1 Continent, 1 Billion+ People, Endless Opportunities – Maeve Rafferty, International Development in Africa Specialist
Think about the t-shirt you are wearing. Who sew it? What are their working conditions like? Where they paid a fair wage? The rhetoric of a global village means the habits of consumers of the Global North have wide-ranging ramifications, stretching from the factory floor to the price of your t-shirt on the high-street. However, student decisions as ethical industry leaders of tomorrow can break ground in new markets while leaving a positive footprint. As global business interest in Africa flourishes, I recently interviewed Maeve Rafferty, a Trinity College Business, Economics and Social Studies alumnus with a passion for international development, innovation, and identifying opportunities for entrepreneurship in the emerging African markets. She spotlights Africa’s underestimated potential as a market for innovation, investment, and social entrepreneurship for enterprising students. Maeve also discusses the interaction between social entrepreneurship and positive societal development.
As an MSc in Africa and International Development at the University of Edinburgh candidate, Maeve has extensive insight and practical experience in understanding how globalisation interlocks with policy, practice, and business strategy. Acknowledging the market reluctances on part of buyers and suppliers in the West towards doing business with companies in Africa, Maeve highlights two reasons driving opportunities in these markets for forward looking student entrepreneurs. Firstly, delineating the economic shift that is under way in the continent Maeve draws
parallels with development challenges experienced in the 1960’s Asian markets which turned into a rapid growth period for the Four Asian Tigers- Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea. Where is next? Maeve suggests “Africa, as it is far too big of a global player to ignore.” According to a recent United Nations Forecasts, the continent is expected to double its population by 2050, from 1 billion to nearly 2.4 billion inhabitants. The implications of this growth present high long-term rewards for entrepreneurs who unleash Africa’s strategic position and potential.
Trends indicate rising incomes across the continent presenting an “attractive market” for those who identify gaps in the consumer market and seize the opportunity before competitors do. Secondly, innovation is needed where there is a lack of infrastructure. According to Maeve “Africa presents underexploited potential for sustainable industrialisation and innovation.” A 2016 report by Afrobarometer indicated that only 63% of the African population has access to piped water, and half the population live in areas without paved roads. It is important to bridge the distorted historical perception gap of Africa as a disconnected continent, 93% of the population has access to mobile networks. This reflects a continent of innovators and digital adopters. Developing sustainable infrastructure is an important step towards increasing productivity and competitiveness.
Social entrepreneurship can create value in societies while also assisting their development. This is particularly pertinent in “lower or middle income countries which have less employment provided by the public sector, making the private sector a crucial employer.” For example, 3% of Tanzania’s employment is in the public sector. The remaining 97% presents opportunities in the private sector for social entrepreneurs seeking to create benefits which can improve “living conditions, and ensure people can live a dignified and secure life”. The wider knock on effects of entrepreneurship enables society to benefit from “more expenditure and higher demand for consumer goods which increases the ability for to create the supply to meet consumer demands”.
What can students do to drive social entrepreneurship? From Maeve’s experience in the education sphere, she suggests that students are already empowered to know that “decoupling needs to occur”. We need to decouple the idea that in order to have “economic growth there also has to be negative ramifications for the environment
and wider society.” Maeve views students as “ethical industry leaders of tomorrow, if they acknowledge and work towards ensuring the organisations they lead are conscientious in how their decisions are made, they have the power to contribute to sustainable development or hinder it.” The challenge of the COVID-19 lockdown presents opportunities for students to “reflect on society’s needs and meet consumer demand.” Maeve sees the student generation as social innovators, intuitively possessing skills that organisations are now acquiring, she recommends “reaching out to these global players and applying those skills positively to have a powerful impact” not just locally, but globally.