The word ‘globalization’ has become a buzzword in socioeconomic discussions of various types. Depending on where one views it from, globalization can be favorable, or ominous. For those who seek a worldwide audience or market for their ideas or goods respectively, globalization can be god-sent, as millions of other people can be reached instantly through the internet, along with its myriad platforms for diffusion of the items in questions. On the other hand, for those who fret over the perversion of local values and industries, globalization is the ultimate nemesis, a wave that is inexorably approaching to change all that is sacred and cherished. But globalization is not just black or white, grey ideas do exist. In this blog, I will attempt to succinctly present some of the positives that Africa can derive from globalization.
Before one even can analyse how globalization can drive business in Africa, one needs to understand what exactly globalization is. In a London School of Economics public lecture in 2009, Newsweek editor, Fareed Zakari, captured the quintessential example of globalization in today’s workplace: An IBM team starts work on a project in Armonk, New York, and as the day finishes up in Armonk, the project is sent to the London office for work to continue. When the London office closes for the day, it sends the project to Istanbul, which at the end of its day shifts the project via the internet to Bangalore in India. The project continues from Bangalore to Shanghai to Los Angeles and so on in a seamless, unebbing flow of productivity. To succeed in this milieu of increasing global integration, 21st century business leaders have to adopt strategies that initially recognize transcultural differences, eventually adapt to and overcome them, and ultimately exploit these divergences to create sustainable value for all parties, local and global.
Stripping the scope down to an African business perspective, I believe that sometimes globalization should begin at home. Any real African participation on the global marketplace is predicated on the commitment of the continent’s business leaders and other stakeholders to the integration of local markets. If realized, an intraregional market could solve problems faced by both big and small businesses in Africa, such as creating an alternative market for the small-scale local Kenyan flower farmer who helplessly watched his roses and violets wither because he could not export to Europe during the Icelandic volcanic ash, or providing cross-listing opportunities for a medium-cap Ghanaian bank that is unable to meet new capital requirements. However, economic integration does have its costs as seen in the current Eurozone crisis. To minimize such shortcomings, global-minded business leaders have to tailor business and investment models to account for endemic national differences, such as between Greece and Germany, or Sudan and South Africa.
Despite the commendable progress achieved in the linking of global economic activity, the world is still not as flat as Thomas Friedman idealizes: even countries in a seemingly homogenous region like West Africa have significant cultural, administrative, political, geographic and economic differences. Savvy business leaders are cautious to wholly embrace the romanticized notion of globalization as a monolithic juggernaut that levels everything, including national dissimilarities, standing in its path. Effective global business strategies in today’s workplace require leadership that is sensitive to cross-cultural tensions and is able to relate to people and cultures in an open, flexible manner.
Globalization is bringing Africans themselves together more than ever. Mobile phone technology links large swathes of the continent—viewers in Nairobi are able to chat with those in Accra when watching a reality TV show. More importantly, small businesses are sharing technology and software that enhance efficiency, increasing both revenue and profits. Through organizations like Technoserve—an NGO that provides farmers across Africa with knowledge and materials to enhance crop yield—successful modern technology from one part of the continent are being adapted to other parts. This is the power of globalization on a continental level—worldwide, the possibilities remain infinite.