well be leavened with reciprocity, moral obligation, duty toward community, and trust…. The latter are not anachronisms in a modern society but rather the sine qua non of the latter’s success” (p. 11) According to the sociologist Alvin Gouldner (1960), this norm is nearly universal, and only a few members of society—the very young, the sick, or the old—are exempt from it.
Reciprocal actions differ from altruistic actions in that reciprocal actions only follow from others’ initial actions, while altruism is the unconditional act of social gift-giving without any hope or expectation of future positive responses. Some distinguish between ideal altruism (giving with no expectation of future reward) and reciprocal altruism (giving with limited expectation or the potential for expectation of future reward). For more information on this idea, see altruism or altruism (ethics).” Reference: Reciprocation
Where I want to get at is this: nowadays we (or some of us) have become very analytical of what we give and receive in return. Our what once was small clans, tribes, communities and societies have evolved into very large nations where an individualistic lifestyle is possible, permitted and accepted as the norm. A dependency to the communities support structure still exists in various different complex forms yet getting more and more comprehensible (add to this sociology) and also backed by information tools and helpful agents to make it understandable for those who need to apply for the benefits when they are in need. Within this whole structured system, money is a form of communication to engage into confirmed transactions over agreements, whether you are buying food at the supermarket or paying to use the gym etc.
Time is equal to value. People look through the lens of value. What is in it for them?
If I invest my time in doing something, what sort of value do I get in return. Even people get valued, some metrics used are net worth, assets owned, social proof, popularity, image, status, ethnicity, gender, to what sort of peer group do you belong to, reputation, religion, family background and definitely how much money do you make etc. Not only as a value gauge, also as an evaluation. People compare each other. If the person is evaluated as being of high value, requests & demands might be evaluated and perceived differently than from somebody who you have difficulty in giving a score in your value attribution system. Let alone how would you value nonconsumption.
This however leads to a modification of how we used to be. The current system allows for an individualistic life style where selfishness can be practiced. It is even preached nowadays by motivational speakers and coaches: Be more SELFISH! Which can also be referred to as The ME Generation, quoting Dr. Kenneth D. Richardson “Despite the obvious value of cultivating positive relationships based on reciprocity, the norm is the not only force operating in our complex social world. It’s also well documented that people are becoming increasingly insensitive and self centered, a trend that neutralizes many of the positive potentials associated with reciprocity.
As unpleasant as it is to think about, conceit, ego-centrism, and insensitivity toward others are becoming increasingly commonplace among people of all ages. And in a society dependent upon reciprocity for civility and order, this is bad news.”
Let’s for one moment just take another approach on this, what I listed above are tags, you are this tag, or fall into that one, this is also very dividing. Where did we get this kind of divisive programming from? What is the source of it? Who teaches/d us to dissect, sort and divide that way? I don’t have an answer for the source of such programming, this is something to begin with, a question of reflection which one has to attain or come to this position first of all which is a beginning of: “Über den Tellerrand sehen” which is a German expression that means literally: “To look beyond the rim of the plate” which stands for:
“The phrase “to look beyond the rim of the plate” means figuratively to look at something from your own limited field of vision or to observe something from a higher point of view.
Thus, someone who does not think outside the box is a person who only looks at things in their narrow surroundings or in their restricted (conventional) thinking.
The expression is often also used as an invitation to get to know the conditions and customs in other countries and regions and to be open to new or alternative methods.”
Like I mentioned above, when I went to primary school and when I look back what I was being educated, I can tell there was an agenda to ideally turn us into submissive factory workers who do not ask questions, who obey, and follow orders. There was no incentive for analytical thinking. We had not sport classes, neither any form of creative art courses nor music. Following private tuition with the same teacher after school in the same premises was the norm for which we paid extra and came home late when all the comics on TV had already aired! No Tom Sawyer. We were controlled by fear, the fear of getting beaten with a bamboo stick if we did something wrong. Can you imagine what that does to individuals to grow up that way? What that does to self esteem and insecurity? What kind of example this sets to solve problems? How will you become a daring risk taker and build innovative companies!? Go the unbeaten tracks!? Keep going when nobody believes in your project!?
