E-commerce, logistics and cashew nuts: how southern African small businesses are making the world rethink the region
When you think about small businesses based in southern Africa, in the first instance you probably picture dusty streets, spaza shops and street vendors. Think again. Southern Africa has an innovative entrepreneurial culture, combined with the ability to develop products that consumers worldwide would love to purchase with ease.
The world has truly become a global village. Today, products like cashew nuts from Mozambique can be ordered online and delivered fresh to a homesick Mozambican living in the UK, in just a matter of days. Take the innovative Wonderbag slow cooker, invented by a South African eco-entrepreneur: thanks to e-commerce, the company aims to sell one million units online.
Recently I spoke to several African entrepreneurs - many of whom have been customers of Supaswift - whose businesses we successfully acquired in seven countries in southern Africa. One of the main concerns I heard was regarding physical infrastructure and strengthening cross-border trade. As it stands, however, southern Africa’s future looks bright.
Physical infrastructure is improving and increased connectivity is helping domestic businesses flourish. South Africa is a hub for the pharmaceutical, information technology, publishing and manufacturing industries, and provides a springboard into the rest of the southern African region. There are many local businesses ready to partner with European companies and reach new customers. And with a projection that by 2016, the planet will see $1 trillion in global e-commerce transactions, the growth potential in this region is enormous.
Small businesses, big growth potential
While a great deal of what FedEx does supports the delivery services offered by retailing and online giants, some of the greatest growth potential lies in empowering small businesses and giving them access to opportunities across the globe. SMEs are the economic catalysts in both southern Africa and Europe – and their challenge is the same: to do more trade beyond their own borders.
A few years ago, for small companies in southern Africa to do business, for example, with Europe would have been a daunting prospect. The internet has opened up those markets, but there needs to be tangible mechanisms in place to get their goods shipped, cleared through customs, duties paid and delivered to the final destination (while being tracked at all times). The management of customs processes often seems highly complex at first for small businesses. And that is where we can help. We have been doing it for over three decades – it is in our DNA.
Local businesses that sell traditional wood carvings or mango chutney at one of a multitude of markets can now easily set up a website, market their products and sell them – not just all over southern Africa, but, with the right logistics partner, to anywhere in the world, creating real opportunities for them to expand globally.
It is because of this huge potential for growth in southern Africa that we have increased our presence in the region through the acquisition of the Supaswift businesses. This has given us access to 40 facilities and more than 1,000 new team members across seven countries, including Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Swaziland and South Africa – countries that together represent a fifth of Africa’s total GDP.
Trade between Europe and Africa is growing healthily. Over the next five years, European businesses are expected to steadily increase their trading activity with Africa. Ernst & Young predicts that by 2020, it is likely that Europe will have become the most important market for sub-Saharan African exports, accounting for around a quarter of all its trade. African Economic Outlook shows that countries like Mozambique and Zambia are likely to generate growth well ahead of the global average in 2015 and beyond.
Small businesses, catalysed by the internet, are set to be a crucial growth engine for southern Africa. Not only will this benefit the region’s economy, it will give the people of southern Africa – and their products – the best possible platform for showcasing what they have to offer. They will be making Europe, and the world, think again about southern Africa and its potential.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.