Sunday, January 29, 2012

Last May I wrote a post “Africa:  Land of Opportunities”  highlighting the growing awareness that the countries of Africa (a total of 51 big and small) represent significant business opportunities in the years to come.  To see why many share that view take a look at the article “The Globe: Cracking the Next Growth Market: Africa that appeared in the May issue of Harvard Business Review (

We know that understanding where there’s potential, being familiar with statistics, market projections and legal issues isn’t enough to build the foundation of a successful expansion.  Rather one needs to know how to operate in an environment, build relationships, understand the future customer. 

To develop a better understanding of Africa, I decided to conduct an informal survey of protocol officers from across sub Saharan Africa.  We were all attending the second Annual Protocol Conference for Africa. (   These conference participants are people who regularly engage with diplomats and business leaders from around the world.  They know their countries, their history as well as current practices and attitudes. 

As part of my presentation “Working with Americans” I asked the attendees to list three things that people needed to know to be successful working in their country.  Of more than 100 individual responses,  the eight noted below are the ones most often cited:

•    Respect opinions, the diversity and history of the country
•    Learn the culture and traditions
•    Be friendly, courteous
•    Mean what you say
•    Greetings are important, acknowledge people, use appropriate titles
•    Be on time
•    Be collaborative, cooperative
•    Respect the views of others, don’t impose your own

As I read through the list  I realize these statements can be our guides not only for working in Africa.  They make sense as a framework for working anywhere in the world.  Most simply stated the they are:  Respect others.  Know something of the culture, the place.  Be authentic and open.  At home or away, good advice.  Our thanks to the contributors who shared their thoughts.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Surprising Global Economy

Where are the jobs?  According to Robert Neuwirth, his new book Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy they are everywhere.  They may not be jobs recognized by traditional career counselors but they represent opportunities for people around the world.

According to an interview published in the January 2012 issue of Wired magazine ( the author tells us that the world’s informal economy, gray market, (even black market) employ significant numbers of people (
Possibly more surprising is that according to his tally this hidden economy generates so much money that if counted as GDP of a single country, it would be the second largest economy in the world. 

For me, it isn’t the total revenue alone that is impressive but more is the fact that this is an economy composed largely of small entrepreneurs.  People who understand their market and their customer likely to be ones not served by traditional companies operating in the “formal” economy.  They are creating opportunities for themselves, for others and Neuwirth thinks its time that people working in “the shadow of globalization” have much to offer to all of us.

But the informal economy isn’t the only source of new ideas, new jobs, and new companies serving specialized niches within our economies.  If you read the weekly newsletter Springwise  ( you’ll be treated to a list of new business ideas, trends and innovations going on all around the world.

A recent issue highlighted a Spanish company making biodegradable shoes, a Japanese company with a vending machine for beer, and even a traditional US company, Kraft Foods, who now has a vending machine offering samples of one of their desserts. 

We often hear that of a lack of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and job creation in the nightly news.  But Neuwirth’s book and the Springwise newsletter remind us to look behind the headlines to see what’s happening in unexpected ways in unexpected places.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In the United States we know without question that this is the year of a Presidential election. Ads for/against specific candidates appear on television, radio and billboards.  Articles dissecting the latest trends the primary campaigns, words of the candidates fill websites, print media, blogs, and podcasts.  All of this taking place now, in January, when the election isn't due until November.

With all the media attention it’s easy to believe that the US election is the only one that will take place in 2012.  Notwithstanding that the outcome may have worldwide importance  it is only one of many presidential elections that will occur in 2012.

A look at the website Election Guide ( reveals that more than a dozen countries will elect their leaders this year.  The list includes nations often in the headlines:  Russia, France, Venezuela, Turkey and South Korea.  But that isn’t the complete list.  Voters go to the polls in Iceland, Ghana, Finland, and Slovenia, Mali, Turkmenistan, Sierra Leone and Kazakhstan.

Who will the new presidents be and when will we know? Before the November US election Presidents will be selected in other places.  For example January in Finland, Russia in March, and May is the month in France.  Check the list on Election Guide for all the dates to watch. 

As we think about these contests questions come to mind:  Will the timing of an early election shape the results in another place?  How will the Presidents chosen by the citizens in their country shape its connections to others, impact economic and trade policies?  Will cooperation be increased or reduced? For example,  will the relationship between Germany and France differ if the leadership changes and what might that mean for the world’s economic situation?

These questions remind us that we can’t watch just one election, the one in our own country any longer.  In our complex, connected world we must pay attention to the selection of leaders around the everywhere.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tastes of Travel: Biltong, Koeksisters and Pinotage

When you mention South Africa words that come to mind are often:  Safaris, endangered rhinos, football (soccer), Nelson Mandela, and BRICS (South Africa is the  “S” in this highly influential group of countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and most recently added South Africa.)

When I headed to Pretoria to speak at the second Annual Protocol Conference for Africa, ( I never guessed that my vocabulary would soon include Biltong, Koeksisters (when spoken the name sounds to me like “Crooked Sisters”) and Pinotage - foods and wine I’d never heard of, much less tasted.   In  September  I wrote in this blog that I thought I might taste Boerewors (a type of sausage) but I didn't.  Unexpected treats were what I discovered.

Fortunately I was introduced to all three staying with friends who were the organizers of the conference.  Each was offered as a special treat and they were exactly that and more.  These  are traditional South African foods and wine that are part of contemporary life.  To briefly explain:  Biltong is a cured meat similar to what we in the US call jerky.  It’s often made from beef, game or even ostrich.  Everyone it seems has a favorite supplier and flavor.  For my taste it makes a delicious sandwich (especially when its part of a picnic lunch). 

Koeksisters is a dessert of braided pastry covered in a sweet syrup.  It is so important in the history of South Africa that a recipe for it is in the District Six museum in Cape Town (  District Six was the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. Originally established as a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants.  It was a once a vibrant community but later was destroyed with black South Africans being the first to be resettled in other areas. By 1982 60,000 people had been forcibly removed and the area flattened.  The museum honors the memory of those experiences and includes wall hangings that are hand embroidered recipes of the foods of that were traditional within the community.

Pinotage is a South African wine made from grapes grown developed and grown there.  The Pinotage Association  ( describes the wine as:  "Almost always a deep, dark color, it can be an easy-drinking wine with upfront wild berry flavors, or it can lean towards smoky, musty undertones with firmer tannins.”  My tastings included bottles from several wineries, each distinctive and delicious.

Sharing food and wine with long history as part of a country new to me made me feel connected to my friends and new acquaintances in a way that just visiting the tourist sites could not do.  The experience reminds me to search out local foods wherever I travel in 2012 and I hope that you will too.  What tastes will we remember when we begin 2013?