Someone had decided for us, what we were supposed to become. Is it much different elsewhere on the continent? You tell me. Education. What an important role it plays! Which is something yet many parents have to come to realise…
Since Mauritius is a small country, you can follow the trail of influence quite easily and trace it to which industries (or those who pull the strings – or the local 1%) collaborate with the education ministry to setup the curriculum that will get inculcated into our brains. Same for high school. If you haven’t already noticed, what is quite often missing from these sort of programmings is …emotions, feelings, intuition, the Heart > LOVE! If you can hold onto this while we continue this journey, as there will be no further mention of Love in the text that follows. So when you discover the journey below that plays out, remind yourself to add some Love to what is missing, …and to your own life!
I don’t need you – yet the society needs your taxes…
Sounds a bit like a hard transition after the word of Love was just raised huh!? Harsh realities…
You can invest value in centralized contracts such as insurance policies for health, accidents, pension and death. An all round cover of services which before would be provided to you by your tribe. Which means you do not necessarily need to, nor have to be nice, caring and giving for getting taken care of back as a token when in need. Your survival or the provision of your basic needs is taken care of the social society complex which has measures put in place to capture, analyze and provide for what you might need. This model works for hundreds of millions of people. It has become very efficient as well, and for those whose economies are flourishing, they can offer more benefits to their citizens.
You might be a dependent employee, or an independent entrepreneur. You could both loose your income streams and then receive a UBI (Universal Basic Income) from your society to cover for your basic needs. So what’s the point about all this? Before I continue, that is in the second paragraph below, when you become dependent on the state to finance and make provisions for your living costs, shelter and basic needs, it also gives room to the state to control you and impose it’s rules and restrictions on your life. It can suck the fighting life force out of you, milk you dry, take away all the drive to fight for your dreams. Destroy you mentally, and make you feel unaccepted socially. Like not recognized. You’ll have to have a strategy if you are going through this right now. Else what happens is that you might get stuck in this for the rest of your …life!
For example you will not be able to travel, go to places wherever you want and when you want to go. The state can impose on you on what you have to do at different intervals and if you do not comply, cut some of your funding as coercion. A total restriction of your freedom! Of course it doesn’t have to be this way and am sure there are legitimate reasons why the provision of such assistance schemes exist which is also necessary for the balance of the society. Sociologists can tell you more about it.
I was once very close into getting into such a position, I had lost my job and queued up at the unemployment bureau, things were moving very slowly, the atmosphere was grim, people looked unhappy and minute by minute a sort of feeling guilty being there was pounding in my head. Whoever came out of the office after their turn, carried a huge pile of papers to fill in. I then asked myself, do I want this? No. I walked out and went back to my apartment in that cold icy German winter wondering how I was going to make ends meet. I wasn’t going to take anything from that state I concluded sternly with myself, at whatever price it might cost me, I will take that risk, my freedom to move and to go wherever I want when I want was very important to me. More than living a safe life of comfort. So started another chapter in my life where I endeavored to make a living on my own as job prospects looked very sombre, I didn’t know back then whether I was an entrepreneur or what that was anyway. I had to make ends meet and I used all the skills I got to make something work out. I tried many times to get some business going and failed many times. That would be a story for another day as things got pretty tough then. I just mentioned this to highlight the importance and warning that you need to very careful of what you are depending on. That thing that you depend on as your life source if we can call it so, just “pay” some closer attention on how it is controlling you and if it is restricting your freedom. Is it to a degree that you find acceptable? Is it a sacrifice that will take you to another level which is part of your goals? Do you feel like a prisoner? Time to break off these chains? Food for thoughts. Let’s turn a page and continue on our journey with reciprocity.
What’s in it for me?
One of the first acts of reciprocity I experienced as a child that got my attention was when we hired a taxi here in Mauritius to fetch my dad from the airport. It was a long drive in a Toyopet Corona (yes Toyopet is not a misspelling) of the 5th generation. I enjoyed watching the drivers driving technique and loved that car. I especially like the 6th generation of that car. It’s very durable! So back to the taxi experience in Mauritius, which is very different to the standard Merc taxis in Germany. Once we had fetched my dad and reached home, when it came to the moment of transacting the payment, the driver smiled and refused the payment. Even with insisting to take the money, he refused. I noticed this with great curiosity, wondering and feeling that this is nice, getting something for free? I had never seen anything like it in Germany. The interpretation of the mind of a child. Of course this led to him becoming the driver of choice for all future rides – which obviously aren’t for free and turned us into loyal customers.
Small favors can bring big returns
Let’s take a different approach with an example and see if we can latch this onto innovation via reciprocation which can also be an eye opener for some. Let’s say there are 3 individuals and you have never met them before and at different time intervals they walked into your shop in the capital where you sell and make dresses.
