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Engaging with Africa: The Next Economic Powerhouse?

With a population of more than 1.3 billion people, Africa is home to seven of the top ten fastest-growing economies in the world, according to IMF data.

Effective engagement with this diverse continent is becoming a commercial imperative for businesses around the world, argue Professor David Park and Dr Judy Muthuri, of Nottingham University Business School – which recently updated its Africa strategy to focus more effectively on identifying and addressing opportunities and challenges on the continent for both its students and external business partners.

The University of Nottingham’s vision is to be a university without borders, where we embrace the opportunities presented by a changing world and where ambitious people, and a creative culture, will enable us to change the world for the better.

High-level goals to help realise this vision include cultivating a global mindset, contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, solving problems and improving lives.

The continent of Africa provides plenty of opportunities to make a measurable difference against these goals. The Business School’s Africa strategy includes the key themes of supporting ethical and responsible business practices, non-degree training and education for executives, and enhancing commercial opportunities for those in our region.

We firmly believe that while development organisations are looking for solutions to alleviate widespread poverty, the private sector absolutely has a role to play in alleviating poverty through market-based solutions, as well as partnering and collaborating with both state and non-state actors to contribute to the sustainable development of local communities in Africa.

Applying the Base of the Pyramid concept

The key business concept that underpins our thinking and activities is the Base of the Pyramid (BOP) concept. It was first referenced by Franklin D Roosevelt in April 1932, a year before he became president, when he spoke about “The forgotten, the unorganised but indispensable units of economic power … the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid”.

The main thesis of the BOP concept is that poverty can be eradicated through market transactions by an external commercial organisation “that either sells goods to, or sources products from, those at the base of the pyramid in a way that helps to improve the standard of living of the poor.”

Developing sustainable partnerships

Since 2007, the BOP concept has been researched widely with an increasing body of literature from diverse disciplinary fields including marketing, strategy, international business, general management, development studies and information technology.

The concept has also been adopted by for-profit enterprises, government bodies and not-for-profit organisations.

Over the past 15 years, in particular, a variety of organisations have continued to refine the BOP concept and the key question at the moment is how the ideas and principles can support a greater conceptual shift, away from singular solutions of poverty alleviation to understanding how wider innovation ecosystems and engagement through cross-sector partnership networks can be developed.

Dr Judy Muthuri, Associate Professor in Corporate Social Responsibility, explores the Base of the Pyramid concept in a recently-published book on the subject, titled Base of the Pyramid Markets in Africa: Innovation and Challenges to Sustainability (Routledge 2020).

To discuss commercial opportunities in Africa with Nottingham University Business School, contact business-enquiries@nottingham.ac.uk

The complete version of this article was first published in the East Midlands Chamber Business Network Magazine in December 2020.

 

Posted on Friday 18th December 2020

 

 

 

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