Innovation and Disruption: Lessons from Africa's Billionaires
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Profiles - March 9, 2023

Innovation and Disruption: Lessons from Africa’s Billionaires

The nature of the African continent makes innovation and disruption very essential. From poverty, political instability, corruption, and inadequate infrastructure the economic landscape constantly requires innovative ideas to drive growth and development. 

This is why Africa’s billionaires have made significant fortunes by providing solutions to some of these problems. A closer look at their successful ventures in the continent provides us with salient lessons. For everyone desiring to be a solution provider or a successful billionaire, examining some of these lessons is very important. Let’s get started: 

Leverage Technology

The first lesson on innovation and disruption from African billionaires is their ability to leverage technology. These billionaires understand that technology has the potential to revolutionize industries in Africa, so they are taking advantage of it in every way. Tony Elumelu once said,“African youth need technological opportunities. They need hope. They need tech for good and they want tech for all”. He closely linked the hope for African youths with technology because that is the best way to make the world a better place. 

The founder of Econet Wireless, Strive Masiyiwa saw the potential of mobile phones to transform the telecommunications industry in Africa. Known as one of the pioneers of mobile phone technology on the continent, Econet Wireless is one of the largest mobile network operators in Africa, with operations in several countries.

Young entrepreneurs must take advantage of the numerous digital skills available today. If they must replicate or break the record of innovations and disruptions done by African entrepreneurs, they must begin to take technology more seriously because it is the hope of the continent.

Solve Real Problems

Strive Masiyiwa in one of his quotes said, “The opportunity is in the problem. The moment I see a problem, I immediately begin to think about the opportunities that can be created by trying to solve it.” This no doubt is a crucial lesson to learn from most of Africa’s billionaires sponsoring innovations in the continent. These moguls focus on solving real problems in their communities. Africa’s richest person, Aliko Dangote, climbed up the ladder by identifying the need for affordable cement in Nigeria. 

Dangote noticed that Nigeria imported most of her construction materials. So, he decided to invest in local production,and  provide high-quality cement at a low price. This single idea of his rapidly increased the growth of the construction industry in Nigeria and created thousands of jobs for the Nigerian society. That problem in your community may not look big, but in it lies your opportunity to write your name on the sand of time. Let the three questions that guide Abdul Samad Rabiu everyday challenge you. ‘What are you fixing?’ ‘What are you making?’ and ‘Who are you helping? ”

Scale up

South Africa’s richest person, Johann Rupert wrote, “I don’t want to start producing dressing gowns and cufflinks with the Purdey name stamped on them. Making Purdey the leading gunmaker is our priority. Once we have succeeded in doing that, then we might look at some accessories, but it is a long haul.” This statement reflects his understanding of how scaling up is critical to the success of any business.  

Africa’s billionaires have built large and diversified businesses that operate across multiple sectors and markets because they understand the essence of thinking long term and scaling up their business. Mo Ibrahim, the founder of Celtel, started out by building a single mobile network in Africa. However, the Sudanese businessman didn’t settle with Celtel, he quickly expanded into other countries and eventually sold the business for over $3 billion. After that he established the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to encourage better governance in Africa, and created the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, to evaluate nations’ performance.

Young entrepreneurs must not settle even if their venture is doing well, they must be open to scaling up their business for them to remain relevant in the continent.

Build Strong Partnerships

Many of Africa’s billionaires have built strong relationships with other businesses and stakeholders. This is because they understand that partnerships are essential to success. These partnerships have helped them to expand their operations, access new markets, and leverage new technologies. One of Aliko Dangote Quotes read, ‘If you give me $5 billion today, I will invest everything here in Nigeria. Let us put our heads together and work’’. The putting of our heads together shows the power of strong partnerships.

For example, Isabel dos Santos, the richest woman in Africa as of 2013, built a diverse business empire that includes telecommunications, finance, and energy. The Angolan businesswoman has also formed partnerships with major international companies, such as NOS International Carrier Services, and Sonangol, to drive growth and innovation. 

Embrace Risk

Abdul Samad Rabiu, Founder and Chairman of BUA Group said, “If I had worried about everything that could go wrong, I would never have started. Sometimes, you just need to take a leap of faith.” His statement tells us that entrepreneurship is inherently risky.

Africa’s billionaires understand this, that is why they are willing to take calculated risks and invest heavily in new ventures that have the potential to transform their industries. 

Patrice Motsepe is a South African billionaire who became a billionaire through his investments in the mining industry. His company, African Rainbow Minerals Limited, founded in 1997 is involved in the mining of gold, platinum, coal, ferrous and base metals. From being the son of a former African school teacher, Motsepe dared to explore the golden opportunity erupting in the South African mining industry that only few could see at the time.

The lessons from Africa’s billionaires demonstrate that innovation and disruption are not just for the developed world, but can also play a critical role in unlocking the potential of emerging economies.

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