Last month, the annual meeting of the Strategic Management Society (SMS) revolved around the theme “Strategies in a world of networks.” Have you ever heard anyone say “connections are not important in this part of the world”? That would be quite unusual, don’t you think? It’s no surprise, then, that networks matter in Africa just as they do elsewhere. But how do personal networks matter in the African context?
Information about both companies and managers spreads through personal networks. This becomes critical in cross-national contexts where finding the right people and companies to do business with may not be so easy. Companies pursuing a pan-African strategy need to be connected to the right people in a wide number of countries.
How can you develop such a diverse network in terms of geographical coverage? One approach is to go one by one knocking on doors through personal referrals and so on. This can be quite time-consuming. Another approach is to join a reputable institution to meet people from various countries who share values similar to those of the institution.
For instance, a person in the process of joining the Africa Leadership Initiative (ALI) explained:
“If I went into the next ALI program and I had two colleagues from Nigeria, a colleague from Kenya and one from Liberia, and I was sitting here thinking about my move into any of those countries, then I know I will be able to the phone and call somebody, put a face to the name. And eventually it works out. But imagine you don’t have the opportunity to be with any such group, I will be sitting there and saying ‘Who should I call?’, I will go to the internet, maybe take a phone number to some ministry, call and never get answered… So such a network is important in our context.
“You can be confident that if you have gone through a program with somebody who at least shares the same kind of ideals and values. You are able to pick up if this is the kind of person you would want to do business with. Because in the conversation issues relating to values may come up.”
Do you have any network-related experience you’d like to share?
You may find out about the discussions around networks at the SMS meeting in this video clip (2’48”).