Individual A is considered and valued as a high value individual, that is materially rich from the upper class of society. Also has more social proof etc.
Individual B is valued as average or normal value individual and is uninteresting when it comes to social proof. Middle class according to society measures.
Individual C. No value could be determined, comes from the nonconsumption segment. Could be a poor farmer or also be a person living in a slum, who has a job and owns several tin shacks that the individual rents out to other persons living in that slum – making ends meet in the slums own economic system. Just like individual A and B, individual C will have many characteristics and they will all be different and or similar from each other in their own ways. Materially poor, considered to be from lower class.
Before we jump into the action of the example that will follow, judging people merely by their material riches is superficial or a layer to begin with and then zoom down into other metrics which requires time and this time, you do not actually have when someone walks into your shop to instantly know the whole profile of your potential new customer. Yet alone it is not necessarily by default that net worth will be the most important criteria you will be scanning for within the first seconds of encounter.
We are able to read signs rather quickly such as dress codes etc. which can also be misleading. Digital tracking systems that can scan who is walking into the shop and correlate that data with databases can assign a profile with large amounts of data. We humans also have a system in place that we apply when it comes at making ourselves a first impression. Some research suggests that this first impression takes place within a tenth of a second! Impressive huh! And this impression can determine the outcome whether you’ll do business with someone or not.
Quoting Eric Wargo: “A series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov reveal that all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face, and that longer exposures don’t significantly alter those impressions (although they might boost your confidence in your judgments). Their research is presented in their article “First Impressions,” in the July issue of Psychological Science.
Like it or not, judgments based on facial appearance play a powerful role in how we treat others, and how we get treated. Psychologists have long known that attractive people get better outcomes in practically all walks of life. People with “mature” faces receive more severe judicial outcomes than “baby-faced” people. And having a face that looks competent (as opposed to trustworthy or likeable) may matter a lot in whether a person gets elected to public office.
Willis and Todorov conducted separate experiments to study judgments from facial appearance, each focusing on a different trait: attractiveness, likeability, competence, trustworthiness, and aggressiveness. Participants were shown photographs of unfamiliar faces for 100 milliseconds (1/10 of a second), 500 milliseconds (half a second), or 1,000 milliseconds (a full second), and were immediately asked to judge the faces for the trait in question (e.g., “Is this person competent?”). Response time was measured. Participants were then asked to rate their confidence in making their judgments.” Reference: How Many Seconds to a First Impression?
Let’s continue now with the example. So let’s say all three of them have made a good impression on you, and through a 30mins small talk you have been able to determine the individuals position in society to make yourself a better picture of each person. These individuals were by default already very talkative and willing to share more to you about themselves than necessary as they want to appear worthy of you giving them back a favor. That might sound like a sales pitch.
All three individuals contact you and request a portion of attention of your time, added to this, all three of them would like you to do something for them for free. They know you are knowledgeable and talented in an area, let’s say as an example that you know how to sew dresses really well and are requesting you to offer them a free dress, tailor made. While this request is not habitually normal to receive in that format, I request your imagination for visualizing it as a scenario for purely illustrative purposes to convey different thoughts on the importance of reciprocation that will follow. We could also say that what they are requesting is also quite high in value, for example in comparison if they only requested a piece of 1m square fabric to begin with might be easier to give in than fulfilling the request that will require your labour time.
Let’s take a look at this short video:
Socially Intelligent People Are Reciprocal | Jordan B Peterson
“…thinking is hard which is a complex abstract…
…people think they think. they don’t. they talk…”
Ask yourself the following questions and think for yourself how would you have reacted, like try to picture yourself in a real life situation.
Would you make something for free? It’s your time, which is equal to value. Why would you do it, or not do it? Granted that you don’t even know these individuals, and such a request might even appear to be absurd, why not dismiss it all together.
Let’s say you would do it, what kind of thoughts did you process for you to convince yourself to do it? For whom will you give your best and why? Or would you try to pull it off quickly, deliver a mediocre product and be done with it? You could also just say no. Could there be repercussions for saying no? Let’s go the route of anxiety for a moment. What about the wealthy person who has a big network of contacts, he could ruin your reputation. So could the average income person on social media. And what do you think about the low income individual? Do you think individual C has no access to social media? It’s more unlikely that these individuals will go that route nor threaten you. And to troll you on social media because you said no to offer them a free dress is a bit far fetched which could turn into a meme against them.
