When somebody has an original idea and wants to try something new, something out of the ordinary and is about to take a risk, (s)he more often receives negative feedback rather than encouragement. And as we rely much on the advice and council of close ones, the risk is rarely taken. Thus, many opportunities are lost. It seems safer to do what others are doing also, copy what seems to work for others. But without having the original idea, without having a vision for success, this road will only lead us to mediocrity or failure. Beware that the ones that are really successful are the ones who dared to take a risk …… and work hard, very hard, to make it happen. Which brings me to another observation. Many people believe that once you are in business, money will be made just like that. You start a business and you drive a Merc, build a house and travel around the world. Not without hard work, you don’t. When a new business begins to pick up, returns often need to be reinvested immediately to be able to manage the growth. More workers need to be hired, more equipment is required, more production is needed to meet the growing demand. No time yet to buy a new car or pay more salary to yourself. It normally takes a few years before you can really pick the fruits of the work.
Those who recognise an opportunity and are willing to take the risk, work hard and reinvest in their business may succeed, no guarantees though. These days, more and more opportunities seem to come our way, as the trends in development cooperation all seem to support the development of the private sector and international trade. New opportunities indeed, or so it seems. Opportunities for who, though? It seems to me that not many of us are taking up the challenges to produce things locally. Instead we are fast becoming a consumers’ market rather than a producers’ market. We still mainly sell raw materials to foreign investors to process and add value to them. What we mainly seem to invest in is the so called service industry. Everywhere we look, we see buildings rising, offering space for offices, shops, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, bars, spas etc. Why is this so? Why are opportunities to produce recognised and taken by foreign investors and not us? There may be several factors at play here and I guess some relate to experiences during our not too distant past, when private initiatives were discouraged, to say the least. I also think that we have not yet developed sufficient capacity to produce the quantities normally required to supply the markets, especially export markets. In addition, producers need to be able to meet quality standards and adjust their products to the ever changing trends in fashion, colours, shapes and tastes. And then there are issues related to the supply of raw materials and logistics. So, while the opportunities are appealing and you would like to have a go at it, a lot of work needs to be done. Work that many producers have not learnt enough of yet and which they need to learn in an environment that is conducive indeed. It is here, where government, donor partners and development agencies have a role to play. Policy and financing facilities need to support those who are willing to take a risk. Technical assistance needs to support producers in further designing, developing and marketing their products, considering the entire value chain needs they are part of. There are opportunities indeed, but they can only be taken step by step, and with integrated support. With the resources abundantly available in Ethiopia and in Africa, we should not miss the opportunities, though. Are we using our resources wisely and efficiently? Let us have a quick look at some resources we possess:
Natural resources. Massive forest and soil degradation can be observed everywhere in the country, while more and more people settle on and cultivate steeper hill slopes as well as river banks. We are not using our natural resources in a sustainable way.
Energy. Although hydropower generation is being stepped up substantially, there are more opportunities in terms of renewable energy. With abundant sunshine we have yet to embark on large scale introduction of solar energy, which could provide rural areas with light and so much more.
Land. Agriculture techniques are mostly outdated and inefficient. While having a look at the way the fast growing flower and horticulture industry is operating in Ethiopia, we must realize the potential for more intensive farming techniques for crops like teff, wheat and maize.
Human resources. The women and men that do the work that needs to be done are the most important assets of the business and management wants to get the most and best out of them. But does management know how to achieve this? Productivity of workers in Ethiopia seems to be rather low. One of the reasons causing this is perhaps the fact that labour is cheap here, and there is little incentive for the business owner to make more efficient use of this cheap labour. Investment flows to countries with high labour productivity, creating more employment. Few investors want to set up in areas with a history of unproductive labour and surprisingly little attention is being paid to this. Labour productivity is a crucial management issue for firms in Ethiopia which are attempting to export or to compete with imported goods. To enhance productivity, employees need to have a system to follow, know their responsibilities and that there is discipline and order in the business. On the other hand, employees must feel they are part of a team, that their health and welfare are looked after and that they are generally treated well.
Time. Time is probably the most undervalued resource we have at our disposal. Our priorities determine how we spend our time and time is precious. When time is lost, it is lost forever. Very often people say that they need more time to do what they need to do, to complete their assignment, or even to take time off. Well, nobody is going to get more time. There are only twenty four hours in a day and that is it. No matter what you do, you will not get more today or tomorrow (“Today Matters” by John C. Maxwell).
I admit that the above analysis falls short of in-depth research into the matter, but I observe that much can be done in the way business is done in Ethiopia to make much more efficient use of the resources that are abundantly available indeed. It is time we arise and step up to the challenge indeed.