ONE of the many terms Silicon Valley has bequeathed to the business world is “serial entrepreneur”, a label for those restless souls who start one business after another. Perhaps Africa can now contribute another expression: the “parallel entrepreneur”. More than in any other part of the developing world, the continent’s budding business folk create networks of several firms across a number of different sectors of the economy, according to research by IMANI, a think-tank based in Ghana.
The 189 successful entrepreneurs it surveyed in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya own, on average, six businesses each. One boasted more than 60. What explains this entrepreneurial hyperactivity?
"Dark skin may slow the pace of receiving money through Kiva, but being from Africa helps enormously. Loans to Kenya fund several times faster than loans to Bulgaria on the platform. Geographic discrimination is far more important than skin tone. Users tend to believe there is more need in poorer countries, and African countries tend to be poorer. Lenders may also feel their dollars will go farther with a microloan to Africa than elsewhere. On Kiva, the skin tone bias only crops up strongly after other factors are accounted for. While a litany of microfinance literature recommends lending to women over men—to counteract discrimination and because women tend to use money more prudently—the measurable presence of race bias serves as a warning to crowdfunding sites and donors alike. This sector is booming now, powered by promises to democratize lending and open doors to those excluded or discriminated against by traditional banking. Baked-in bias in peer-to-peer choices could undermine the very idea of a financial solution to unfairness."
"A few years ago I was speaking with the founder of an African mobile phone company, called CellTel. He told me that his company realized that they could predict the location of impending massacres in the Congo, because there were spikes in the sale of prepaid phone cards. At first the company researchers thought that this was because there were more calls around the planning or fleeing of the massacre. In fact, the reason was that the prepaid cards were denominated in dollars, not the local currency. People, sensing impending chaos, wanted to have something valuable they could carry with them that was protected against local inflation."