How to make an African Business Globally Digitally Visible
Africa is a dark continent. That’s racism! Wait, let me explain. Can you see in the dark? No, I can’t! Well, you cannot see what is in Africa from outside. That’s I am saying it’s a dark continent because no one can easily find something in Africa especially on the internet. And this can be changed and that why I am writing about it. Most of Africa is digitally invisible.
This is a very emotional topic and I admit that my reason for writing about this is emotional but also factual. I am not the first person to use the phrase ‘dark continent’ with reference to Africa. Those who did say that earlier did not say it to encourage Africans. Mostly they wanted to take advantage of the so-called ‘darkness’ in Africa.
My reason for writing this is to encourage my fellow Africans to take the necessary steps to gain visibility.
My statement ‘Africa is a dark continent’ is because it is hard to see what is in Africa without being there physically. Information about the people, countries, businesses, products, services and many other things is hard to find on the window to the world: the internet.
Recently, there was a report about Google searches in Africa, which suggested that 90% of the results come from America and Europe. That makes it difficult for anyone who is not in Africa to know what is found here.
Because Africa is largely invisible, the countries hardly trade with each other but they trade with other continents. A classic example is that annually Africa spends US$80 billion on cars from Japan but they do not earn a quarter from that online from other continents. Meanwhile, the people who buy cars online could have easily bought cars from local dealers. The challenge is that local African car dealers are digitally invisible.
So, in my opinion, Africa is a dark continent because one can hardly see anything from outside and even from inside. No one can see what is in darkness. It is hard to find something in an African country without knowing someone who knows someone in that country.
Most of our businesses and trade models are targeted our immediate communities and countries. This causes us not to care about the international visibility which I discussing here. This mentality, however, means that we will hardly make more money than what is in those communities. Hence, some of the largest businesses in Africa are very small compared to mid-size businesses elsewhere in the world.
Why do we need to be visible
If Africa becomes more visible, the possibilities are endless.
Here are the advantages of becoming visible:
1. International Opportunities
There are foreign companies who see Africa as an emerging market. These businesses will be looking for companies or individuals in Africa to make collaborations. Some of these collaboration opportunities end up in the hands of politicians, and artists because the qualified organisations and individuals are invisible digitally.
A simple search for Agricultural Engineers on LinkedIn can help you visualise the state of invisibility in Africa or your country. You probably know some people who are agricultural engineers but the problem is that they can hardly be found online.
We need to be more visible and increase our chances of getting international opportunities in business, entrepreneurship and in individual careers.
2. Exporting talent and skill
We have so much talent and skill other continents could hire and tap from. So many experienced teachers, engineers, programmers etc. There are countries like India, which have been exporting their knowledge in programming and ICT for many years. This becomes possible because they have put themselves on the world map as people who are good at that. Indeed, they are good.
Personally, I believe there is a lot of talent and skill Africa could be exporting. The only challenge is that most of these professionals are invisible and therefore they will not able to export their skills successfully. In fact, many of them do not have respect for digital skills.
If an individual is keen on exporting their skills one of the ways of gaining good visibility is to create a very strong LinkedIn profile. If a business is keen on becoming digitally visible, the Google Digital Skills program is a good place to start.
3. Tourism and travel
Africa has so much to offer travellers from anywhere around the world. Sadly, we only account for 10% of world tourism. Is it because we have nothing to offer or that we are having bad publicity in international media? While it is true that bad publicity has an effect, it is also true that tourism offers are invisible or digitally presented in a demeaning way.
While negative publicity is a reality, we have not put much effort to create positive publicity. Rise up and work on the visibility of the tourist attractions in Africa.
If the tourism players in African countries would stop comparing each other and aim for global excellence in terms of offers, presentation and visibility, they would do very well. The challenge is that even the seventh wonder of the world Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe has very little attention from the World compared to some attractions in other continents, which are not in the Seven Wonders of the World.
4. Economic development.
With increased visibility, I believe Africa countries will trade with each other more and the resources we are so proud of will benefit communities here. It is said that each country in Africa has one of their strongest trade partners being a country in another continent (and the trade is about raw materials but that is for another day).
If Africa countries were more visible, people in neighbouring countries would easily see opportunities next door and maximise. Right now, the opportunities in Europe and America are more visible from most of Africa than those in the next town! This makes people buy things online and send money out of the continent.
With increased visibility, Africa can earn easily online from other continents by making our offers from any industry more visible.
How to become visible
1. Embrace visibility technology: The Internet
We cannot do business the old way in a new world and win. Africa needs to embrace technology and the internet to become more visible. The Internet is the best visibility medium we have and can afford.
Governments, businesses, universities and individuals need to embrace the internet as a visibility tool. The commonest way people learn about new things is through an internet search. Sadly, only 10% of Africa is visible via Google. Where is the rest? Is it because it is difficult or that people are not interested? I believe it is because people do not know the impact of invisibility hence they choose to stay in the dark.
Businesses and governments must build and maintain websites. The use of Search Engine Optimisation techniques is not a luxury anymore. Each website owner needs to make sure his or her website is found on Google. This will make our content visible.
Professionals can create strong profiles on international skill displaying platforms like LinkedIn. The use of blogs make professionals known within their industries globally.
2. Think internationally
Most of the entrepreneurship and start-ups in Africa aim to influence small communities. I know that many of them are still successful that way and it is not bad to start something for your community but there is more.
The start-ups aimed at countries or communities will grow as much as that market allows. They will never tap into the continental or global market. All the richest people in the world do something that is able to impact more than their native countries.
At the end, when people are looking for influential people in the world, those from the ‘dark continent’ will lobby for inclusion because there are not so many of them who are doing something that has international recognition.
I think as African businesses and professionals we need to think internationally and fight on making a way to take our skills and businesses to other countries and continents as well. This will make many more of use internationally visible.
3. Encourage international participation
Exposure is a very important ingredient for meaningful innovation. The more Africans travel around the world, the more they are likely to make meaning contributions globally. I believe that with more exposure Africans can start on developing their countries.
Replication will beat innovation nine out of ten time – Rick Warren.
I believe that statement 100%. One of the quickest solutions to make Africa more visible is to work on replication proved solutions and system in other continents.
My final thoughts
We must deal with our future carefully. It is not good to use history to pacify our state but rather to learn the mistakes that we must avoid as we move into a better future. I believe the potential of Africans is largely untapped and we will not wait for anyone to do it for us.
We need to make our successes, talents, services, resources, products, history etc. more visible amongst ourselves as Africans and to the international community.
When did you last check your LinkedIn profile? Does your business or employer have a website? Have you Googled your name to check what is there? Are you visible on Google/LinkedIn for your profession? Is your business office visible on Google Maps?
There are all free services which we can use to our advantage. As we use these to advance, we will start producing our own technologies better or different from these.