“It’s the economy, stupid.”

27/03/2014 at 10:08 pm 4 comments

Guest blog by Siobhán McGee.

 

After two decades working in, or around international development matters, a new role since January 2014 sees me working in the School of Business in University College Dublin.  Not as crazy as it first may seem, the role as Fellow in Business and Development aims to work across all business schools in Ireland and to reach students of business with one message.

stupid

The message to these future business leaders is – the choices you make in your business life can positively, or negatively, affect the poorest people on the planet.  While it may appear remote at first – the reality in this increasingly globalised world is that it is possible to make an informed choice and do business sustainably, and doing so can transform the lives of some of the poorest people on the planet. And it’s not merely about ‘doing good’ as an add-on – it’s about doing business sustainably and profitably.

So how might that work?

One of the keys decisions is where, and how, to source products and raw materials. Managing sustainable supply chains is more vital than ever. Following the tragedy in Rana Plaza in Savar near Dhaka, Bangladesh in April 2013 when 1,134 people lost their lives, companies are increasingly aware of the risk to their reputations of challenging human rights situations, poor health and safety standards and working hours of suppliers. Customers too are increasingly conscious of and more demanding of companies to be transparent and sustainable.

Value Added in Africa networks African producers with buyers in Europe. Five years’ experience of bringing competitive, high quality African products to the attention of European buyers uncovered a marked reluctance on this side of the world to doing business with African companies.

Even when presented with a rational business case equally compelling in terms of the competition, people back away from doing business with African companies. Probing this, they were found to be tentative about depending on the consistency of the supply chain, the stability of factories and production environment, even about quality (even where the requisite industry standards were being met).  In short – VAA found evidence of bias amongst business people against doing business with Africa.

Probing further, a research survey [i] by VAA in 2013 of 2,000+ third level students found their perceptions of Africa dominated by associations with ‘wildlife’, ‘famine and poverty’ and ‘charity/volunteering’.  Ideas around doing business with or in Africa feature very little. And business students fared no better than the general population of students surveyed.

perceptions

Such attitudes can’t really come as a surprise to us.  Despite successful investment in development education at primary and secondary levels – up to now there is almost no follow through into the formal third level curriculum, and certainly none in business or commercial courses (something the same research study discovered).

So – as Proudly Made in Africa Fellow in Business and Development, the journey towards challenging these perceptions, and to incorporate material and research on sustainable business with a focus on poverty alleviation has begun.

People in the NGO sector ask me how this message is being received in the hard edged world of business schools (bias can be found in many places!).  The answer – it’s being received very well. Leaving aside stereotypes, there are thoughtful people, keen to look at fresh ideas on how the world might be improved.  It’s just the start, but let’s see how the journey unfolds towards building awareness and interest in working with African companies, and their people, and towards building sustainable economies for all.

Siobhán McGee is Proudly Made in Africa Fellow in Business & Development, UCD school of Business, Dublin. E: siobhan.mcgee@ucd.ie W: www.proudlymadeinafrica.org

The Proudly Made in Africa Fellow in Business & Development role is a joint initiative of VAA and UCD School of Business, funded by Irish Aid, with support from Concern, Trócaire and Gorta.

[i] Knowledge and Attitudes to Business’ Role in Development in Africa: A Baseline Survey of third level business students in Ireland, Value Added in Africa, May 2013. Available online here.   

 

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Entry filed under: Gloabalisation, MDGs, NGOs. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

On World Water Day, remember what water means It’s the economy, again. – A response to Siobhán McGee

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