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Ok so what the hell does Africa have to do with it?

As we start talking to people about our investment universe and the pillars that underlie our investment thesis – which is centered on identifying and catalyzing disruptive (technology-enabled) innovation in financial services and markets – when we mention that one vector we will look to target is opportunities in ‘frontier’ markets – in particular Africa – we get some puzzled looks. Especially with people who haven’t been long-standing or assiduous readers of The Park Paradigm and haven’t come across my previous posts on the subject.

In a nutshell, it really comes down to the power of looking at the industry from a completely different perspective: understanding how markets and financials services can be made to work in the context of sub-saharan Africa, necessarily forces you to see the industry through a radically different prism: infrastructure, distribution, price points, market structure, etc. So not only do native opportunities exist to vastly grow financial service and markets from very small existing starting points, but also by doing so I am convinced that a number of non-intuitive and powerful learnings applicable to innovating in this sector in developed markets will emerge. And that’s why Africa is actually an obvious element in our strategy and worldview.

Here’s an interesting take from Stuart Henshall via the Supernova 2008 blog:

The mobile is making low income groups more efficient and productive. Less time waiting and more time working or getting a better price etc. It will also mean they come at other technology products from a mobile technology perspective. Will one of these users ever part with a mobile and want a laptop instead? What if your next choice is a used smart phone or a laptop? What are the trade-offs? Or will you just settle for a TV and make the phone last longer. My bet is on trading up or passing on the computer or TV.

Here we have stopped thinking about bazaar’s and marketplaces. We go to the supermarket. It’s a very very fortunate few that can go to a tailor or have their clothes made. Yet when I walk around India I see vege traders, and sari makers everywhere. They both make efficient use of their inventory and their labor. I see use of missed calls to make “tacit connections” at no cost. I see SMS use and notifiers growing. In fact many of these users are subscribing to SMS notification services for sports and business because they want that greater connection. They are not yet overwhelmed. They are in effect on an accelerated course of “connectivity”. We need to look here to see how mobility and knowledge sharing is changing.

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