On Tuesday, January 11, 202, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held its annual State of American Business Forum. The Chamber’s focus for 2022 is: Competition for the Future. The President and CEO, Suzanne Clark, emphasized that a new economic world order is in the making, and U.S. businesses must earn their place in the marketplace, both local and global.
As for all societies, competition is the driving force for progress and growth. To effectively compete today and win tomorrow, American businesses have to compete for markets, talent and global leadership. These are not a given. This means that to “make it” they must increasingly compete glocally, taking into account both local and global considerations, and for global markets and global leadership.
It’s a tough world out there. American business is up against not only a rising China and a reawakening Europe, but also increasingly against dynamic business competitors in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. The world is no longer America and the rest. It’s America among and with others.
Competing today requires robust ideas and new business models that can shape the post-Covid era in a way that makes the world a better place for all, or what the Biden Administration calls "Build Back Better". This increasingly requires creativity and innovation to meet needs and expectations in non-American, non-Western contexts while adding value that is relevant and meaningful within those contexts. Ideas must translate into viable solutions that motivate local ownership and agency, in the sense of “mineness” towards the project and a sense of having a choice and the ability to make decisions and/or take actions.
ONIVA Motors LLC (www.onivamotors.com) is a perfect example of this new approach to business development and investment. ONIVA offers a regional solution for improved interurban and urban-rural public transport in Africa. With its partners in Uruguay (South America) and Senegal (West Africa), ONIVA has created a high-quality, low-cost, durable and flexible vehicle that meets the specific needs of the African inter-urban transport and light utility vehicle market and that is less expensive to build and operate.
ONIVA’s innovative approach to vehicle manufacturing allows the company to actually make (rather than just assemble what in the end are foreign cars) tough and dependable vehicles locally at an affordable price, all while providing superior comfort and passenger safety. Its manufacturing process is environmentally friendly and allows the vehicles to be built in-country and adapted to context- and culturally-specific requirements, creating local employment and economic activity based on a sense of ownership and agency. In short, ONIVA’s investment in Senegal, the first in Africa, delivers profitable development by adding meaningful value and inclusive impact for the local economy, while ensuring a return on investment within 36 months of the launch of operations.
In November and December, ONIVA presented its third prototype in Dakar. Taking an inclusively participative approach that is inherent to the company’s market approach, ONIVA organized a series of presentations so that all concerned stakeholders – transporters, mechanics, passengers, automotive parts dealers and makers, engineering and vocational training students, quality and standards organizations, business organizations, consumer associations, government, among others – could provide their input and feedback on the prototype. These will feed into ONIVA’s design-adaptation and adjustment process to ensure the fourth and final prototype, which will be built in Senegal, responds to and meets Senegalese contextual, cultural and operational needs.
The ONIVA vehicle will, in fact, be the first ever “Made in Senegal” and one made for Africa and by Africans, for all management and technical personnel and workers in the manufacturing facility will be Senegalese. Contrary to what most American businesses believe, Senegal, like most African countries, has everything a company needs to develop its business successfully and competitively. You just have to be open to seeing reality through different eyes and to learning how to operate in a different context that challenges the typical American "Africa is poor" and "We know best" belief.
American businesses and investors need to see themselves not as contenders or challengers, but as partners and facilitators who promote freedom and opportunity, collaboration and participation, creativity and innovation. An investment project must contribute to local development. In other words, to be profitable, the approach to investment has to be inclusively impactful and generate shared value.
Investing at home or abroad is no longer a question of conquering and exploiting markets for their resources and consumers. And investing in Africa is certainly not a question of either dumping what America doesn’t want in order to “help” Africans by forcing what they don’t want or need down their throats, or of "securing" their resources and land in order to “help” Africans by exploiting and grabbing what America doesn’t have.
In today’s globalized, multipolar world, investment must seek profitable development: responsible investment with positive social and environmental impact that meets the diverse needs of stakeholders, generates shared value, strengthens local economic resilience and dynamism and isprofitable for the business making the investment.