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How Business Leaders Can Help Make Change Happen In Nigeria

CEO of Smartlink Communications. Global analyst, consultant and trainer, passionate about leadership, global communications and competition.

Viktor Frankl summarized that one might be judged only in the context of one’s options. Ideal choices in the absence of ideal circumstances are often simply self-indulgence in one’s self-conception. Sometimes, and in some places, realities are often too stark to allow for that.

That is the context in which some business leaders wishing to improve their fellow citizens lives must operate in: less a matter of being in tune with Gen-Z value systems through corporate social responsibility or other 1990s throwbacks but of making due where state absence or ineffectiveness leave harsh choices to be made.

In the Sub-Saharan African context, those choices are often acutely difficult trade-offs. In other words, one must focus on what works at the expense of self-conceptions.


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As I wrote previously, most of Sub-Saharan Africa is faced with a double-edged sword in demography. With an increasing population, but also one that will likely be overall uneducated, underemployed and poorly urbanized, this could lead to as much to a demographic disaster as much as a dividend.

Faced with this, I’ve observed that the mission of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, which empowers entrepreneurs, proved practical. With nearly 50% of nonagricultural workers self-employed and 90% of those running a microenterprise, the highest return in social welfare comes from empowering those very people to turn entrepreneurial ardor into successful businesses. This means jobs, families able to earn an honest living not by favor but by the dignity of their work, and the building of a commercial class that naturally understands the previous fragility of the rule of law. In other words, social development in a manner no different than what once grew and developed in the West, involving a hand-up earnestly given.

Other organizations in Africa could follow this foundation’s example by fostering this entrepreneurial ardor and coming up with initiatives in this direction. Similarly, African companies or local corporations could follow suit by offering training and internships, thus helping young people develop an entrepreneurial mindset while also benefiting from gaining an increasingly skilled workforce.


The African consumer market is expected to continue growing above global averages, and PwC expects that, by purchasing power, Nigeria will occupy the world’s 14th place by 2050. This increasingly illusionary labor cost advantage means that few can compete with the automated, digitally integrated production lines, which are increasingly the norm. That means low productivity growth and GVCs polarizing away, leaving growth to be driven foremost by extensive factors. While on paper the same as intensive growth, the former doesn’t necessarily lead to the development of a broad middle class, which is often the bedrock of a stable society.

Faced with this, the UNICEF/ACCESS Bank initiative moved to ensure the provision of education to kids who might otherwise be completely left aside despite economic growth. Without that education, most would have no place in a modern economy and be in effect sentenced to a life of penury and exploitation.

Alongside organizations, local companies should also take initiative and get involved in the educational process of the future workforce by, for example, investing money and developing or collaborating in projects that aim to improve students’ experiences by giving them practical, real-life examples of the business world and offering guidance in this sense.


Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from one of the highest rates of preventable deaths. Worse among these are many cases of kids often being left neurologically impaired or handicapped to at least a degree by problems such as the lack of clean water, poor natal care or proper nutrition at critical stages.

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Faced with this, the Dangote Foundation focuses on basic healthcare for children and their mothers. Most deaths and life-changing health problems happen in the early years of life, and while the scars are not sometimes that apparent, they often change the course of these kids’ life. With effective early interventions, the return on investment is often tremendous, enabling the effort and ingenuity these kids might show to benefit both themselves as well as their loved ones.

While organizations such as the Dangote Foundation do their best in assisting the healthcare system, regionally, there is a need for developments from the business sector, too. For instance, businesses that operate in this sector could develop better capabilities in this area in coordination with the local governments, put more emphasis on supporting social entrepreneurship related to healthcare topics or leverage the tech-based creative solutions that the African diaspora has already developed.

Going Forward

Perhaps even more can be done at times. For example, keeping the best and brightest around. Studies show that supply chains may exacerbate heterogeneity in worker outcomes, but this may be alleviated through schemes that draw back former brain drain and act as spearheads of technological development. These people can often be the most successful entrepreneurs, level-headed NGO activists or “superstar employees” who drive the business forward. And losing them is bad for both businesses as well as for the country.

Likewise, fast-forwarding green technology may seem unwarranted when such acute human suffering is present, but with a 3° Celsius increase as the median scenario, and MENA or SSA being expected to experience warming at twice the global average, averting the worse outcomes and adapting ahead of time is critical as to avoid the unforced errors that occur when reacting to events. The situation is predictable, the solutions present, but catalysts that can actually make things happen are not. Companies and organizations can help fit the gloves.

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