Stop Selling Start Creating

So we made it to 55!!

Shame on those enemies of progress predicting doom and emphatically stating we will disperse by 2015. Little do they know that we are a fasting, praying, casting and binding group of people. Even though we may fight and verbally abuse each other over mundane things like football and politics, we understand it’s all love at the end of the day. Happy Independence Day to all of us and while we reflect on getting this far as a united, democratic and indivisible nation, lets also seriously deliberate on how we can develop and present the next generation of value creators rather than insatiable consumers.


Think of some local and international companies operating in Nigeria, what are they doing? They are most likely trying to sell you something, right? Nothing wrong with selling, except that the product is conceived, researched, designed and manufactured elsewhere while we just end up with the finished good. In that process, we miss a lot of the value creation that happens which equates to lost revenues and jobs. At most, the value being created is the sales, marketing and communications strategy meetings that take place to come up with a plan to get us to buy the merchandise or service.


There are obvious reasons why many companies want to have a presence in Nigeria:  a huge population, an emerging middle class with high purchasing power and a taste for the finer things, young and vibrant labour force, stable political environment and easy access to West African markets. These factors mean our opinions ought to be sought more as consumers of a product and given priority participation in the value chain of its development rather than accepting whatever is imported into our shores.


Despite being our national revenue generator, crude oil has limited use in its natural form, value is only created when its refined and processed into other products. Unfortunately, this is the same story across most of our resources, which we export at low prices in raw form and import at higher prices when refined and processed. In recent years, black women around the world have discovered Shea butter as the answer to all skin and hair treatments. In fact, it’s on top of the list of requested items of things to bring to my diaspora family and friends when travelling (almost overtaking groundnuts). More economic value can be created from Shea butter if it’s packaged better in its natural form and also used as an input in the production of body lotions and creams, which we can export. This also applies to our cattle hides and skins – instead of gaining larger economic value to produce high-end leather goods, they become protein in our soups and stews. Lets not even get started on all the fruits that get rotten on the farm and as it makes the journey from North to South while we import concentrates to make fruit juice.


One thing we definitely don’t lack is creativity; we might not always channel it in the right direction but our entertainment industry has demonstrated that when we do, we can create something so phenomenal that the world will be forced to take notice. Nollywood is a perfect example on how capturing value at each stage of product development can catalyze economic growth and prosperity. Consider the cycle a standard straight to DVD movie has to go through from the initiation of a storyline: a script is written, cast members consisting of producers, directors, actors, costume designer, make-up artist are selected, before shooting, editing and distribution are concluded. At every stage, someone is earning income before the final consumer buys the product.


Because it usually takes such a long time to create something incredible and seeing that somehow, we have metamorphosed into a society that reveres wealth regardless of how it is acquired rather than long suffering, patience and hard work that yields fruitful results, it’s no longer appealing to have a curious, problem-solving mind. Instead, it’s about the fastest route to make money with little or no effort. The best way to encourage and create more value adding innovators is to provide an enabling environment that allows them to research, test and iterate their ideas.


The in country start-up community is doing a lot of these with incubators where people with great ideas can have space to develop their business plans whilst being guided by mentors and given access to investors. But why can’t each tertiary institution have an incubator lab sponsored by a corporate organization? No need to wait till they graduate before they start scrambling for such support. The thinking and creating can start while they are still in school, continue during the mandatory one year national service and execute once completed. Students comprise a significant consumer base of most products thus corporate organizations must be willing to make an investment in their entrepreneurial ability and in the process create shared values.


Corporates also need to recognize more heroes in other industries achieving great heights in their respective fields. Make them visible brand ambassadors so the younger generation doesn’t only think that one has to be a musician, movie star or athlete to be rich and famous. Coca Cola is doing this excellently with its billion reasons to believe campaign where they showcase young people doing fabulous things in less talked about professions.


Being a staunch believer in the Nigeria project, I bought a flag to commemorate our Independence Day anniversary. As I pad for it, I thought to myself, someday even this will be produced locally.

Chioma Nwagboso is the Co Founder of IfooAfrica, an audio based online platform bringing back the African artform of storytelling


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