It’s an interesting thing, perception. Sometimes you want it good and sometimes you want it bad. In no more earnest truth does this play out than in the perceptions created about Africa. For the great majority of aid groups in Africa, the best perception is what I call an “evolving bad”. Basically, if it were to ever seem good, they would lose funding. If it seemed too bad then again, they would lose funding as people would think that group’s mission as being pointless. But, if you are able to give examples of individuals whose lives get better because of your program while in what is to be perceived as a completely hopeless country (or hell, continent) then you are doing good. You are evolving a bad environment. Yeah, this is cynical, but given the history of 50+ years of aid money in Africa, I don’t really have much of a problem stating this.
But the real reason that I bring this up is because of perception in how it relates to business. To date, business has never wanted Africa to be perceived in a good light. It’s was just easier to paint the place as a den of thieves and warlords ready to steal from you if you were to try and invest somewhere in the continent. This has served most businesses well as it allowed those with Colonial ties to rape the mineral resources. People stay out of Africa and it’s innovators are ignored. No competition. No new markets. Business likes that.
There has come about a problem though, which is all this new cable in the East as well as in the West of the continent. Damned if it isn’t giving Africans access to the world for once. Then there are reports from the very respected (in the US) Forrester Research which come out showing that one of the main growth regions for internet users will be Africa. Then there are fellows making things like Maker Faire Africa happen. Also, the barcamps.
Well, this is a all a problem for business. It’s change and business has a problem with change. The only thing to do is to suddenly shift the perception. Now, Africa is hot. There are innovators there. Google wants in. Microsoft wants in. Africa is where it’s at and this is understandable given that most of the economies of the world are depressed currently.
I’m rather curious how this is going to play out with the negative perception from aid (as well as duplicitous governments) going up against the positive, developing perception of business. It’s been happening for some time obviously, but it really is all this new connectivity that will make the change where we’ll be seeing a message such as “There was widespread fighting in southern Uganda today.” fighting for the headlines of, “Google has opened up a new incubator in southern Uganda today to harness coding prowess of local talent.” to hopefully even, “Ghanaian firm, HyperRail buys a majority holding in troubled firm, Eurostar.” It’s all about the control of perception.