Africans’ communal mentality

In a comment to an earlier post, Patricia Ferrando shared her experience coaching successful Nigerian entrepreneurs. She highlighted their commitment to giving back to society and to contributing to the development of the less privileged. Patricia’s comment made me reflect upon Africans’ communal mentality. Let me share some examples I have seen while in Lagos.

Mr. Madu, his wife Stella, and Professor Henrietta Onwuegbuzie after a session at LBS

Mr. Maduadichie (Mr. Madu for his friends) is a self-made entrepreneur. He grew up during the Biafran war – Nigeria’s 1967-1970 civil war – and was unable to finish school. In spite of this and of a complicated family situation, he managed to survive and become self-sufficient. Eventually, he created his own auto spare part business, which has grown very successfully. Mr. Maduaduchie has a need to give back to society: he provides 6-year scholarships for 90 kids in his village. In a talk he gave at Lagos Business School a few weeks ago, he said “if you have money and you don’t have a heart, you have a problem.”  

Austin Okere, whom I talked about in another post, is committed to fighting poverty through his business. In that post, I briefly mentioned the so-called CWG 2.0 project. One part of this project aims to empower Nigerian SMEs to create jobs. The owners of many of these companies don’t have any business training and lack the capacity to keep an accounting record. Because of this, banks are unwilling to give them credit. Austin’s idea is to offer a subscription-based account-keeping service using the cloud. So as to get those owners to try the service, he’s trying to convince the Ministry to pay for a 6-month subscription instead of the existing direct subsidy. Once they have tried the service and have seen its usefulness, they will pay for it themselves.

Austin expects to make money out of this business — and he deserves to do so. But his drive is to contribute to job creation, and in turn to poverty alleviation in Nigeria: companies who subscribe to this service will be more likely to grow their business. If 10% of the 17 million small companies operating in Nigeria subscribe to the service, and if each one of these is capable of creating one extra job, then he and his company will be contributing to creating 1.7 million jobs. Speaking of commitment to development…

What do you think about this way of giving back to society? Do we have this communal mentality in the West?

9 thoughts on “Africans’ communal mentality

  1. Africa, I love the comment of Mr, Maduadichie “If you have money and you don’t have a heart, you have a problem.”
    Maybe African people are more aware that we are not owners but rather administrators of our material goods and therefore we have to know how to return and contribute to help the development of all areas and all people. Only then we will stop such terrible dramas as the migration of the poorest parts of the world to the first world economies, with the terrible consequence of the deaths of many of those who start this adventure occurs.

    1. Patricia, thank you for your reflection. Here in Nigeria, there’s also an internal migration from the villages to the large cities. And many of these immigrants end up in a worse living condition than they were in their village.

  2. Africa, I am glad you followed up Patricia’s comment in this post. When I read it, it made me think of Ibukun Awosika, a fellow GEMBA graduate and force of nature, and other African friends’ strong sense of giving back to the community. Africa is after all the source of one of my favourite proverbs “If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together”

    Individualism seems to be a Western trait, but I think we all have seen instances of very healthy community lives where people selflessly devote their time, money and effort for the communities they live in. In the US serving the community and giving back is a strong theme we see time and again in very successful entrepreneurs and business people. So, I think what makes it noteworthy in Africa to our Western eyes is how entirely natural and uncontrived the sentiment and execution is for Africans.

    By the way, Ibukun shared some of her initiatives to give back to the community in the Global Alumni Reunion and foster entrepreneurship, youth employment and female empowerment.

    1. I like the proverb, Pilar! (it’s also very fitting for my alliance course). Yes, giving back is a very common theme that comes up once and again here.
      I hope to meet Ibukun during my stay in Lagos.

      1. I hope you meet her, too. She’s a proud GEMBA graduate and a force of nature. Her presentation during the latest Global Alumni Reunion was amazing.

  3. I would like to share my visit to one company near Barcelona that has put in practice this communal mentality. The company’s name is la Fageda and is located in a beautiful volcanic area only about 90Km from Barcelona. More than 60% of the people who work there have serious mental disabilities and “in spite of” they have managed to manufacture and distribute some of the best yogurts you can eat in Barcelona. The company was set up by an entrepreneur who was aiming to help the disabled people of la Garrotxa and looked for a business idea to accomplish it.
    This example I believe is an exception in Spain and probably in other western countries but I hope we can adopt more and more “the African communal approach”.

    1. Lourdes, thank you for bringing the example of La Fageda to our attention. Indeed, it’s a company that has social responsibility into its DNA. And if they have managed to accomplish their mission successfully, others can do as well.

  4. Africa,
    reading your blog and especially the article above I am just reflecting on the communal mentality as an outlet of the desire to “give back”. Whether we have it in the west (or not) is for me too easily leading to some judgment (“what if not?”).
    I believe the communal mentality may be more easily found where people had opportunities (or it was necessary) to become successful where they grew up – not a common feature in our global world where mobility is a key ingredient for success.
    So what possibilities to we have (and use!) to give back in a globalized society? I just want to mention an example from my current employer that founded “reach for change” ( ), an organization that supports social entrepreneurs in several countries – also African ones. What I like here is that I as an employee have the possibility to engage as an “advisor” to these entrepreneurs and help their cause. I’d like to know if there are similar “incubators” like that – do you know?

    1. Good to hear from you, Frank!
      I recently talked to someone who made a similar point: the communal mentality is more frequent in small Nigerian villages than in larges cities like Lagos. That’s the power of small worlds! And we all live in some small world to which giving back is of essence, in addition to thinking about society at large.
      Thanks for bringing “reach for change” to our attention! It looks like a great initiative. I believe there are other similar incubators, but I’m not particularly familiar with any of them. Does anyone know?

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