“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.


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.


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.   


Also READ:




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

4 Comments Add your own

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 217 other followers


Dóchas on Twitter

The World's Best News - images

One of the most important graphs. Ever. http://ourworldindata.org/data/health/maternal-mortality/
Today is World Food Day. A day to celebrate that the days of truly enormous famines are over: http://blog.concern.net/global-hunger-index-2015-mapping-the-worlds-hunger
Meet "Chocolate Mamas", producers of chocolate in #Tanzania, creating Tanzanian jobs. While #cocoa is grown in West Africa and Asia, most #chocolate (the finished product) is made in Europe or the USA. Meet Jaki Kweka, who is trying to change that.
By creating protected areas and national parks and by limiting the spread of soy bean cultivation, Brazil has managed to drastically reduce the amount of rain forest being cleared. http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/deforestation-in-the-amazon-has-plummeted-almost-90pt/
Costa Rica, #Afghanistan, China, #India and Albania are all embracing renewable energy sources. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/sep/15/five-developing-countries-ditching-fossil-fuels-china-india-costa-rica-afghanistan-albania?CMP=share_btn_tw
Social change needs empowered citizens, and empowered citizens need occasional encouragement. Great to hear that we're not the only ones who believe in the power of positive news!
50,000 rice farmers in #IvoryCoast are now working with better seeds, improving food security in the West African country. As a result, harvests have increased. Source: World Bank, photo: Jbdodane / CC BY
Sub-Saharan Africa’s first light rail system starts operations. As Ethiopians celebrate their New Year, they also prepare to mark the beginning of operations of a tram system in the #Ethiopian capital #AddisAbaba. Read more: http://mgafrica.com/article/2015-09-20-sub-saharan-africas-first-light-rail-system-starts-operationsyou-guessed-it-in-ethiopia
Going Mobile in #Malawi”. A mobile phone information service established last year to provide timely information to rural poor farmers in a southern African country, has been used nearly half a million times since its launch. Established in Malawi by Gorta-Self Help Africa last year, the ‘321’ voice-activated service provides subscribers to the country’s largest mobile phone network with farm information and advice that they can access at the push of a button. And it’s all free.
Read more at http://dochas.ie/sites/default/files/The-Worlds-Best-News-2015_0.pdf
10,000 copies of "The World's Best News" were distributed all over #ireland today! See how The Irish Times described our newspaper, and click the link to read all the articles online! http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/inside-out/have-you-read-the-world-s-best-news-1.2355806

Visitors Map


Dóchas Photos

%d bloggers like this: