Africa is seen as the continent of passion, possibility and potential – this also speaks to the tenacity and creativity of its people. Entrepreneurship is viewed as a way to address unemployment and poverty, but how can technology assist in helping businesses flourish and succeed?
Agriculture still remains one of the most important market sectors for a number of African countries; Kenya is one of these. Zack Matere, a local Kenyan farmer, reaped handsome dividends by using the Internet (starting with Google Search) to save his last potato crop.
When a strange disease infected his potatoes, his biggest source of livelihood. He Googled ‘potato disease’ and discovered that ants were eating the potato stems. On the same website, Matere found that the cure for his potato disease was to sprinkle wood ash on the crop and two months later the crops were back in shape and Matere knew it was time to invest fully in the Internet. Using the net again, he found a local buyer for his rescued crop and invested in an Internet enabled phone that he now uses to get information on farming.
The Internet can also help customers find the local goods and services they are looking for.
Mrs Funke (the owner of BabyM, a baby accessories store in Ikoyi, Nigeria) started using Google AdWords, a service that lets business owners run ads against relevant search results and received a positive response from geo-targeted advertisements.
Visitors to her website also completed forms which were auto-emailed to her with contact information for her to follow up on. Hundreds of emails, calls and conversations later, prospective buyers came to BabyM from across the country to order until she literally ran out of stock. Mrs Funke’s experience is a leading example for similar small businesses across Nigeria that, with the increase in broadband speed and rising Internet penetration, are seeing the opportunity to benefit from online advertising.
The web can also have a positive impact on the development of arts and culture on the continent, and assist talented artists in making a profit from their work. Over many years, a Tanzanian artist, Gregory Mchopa, has been capturing the rich heritage of Tanzanian Maasai through his paintings.
In the summer of 2007, through a Google.org training programme called ‘Believe, Begin, Become’, Gregory built a simple website, www.mchopa.com ,and was educated about the power of Google tools – to his advantage, both free and easy to use. Through App Engine, Checkout, Spreadsheets and Gmail, Gregory was able to benefit from a website and interface that also serves as an open source model for other artists in the developing world seeking to showcase and sell their work.
Since the launch of mchopa.com in 2009, Gregory has sold 47 paintings and kept all of the profits. Perhaps more significantly, Gregory’s web presence has connected him with gallery representatives and individual collectors in the US, Canada, and the UK, many of whom have requested custom works for display.
It is clear that the possibilities are endless whether it be on a desktop or using mobile web. The Internet opens new opportunities for African entrepreneurs to reach their audiences and customers with ideas, inspiration and products.