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“Do you think there are any companies in Africa with an annual turnover of a billion dollars?” I asked the class of MBA students at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. They all hesitated. “There must be at least one!”, one student chimed in. I smiled.

This was my icebreaker during a guest lecture I was giving to MBA students as part of their Emerging Markets class. I took a few quick votes by show of hands and at least half of the class did not think there would be more than 20 companies with a billion-dollar turnover in Africa. At least 90 percent of the class thought there were less than 50 companies with such revenues.

The correct answer is 400. Yes, there are more than 400 companies with over a billion dollars in annual revenues and many more moving up the ladder to join them. But, I was not surprised by the answers from the class. When McKinsey, the global consulting firm, did a similar quiz and asked over 1,000 executives – they all couldn’t get the right figure, except one*. This is the beauty of the business revolution happening in Africa – it is off the radar of many people. Like the ultra-rare African black panther, it is moving undetected.

As a trained economist, I have a third eye for numbers, statistics and trends. When people ask me why I packed my decorated degree to start cleaning windows, I usually say, “if you saw and read the numbers, statistics and trends, and understood what they meant, you’d do the same.”

Africa is at a history-defining point. With an average age of 19, she has the youngest population in the world. In 1950, Africa only accounted for 9% of the world’s population; but, the United Nations projects Africa to account for at least 40% of the world’s population by the end of this century. Her children are becoming increasingly educated, exposed and sophisticated. They want more options and variety and their tastes are becoming more aligned with the developed world. They want innovation tailored to their needs and demands. There is a projected $5.6 trillion consumer spending in Africa in 2025. As one report by the UN eloquently put it, “the future of humanity is increasing African”. Are you positioning yourself for this?

Africa could soon become the “factory of the world” after China. It is no longer as cheap as it was to produce goods in China. Wages in China have increased from $0.43/hour in 2000 to $2.88/hour in 2013. But, in many African countries, hourly wages are lower than $1. McKinsey projects that with investment in infrastructure, compared to China, it could be cheaper to produce goods in Africa with an added advantage of Africa’s proximity to the European and Western markets. ‘Made in Africa’, could soon be a global brand. Young African entrepreneur, are you positioning yourself for this shift?

After a millennium of oppression, repression and subjugation, Africa is now at a tipping point. As young African entrepreneurs, we have an opportunity of designing and defining the future of an entire continent. This is a rare opportunity. The African story is yet to be written. This generation, my generation, has been handed a blank book and we have the pen in hand. What shall we write?

When you go to our company, Spotless Africa‘s page, and read our company story, this is the first paragraph you will find, “We believe in Africa’s potential and ability to grow and develop herself. Every day we work hard to help move the needle and contribute to the imminent renaissance of Africa and her people. Our aim is to rethink, reimagine, and reshape the way cleaning services and products are delivered in Africa.” … I am positioning myself – are you?

Mwansa Chalo

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