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Given the current global economic trend, it is highly evident that the middle class is undoubtedly growing, just not in the United States and Europe, but in the far reaches of the globe, a change that very likely will move power away from the world’s current centers of prosperity, a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report entitled “The Rise of the South” released in March 2013 concludes. Much has been written and said about emerging market countries. The best way, however, to understand them is through their young people. Consider the following anecdotes.
Bethlehem is the first young Ethiopian who was recently named in Forbes’ World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list as a ‘Woman to Watch’, and the Winner of the 2012 Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award. She is the Founder & CEO of soleRebels footwear.
From the humblest of beginnings, Bethlehem has built soleRebels into the planet’s fastest growing African footwear brand and the very first global footwear brand to ever emerge from a developing nation. She has created world class jobs, and empowered her community and country, whilst presenting a galvanized, dynamic face of African creativity to the global market.
Bethlehem has earned significant international recognition for her work at soleRebels and is now one of Africa’s most recognizable female entrepreneurs. Early last year, she was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. In June she won the award of ‘Most Outstanding Businesswoman’ at the annual African Business Awards organized by African Business Magazine, and in November, she was named the ‘Most Valuable Entrepreneur’ at the 2011 Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW).
A lady of grandiose ambitions, Bethlehem is relentlessly pursuing her dream of building an international footwear brand right from the heart of Ethiopia. And she’s making significant progress. soleRebels has opened up a retail outlet in Taiwan and has franchise proposals for Canada, Italy, Australia, Israel, Spain, Japan and the United States among other countries. Bethlehem estimated that revenues from soleRebels retail operations will hit the USD10 million mark by 2016. Considering the exceptional success she’s achieved in less than 8 years, she’ll probably exceed her estimations.
Joe Quinlan, a Chinese-American young economist, shares the following of his   young acquaintances in which he called them “the Young Transformers,” to reflect their transformative impact on the world today in his recent paper entitled “Who are the faces of the rising middle class?”.
Bo is a 31 year old teacher who lives in interior China. He is part of China’s one-child cohort and recently fulfilled a lifelong dream – he bought an American model car. In terms of mobility, his parents never owned anything more than a motor scooter; his grandparents travelled by bicycle or walked. Bo indeed loves electronics. He owns three cell phones and a 64-inch flat-screen television. He enjoys traveling, is constantly on the Internet and dreams big. His next purchase will be his very own apartment.
Leyla is in her mid-20s and is Russian by birth. She thinks of herself as a true global citizen, having lived in nearly a half-dozen nations over the past decade. She now works and lives in Brussels. Her passions are travel, the arts and Twitter. Not unlike many 20-something-year olds in the United States, Leyla is always connected. Her iPhone is always buzzing. She loves traveling back to Moscow on weekends to shop with her friends in the city’s new vast malls.
Sarah calls Zambia home but has spent the last four years as a graduate student in New York City. She is lucky. Her father is a high-ranking government official in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, in a position of power and prestige that has allowed Sarah to be educated abroad. She returns to Zambia every year and is constantly amazed at the country’s progress toward developing a full-fledged consumer market. Many goods and services in abundance in New York are now readily available in Lusaka. Sarah had plans of emigrating from Zambia but is now having second thoughts as life continues to improve in her native country.
Philippe loves Facebook, as do most Brazilians. He loves being connected to his friends and family around the world. He admits he is addicted to YouTube and enjoys uploading clips of his friends singing and dancing. After a recent family vacation to Miami, Philippe is considering going to college in the United States. His uncle, however, wants him to study in Barcelona. His older cousins never had such options.
Seema is not unlike many young women in India. She craves the energy and excitement of the big city and expects to work in an office rather than a factory after she finishes her studies. Her mother and aunts are basically illiterate, but not Seema, who made a stink when her family suggested she forgo school to work around the house and village. As a young girl, Seema rose early and did her chores, walking more than two miles each morning to fetch water, before going off to school. She loves her family but plans on never going back to the village. Mumbai is home now. She loves movies, music and Western fast food, notably pizza.
Bethlehem, Bo, Leyla, Sarah, Philippe and Seema, the Transformers, come from different backgrounds and different continents, but they have one thing in common. They have a zest for life and an unflinching desire to acquire many Western staples, amenities and luxuries their parents or grandparents never dreamed of. Bethlehem and Company are young. They are optimistic. They are mobile. They are hyper-connected. They are educated, which means they have more disposable income to spend on their wants and desires. They have no doubt their lives are more exciting and better than their parents’ and even more propitious than those of most American Millennials or those born between 1982 and 2003 in the United States.
What their parents and grandparents considered luxuries, for example, flushing toilets, electricity at home, telephones, air conditioning and refrigerators, they consider mere staples or basic necessities. While Bethlehem and Bo can’t wait for the future, many Millennials dread it. While the “Transformers” are each very proud of their national heritage, they are “globalists” at heart.
The world is a small treasure chest to be explored to them. Hence, their love for travel is insatiable. Jumping borders is nothing to these folks, in contrast to their parents and grandparents, who rarely ventured very far from their villages or towns for most of their entire lives. They are demanding. They care about the environment and are less tolerant of unsafe water and polluted air. They are into their bodies. Beauty and healthcare matter to these folks. They crave global brands but are also very much into their indigenous pop cultures. They want children and expect their children to live even better lives than theirs.
Finally, Bethlehem, Bo, Leyla, Sarah, Philippe and Seema are not alone. There are millions of people around the world like them, all part of the “I want more” generation, aspiring and acquiring Western goods and services at an accelerating pace.
How big is this new consuming cohort? The middle class in developing countries is rising “at an unprecedented speed and scale” and will require “an epochal global rebalancing,” the UNDP study says. By 2025, 1 billion households will be earning more than USD 20,000 a year, and three-fifths of those will be in countries that today are better known for their poverty than their wealth, among them Ethiopia, Rwanda, Brazil, Chile, Tunisia, Turkey, Ghana, Mauritius and some 30 similar nations.
In 1990, the global middle class – defined as earnings from USD 10 to USD 100 a day – comprised 1.8 billion people, and a clear majority lived in Europe and North America. By 2020, projections say the global middle class will have expanded to 3.2 billion people. By 2030, the U.N. report says, the middle class is likely to comprise 4.9 billion people. At that point, 80 percent of the world’s middle class will live in what is now considered the developing world.
A new report from the African Development Bank disclosed that Africa’s economy is growing faster than any other continent and one-third of Africa’s countries have GDP growth rates of more than 6%. The continent’s middle class is growing rapidly – around 350 million Africans now earn between USD 2 and USD 20 a day. The share of the population living below the poverty line in Africa has fallen from 51% in 2005 to 39% in 2012. Africa’s collective gross domestic product (GDP) per capita reached USD 953 last year, while the number of middle income countries on the continent rose to 26, out of a total of 54.
Blighted by drought and famine, internal and border conflicts and claims of political oppression are the side of Ethiopia the world hear most about. However, any one might be surprised to know that Ethiopia today is one of the world’s fastest growing non-oil producing economies.  Little wonder that it is fast attracting the attention of foreign investors, long nervous about putting their money in Africa.
Its brand new five year “Growth and Transformation Plan” envisaged Ethiopia to be a middle-income country in 2025. With such sustainable fast economic growth, Ethiopia indeed left very little room for people’s doubt.