In this example it was a cordial and friendly interaction with nothing imposed. Would going that route of fear lead you to comply and deliver? Not the ideal form of motivation! These are just a few angles one can look at this.
You do not have any obligation to help, neither do you have to be nice, caring and giving in our current society model. You can decline the requests and it’s done. A no is a no. Which people should also respect. Did you consider that going ahead in delivering what these individuals have requested can lead into the creation of a future business relationship?
What if one of these individuals made a good impression on you and the introduction and discussion went really well. So would you decline the rich individual A from whom you could benefit from various improvements for your own self? Something your assumptions without fact checking might lead you to assume… For example the individual could mention you to it’s large network of contacts and give you some popularity, get you new connections, gain new deals, open new doors etc. You get value in return and can improve your business. Would you go for that? A sort of hope based on reciprocity? Even though, individual A has no obligation either to do so and it might never happen.
If you are getting lost there, let’s have a look on Sheldon’s take on this with a sense of humour:
Big Bang Theory Gift Giving 1
We are sentient beings. We have self esteem. We have also a different degree of training from the way we are raised how we interpret what is happening to us. There are various mental models and theoretical lenses that you (can) look through and process in order to come to a decision where you decide to not collaborate with all three individuals, collaborate with individual A only, collaborate with both individuals A&B or all three or collaborate only with one individual. There are many options, offer for free the dress to the rich individual and make the 2 others pay etc.
Quoting Dr. Kenneth D. Richardson: “Research shows that the sizes of the favors involved in reciprocal exchanges can be quite unequal in their objective value. Initial favors that appear to be quite trivial on the surface have been shown to generate returns that are several times the value of the original courtesy. In workplaces, simply being civil and considerate can sometimes earn the undying loyalty of one’s associates.”
What if you have low self esteem? A lot of e-value-ation happens whether YOU and THEIR proposals/requests are WORTH it. So what does this have to do with INNOVATION?
I think this behavioral analysis can tell us a lot about innovation. Just ask yourself at how you have looked at proposals you have received in your lifetime when you have practiced your own evaluation what and who was and is worth your time? Did you deliver your BEST or did you go the mediocre route. Read my article on The Maybe View of Life: Self Contempt
Markets get created when something is pulled in, like a factory. (Just saying that on the side)
Quoting Dr. Kenneth D. Richardson: “The importance of understanding the norm of reciprocity and its manifestations in business and casual social relationships cannot be overstated. If we’re more civil and compassionate toward others, we’ll be better people ourselves, but we’ll also bring out more of those tendencies in those with whom we interact. Civility and compassion, like colds, can be catching. And in an increasingly cold and calloused world, anything that any of us can do to spread civility and compassion will help.”
Reciprocity is a very powerful social norm that regulates human interchanges which I think is very important for innovation to function and occur. It helps to break down barriers between people and promotes social interaction. For example from whatever walk of life you may come from, with mobile payment as an innovation, the nonconsumption can receive and send payments in ways that have been unimaginable before, not even requiring necessarily to displace and travel far in person to remit in cash. Instant payment – done deal! …even world wide!
Let’s conclude with why reciprocity is important which Dr. Kenneth D. Richardson states so well: “Operating in tandem with the norm of reciprocity is the biblical Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Behavioral science aside, what we’re talking about here are timeless principles that reliably govern the exchanges that go on between people.”
Thank You to Loise, Onyedika, Josiah, Elizabeth and Hope for participating and sharing with me your stories.
Thank you Katleho Mohono for your valuable feedback on your oversight on Africa.
Thank you Coralie Marti for your insightful questions.
I embarked on this journey of writing this article because on one side I felt inspired to do so by a myriad of thoughts and the curiosity to discover more about innovation that I know so little about. These thoughts kept going around my head, requesting their expression. There was an all around positive vibe to it which finally led me to do it! Reading the article Cracking Frontier Markets in the HBR mag was an eye opener. I had never known nor looked at innovation in that way. I found the works of Clayton Christensen, Karen Dillon and Efosa Ojomo very inspiring and pivotal. The more I read their articles and watched their talks on youtube, the more it kept getting clearer, make sense and interesting! There is still so much more to learn from their works! You’ll look at doing business in another way. I started this project last year, in 2019 in November. I was sad to read that Clayton Christensen died in January 23, 2020.
Dr. Kenneth D. Richardson: Essential for Success in Business and Life