Global connections

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Ethiopia’s private sector is increasingly connecting to foreign markets. Export is promoted, foreigners companies are investing here and joint ventures are becoming regular business modalities. This development is encouraged by the Ethiopian Government as well as by bilateral and multilateral development partners.
A growing number of Ethiopian and foreign investors, traders and producers are thus entering complex value chains that cross borders and continents. There are many opportunities to enter these value chains and there are also challenges which, if left unaddressed, will result in the loss of opportunities to others who do deal effectively with these challenges. We need, for example, to be able to meet demands and our production modalities need to be geared for quantity production while consistency and quality are maintained. This requires organization and management, but it can be done. For those who are willing to make the effort, there is indeed money to be made.
Another challenge is the fact that Ethiopian and foreign business people need to interact more often and intensely. They need to be able to communicate well with each other, be it face-to-face, over the telephone or via the internet. The chances that things could go wrong here is real and present. Different interpretations, different priorities and different expectations may cause business deals to go sour, spoil relationships and result in the loss of opportunities so desperately looked for. Understanding the other party well, and making the right interpretation of the message that your business partner is trying to convey, are essential skills for success.
As we are moving into these complex and border-crossing value chains, we need to realise that the world is becoming smaller indeed and that business transactions are increasingly taking place over the internet, replacing the ways we used to do business and demanding supportive infrastructures in order to connect to the rest of the world. Telephone and fax is not sufficient anymore, as more and more information needs to be shared that require fast and reliable internet connections, for example. The slogan of ethio telecom, “Connecting Ethiopia to the future”, is inspiring in this respect.
Fact of the matter is that the future is already here and we need to make the most out of the opportunities that the global internet and email services have to offer. It is here where businesses in Asia, most notably India and China, have made tremendous progress and have learned to take full advantage of the potential that the internet offers. That is why it became possible for American and European companies to begin outsourcing some of their work, for example. And what began with outsourcing routine work some years ago has resulted in intensive and essential business partnerships, while finding complementarities between companies and their employees across continents.
Supportive to these developments in Asia was the realisation that, in order to be able to take on outsourced work from other parts of the world and to enter into complementary business partnerships, education had to be stepped up to prepare a new generation of people who are able to communicate with the rest of the world and who measure up to the required levels to compete internationally. There is work to be found in the global village for those who are able to join the playground that is becoming more level by the day.
Let us go back though to our beloved Ethiopia and try and see where we can go from where we stand today. Considering the current population growth rate, we will be well over 100 million in the next 20 years or so. That is how many mouths will need to be fed. Jobs need to be created, in other words, millions of jobs!
Supporting local investment and attracting investors from overseas as is being done is therefore a welcome strategy as they will create jobs for many workers. And with it comes the need to invest in education and vocational training in order for the multitude of youth to be able to join the workforce and take up employment.      
In his book “The World is flat” Thomas L. Friedman suggests that developing countries need to focus on four issues. The first is the right infrastructure, including cheap internet bandwidth, mobile telephone networks, modern airports and good roads. The second is education, aiming at getting more people being able to innovate and compete at the global level. The third is facilitation by the government in terms of policies and effective bureaucracy and services. And finally, the environment, as countries that preserve their natural environment are more likely to continue to attract investors and innovators who can make the decisive difference in turning a developing economy into a developed one.
I like to think of Ethiopia as such a place and challenge all of us to step up our efforts and ask ourselves what contribution we can make to make this happen.