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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Okere takes CWG to Ivy League Circuit


Austin Okere & Prof. Professor Iqbal Z. Quadir
On June 08, 2011, I received a letter from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship), part of which read; The remarkable success of CWG is a story that inspires entrepreneurs, academics, investors, and policy makers working in emerging countries.  We are writing to ask if you would be interested in telling that story at the annual conference of the Legatum Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’.

Being an ardent entrepreneurial crusader, I was very excited at the opportunity and gladly accepted the invitation.

The Legatum Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is dedicated to creating economic opportunity for ordinary citizens in low-income countries by supporting the innovative and transformative business concepts and technologies of aspiring entrepreneurs. They host a symposium in the fall of each year for entrepreneurs, investors, scholars and policy makers who convene to discuss global entrepreneurship.  Many prominent people have spoken at the Center. They include six Nobel Laureates, four heads of state, prominent scholars, and renowned innovators such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. 

At the end of my presentation to a very attentive audience from the academia and beyond, whose thirst for information about business in Africa seemed unquenchable form the number and variety of questions, I was approached by the founder and Director of the Centre  Professor Iqbal Z. Quadir, a Wharton graduate himself and co-founder of Grameenfone in Bangladesh who, having the difficult task of balancing the residual interest of the audience, with the need to press ahead with the programme asked if I would be kind enough to make a repeat visit to MIT during early March 2012 to share further insights when his class shall be taking the case study on the Computer Warehouse Group (CWG).

It will be recalled that the Columbia Business School published a case study on the Computer Warehouse Group in early 2008, which received sterling reviews from the Financial Times of London in the Business Education section. The comments of Prof. Murray Low, Director of the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurial Centre at the CBS perhaps best summarises the overwhelming reception to the case study; ’I have used the case along with the video in both Tanzania and Kenya for audiences of entrepreneurs, faculty and MBA students. They all find it VERY inspiring!!’
The central message of my talk at MIT, which is mostly missed by global investors is that Sub Saharan Africa may present today, the opportunities that were presented by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries in the last decade.
To buttress this point, it will be noted that at the height of the recent global economic downturn, business growth stalled around the world. But one group of companies grew at an annual rate of almost 30 per cent from 2006 to 2009, far outpacing their global competitors, including Standard & Poor’s 500 biggest American firms. These companies are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with in one of the world’s most dynamic markets. They are the Multinational Corporations (MNCs) of Sub-Saharan Africa. In the past decade, about nine Multinational Companies have emanated from East Africa, and 21 from West Africa (14 from Nigeria alone).

These companies such as Dangote Group, Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, Computer Warehouse Group, etc. have seen dramatic growth in the past several years. These companies are expanding across the region, and thriving in markets that Global Multinationals may have considered unprofitable, too complex or even dangerous.

The CWG story typifies the trials, challenges and triumph of entrepreneurs in the challenging environment that characterises Sub Saharan Africa.
While visiting MIT, I shall take the opportunity to honour an invitation from Daniel Isenberg, Professor of Management Practice, Babson Global, and Founding Executive Director, Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project. Perhaps Babson shall be the next stop for the CWG story on the Ivy League circuit.
We are privileged to be able to fly high the flag of African entrepreneurship and contribute positively to Brand Nigeria.

By Austin Okere, founder & CEO, CWG

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