Building an entrepreneurial community in Ghana… One brick at a time!
When Africa is perceived as one entity, one is likely to mistakenly see the forest for the trees.
Problems on the continent may be similar, but they are not the same as they have different underlying triggers and causes. For example, a comparative analysis on enpact’s Startup Friendliness Index (SFI) showed that the capital of Ghana, Accra, was ahead of Nairobi, Johannesburg and Cairo in terms of its startup scene (environment) maturity. Yet it is relatively easier to access finance in the latter ecosystems than in Accra. Thus, development templates for these countries might not necessarily work in Ghana.
Preferential gains to Ghana from trading agreements like the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) and the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) helped a little in strengthening local competitiveness. But the gains were inevitably truncated once the European Union (EU) signed trade agreements with other emerging economies and lowered tariffs for them. Andrew Mold, a UN economic analyst, blames the design of these agreements, with its strict rules of origin and unnecessarily tough phytosanitary and product standards.
Here is one example of the impact: the three-year ban of vegetable exports to the EU from Ghana was estimated to have led to a loss of over $30 million in revenue to export firms. He also cites the lethargic response by African firms in maximizing the opportunities presented by these agreements. However, with the global economic asymmetry and discontent caused by the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, what can a small Ghanaian business founder do to stay competitive?
Breaking with business as usual
Catalyzing and sustaining the pipeline of entrepreneurial innovation will require a more radical shift in how we frame our problems and build consensus towards a viable approach to entrepreneurial development. One approach is the creation of more safe spaces for conversations on ways and means.
When enpact Ghana started TouchBase, a learning community where we channel technical expertise to startup founders and potential entrepreneurs and facilitate peer-to-peer learning, we were strategic
in how we engaged our community. We nurtured trust-based relationships and connected and bonded with the human beings behind the businesses. Through this, we made it easier for frank conversations to happen among ourselves, eliminating the tendency founders have to talk in mitigated language out of fear of being judged or ridiculed for what they say.
First steps in the right direction
We took fellows from Ashesi University’s Venture Incubator program through a simulation exercise to improve their business value proposition and investment readiness. Together with community members, such as Developers in Vogue and Brandason, we facilitated a session on communications strategy for participants. We also partnered with LeadMonger to organize the Accra Startup Breakfast event on revenue growth engines.
We further facilitated workshops for community and faith-based organizations. These sessions connected dots that were once scattered, challenged the assumptions of session experts and turned strangers into friends.
We find inspiration in the British journalist Matthew Syed’s observation in his book “Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking,” that while innovation is about the creativity of brains in a social network, creativity of brains is also about the diversity of networks they are plugged into.
With this in mind, you will understand better why we are so excited about the AfricaBerlin Network. We see it as the metaphorical equivalent of the Silk Road that will stimulate intercultural and intersectoral learnings to advance innovation and economic progress, a global bridge for valuable exchanges.
This is an ideal that can be realized through openness to new perspectives and recognition of Ghanaian stakeholders as true, formidable partners in economic cooperation.
Historical hindrances, present opportunities and stepping up
The AfricaBerlin Network also presents a chance to mend past injuries. Historically, well-versed readers will quickly grasp an older link between Berlin and Africa. Not everyone has forgotten the events of the Congo Conference from 1884-1885 when Africa was carved up and served buffet-style to European countries for economic exploitation. The “Scramble for Africa” and the resulting colonialism have left deep scars. However, it is initiatives such as the AfricaBerlin Network that will help to heal these scars, in time.
Ghana may be a smaller economy, but it is a pebble that creates ripples when thrown into a river. It remains resourceful and a formidable partner within the Sub-Saharan Africa region. It is among the top 10 destinations in Africa for investment. Its relative democratic credentials, a critical scaffold for creative innovation and economic development, has persuaded automobile giant Volkswagen to open an assembly plant in Accra. In line with this argument is the decision of the social networking service Twitter to set up its African headquarters in the country. Indeed, the many young Ghanaians who form the bulk of the population are hungry for opportunities that will truly and transformatively impact them and enable them to unleash their creativity and sharpen their entrepreneurial edges.