This article was contributed by author Gregory Diehl. The opinions expressed by guest contributors are theirs alone.
Dateline: Barcelona, Spain
Entrepreneurs are flocking to third world nations in greater numbers than ever before. It’s easy to understand why.
There is less competition, greater need, and frequently fewer regulations to stand in the way. To take advantage of these opportunities, it takes the right mix of social, political, and economic factors for growing a business in an unfamiliar landscape.
I’ve sought these places out through traveling, training, and working with locals in as many countries as possible for years.
Recently, I spent eight weeks in Ghana teaching entrepreneurship principles to university-age students.
Ghana is considered the most rapidly developing part of West Africa, so it was the ideal place to learn firsthand what opportunities existed across the continent. And though I’ve spent the better part of the last eight years traversing developing nations, Africa has remained unfamiliar to me until now.
The people of Ghana are among the friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere in the world. Despite West Africa’s reputation for danger, I never felt to be at significant risk during the eight weeks I spent there.
Locals went out of their way on a daily basis to help me navigate and feel comfortable in the cities of Accra and Kumasi. It helped enormously too that English was widely used, mixed heavily with local native languages.
Ghana’s structural and cultural barriers
Staying productive in Ghana as an internet entrepreneur had its obstacles. Internet speed frequently slowed to a crawl whenever it didn’t cut out entirely. The power shuts off for hours at a time almost every day.
These logistical hiccups obviously do not help Ghana’s promises for development, but they can be worked around with the right preparation.
While street beggars were rare, I was considered a source of easy handouts for anyone who wanted to buy something beyond their means, or who needed “investment” or “donations” to their latest thinly veiled scam.
The entitlement mentality was very strong. It was almost universally agreed that whoever had money should unquestioningly share it with those who did not – truly a capitalist’s nightmare.
Entrepreneurs know that a good idea means nothing without the help of good people to bring it to fruition.
There’s a nagging sense of discomfort that comes when you have thousands of dollars at play in a system where you have little control.
This is what happens when you try to work with people who have never learned that success comes from the ability to communicate and deliver reliably.
Many young Ghanaians were eager to learn from me what they could about earning money sustainably during the time that I spoke on internet entrepreneurship.
Although the work ethic was strong with some of the youth, they had trouble accepting that in most new businesses there is a long process of build-up before tangible rewards are seen.
In the short-term culture of Ghana, there is no precedent for projecting far into the future. Their attention is drawn only to immediate needs and results.
Making business work in an unreliable setting
Entrepreneurship requires the understanding that what you earn is a direct result of what you produce. It means dreaming big to see where your actions could lead if manage your time and resources strategically.
Good people must communicate and be held accountable for the agreements they make, and this applies to everyone you bring aboard your new business idea – from the lowest employee to your operating partners.
The best security you can have against fraud or negligence is to start working on the smallest possible scale, and gradually build up from there.
Test potential partners and employees with small amounts of responsibility before you work them into the foundation of your company.
The moment communication or production hits a hiccup, directly address the people responsible. The livelihood of your business depends on making sure they know what you expect.
Most of the people there simply are not accustomed to first-world standards of action. If the people you work with lack the drive to learn from their mistakes, cut your losses and move on to someone else as quickly as possible.
Anyone who isn’t immediately coachable and trainable is a waste of your resources. Your greatest challenge will be to identify the rare diamonds hiding in the rough and bringing out their full potential in the context of your company.
Always keep in mind that most of the people who grew up under these conditions aren’t ready to see the bigger picture of their actions.
You cannot always be as demanding in your approach here as you can back home where people understand how to act professionally.
If doing business in the developing world were as easy as doing it in the United States or Europe, every foreign entrepreneur would already have established themselves there.
Africa’s future and your opportunity
Many people believe that Africa as a whole is currently at a crossroads. It will either sink further into poverty, or rapidly acquire the technology, infrastructure, and international exchange needed to catch up to the rest of the world.
What makes the difference will be how well the talent and time of its residents are harnessed toward productive means by leaders in the international market.
For a sustainable economic future for Africa, invest in human resources before everything else.
If you’re more into systems than people, get the help of someone who excels in teaching and training others to work within the context you’ve defined.
All the gold, oil, cocoa, and other untapped natural resources or unclaimed opportunities will only become available through good recruitment, training, and team management of real people.