Looking at the world through a global lens is an integral feature of the Merrick School of Business’ academic programs. Global research streams and projects are commonly pursued by a number of faculty members in the school. Most recently a team of business faculty, Ven Sriram, professor of marketing, David Lingelbach, associate professor of entrepreneurship, Tigi Mersha, professor of operations management, and their colleague, Franklyn Manu, a professor of marketing at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, published a textbook titled “Entrepreneurship in Africa: Content and Perspectives.” A book aimed at university students and potential entrepreneurs.
The project was conceived several years ago when they recognized the need for context-specific material on Africa. They found most material focused on entrepreneurship in Africa was developed with a Western-derived lens. While there is increasing attention being paid to Africa by researchers, entrepreneurship as a formal discipline is rarely taught at African universities. In addition, when it is taught, it is from a Western perspective using material designed for the West. This is the first textbook that the professors are aware of, that has been written from the African perspective with the African student and reader in mind.
When asked how can entrepreneurship in Africa influence ways Western entrepreneurs start and grow a business, Sriram explained that many African entrepreneurs are very innovative and enterprising, leveraging what resources they have and who they know. They are nimble and agile in that they can pivot rapidly to seize opportunities and move on quickly from mistakes. These are valuable lessons for all entrepreneurs, with particular relevance for those operating in resource-constrained and unstable environments in the West.
In addition, until quite recently, many of the entrepreneurs in Africa have been small, self-employed and motivated by necessity. The book highlights stories of African businesses that are scalable and growth-oriented. The authors see these factors as important contributors to success. Of course, all startup activity is contextual. In the case of Africa, the stability or turbulence of the environment, the availability of infrastructure, access to funding, the ability to recognize or create opportunities, leverage connections and networks, etc. are clearly major drivers of African entrepreneurship success.
“Part of the distinctiveness of this collaboration is that while we are all passionate and informed about African entrepreneurship, we come at it from different perspectives,” said Sriram. “David’s doctorate is in entrepreneurship and he researches areas of entrepreneurial finance with a focus on emerging markets. Tigi brings an operations management and service quality emphasis while Franky and I take a marketing perspective. All these are hugely important for successful entrepreneurship.”
With the rapid economic growth in many African economies—the March 2020 issue of the Economist dubbed the second half of the 21st century as the African Century—scalable, fast-growing business are springing up all over Africa, many of which are highlighted in the “Entrepreneurship in Africa” textbook. Africa is a complex continent with over 50 countries and many ethnicities and linguistic groups, often within the same country. In that sense, capturing the essence of such a complicated region can be a daunting task, especially at the continental level. Its notable to mention that the school’s faculty have substantial experience in conducting research, writing cases, presenting papers and teaching in Africa. And in the last few years there have been students who have travelled to Ghana as part of the Global Field Study program.
Murray Dalziel, dean of the Merrick School of Business believes that the work of our faculty to study entrepreneurship in difficult places, is an absolute point of pride for the school, and should be celebrated.
“This is important research because entrepreneurship can be a real vehicle for tackling some of the most systemic problems in neighborhoods, nations and globally,” said Dalziel. “But there is much to be learned. As my colleagues show, learning about how entrepreneurship works in Africa not only helps us understand Africa a little better, but also can advance entrepreneurship in other settings—and that includes in our neighborhoods and communities in U.S. and Europe.”