Is this a land of opportunity or...?

Is this a land of opportunity or…?


As a part of my high school assignments, I read the book called Illusions: The Adventure of a Reluctant Messiah by Robert Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. While I had to go to Wikipedia to refresh my memory about its plot, I remember one key message that we discussed in the classroom: Life is all about making choices. As much as the statement seems to be an obvious one, I still think that we sometimes forget it, or take it for granted.

More complicated the world gets with multiple layers of globalization, information technologies, connectivity, climate changes, terrorism, and so on, individual choices, as well as business decisions and policymaking (particularly within a democratic society), become more complicated ones. In the context of the international development, the choices around creating a more sustainable society or ecosystem always create tensions between more developed and less developed economies.

Such tensions are almost unavoidable if you’re committed to having your life/career focus in Africa even though you’re not directly involved in the field of international development. And more interaction I have with people in the African continent, more uncomfortable I feel when Japanese people (or other people outside the continent) make blunt statements like, “I didn’t like it when Maasai people were too commercial,” or “Africa should figure out the way to remain as is (e.g. less industrialized/developed).”

I feel uncomfortable not because people express such opinions are necessarily wrong or ignorant. I feel uncomfortable because I also do always hear people like Kenyans saying, “we will/want to become like Japan/US (aka developed economies)” or “It will take another 100 years for us to become like Japan.”

So how can we avoid these tensions without screaming some soundbites and keywords like sustainable development or fair trade? I believe that there are at least three key elements: 1) Education, 2) The economy of quality, and 3) Value chain re-engineering.

Education is about unlearning and relearning. It is about empathizing others instead of sympathizing them. Unlearning part is probably more important yet difficult. When we encounter something new, we always filter it based on our past experiences and make a reference to them. One exercise to overcome might be to question existing filters and values by thinking of a completely opposite situation. What if the poorest we think is the richest in a real sense? What if the ugliest we think is the most beautiful? What if the slowest is the fastest?

The economy of quality is something that we should be discussing more as much as the economy of scale is discussed. The majority of businesses still operate under the principle of making things cheaper and faster. Probably economies of quality can be assessed when we think of a small unit of economies coupled with the sharing economies. How can we create small units of self-sustaining economies that are neither competing with each other nor being silo still allowing the free movement of people and goods?

Value chain reengineering includes any types of innovations around value chains and new business models that challenge existing ones. Shorter the value chain it becomes better the values are communicated. Better e-commerce experience (or general digital experience), logistics, and beautiful design play key roles in this element.

And these are all truly relevant to the strategic choices of what we do and where we do as Maki & Mpho. Our brand is all about education – questioning the existing values and paradigm and presenting something new using designs that tell stories. We are now less focused making physical products which can create short-term economic return because we believe that ultimately Africa’s intellectual property including its long-held philosophical/cultural wisdom and limitless creativity – these elements of quality – are the moneymaker. And we challenge existing ways of doing things including trade shows and fashion shows while seeking an alternative model of born global market creation.

The challenge is that I also need to keep challenging myself from being inclined to follow existing business practices and thinking I’m really stupid…









ここに記載した3つの要素は、Maki & Mphoが、どこで何をおこなうのかという戦略的判断に、密接に紐づいています。私たちのブランドは、既存の価値観やパラダイムにチャレンジし、デザインとコミュニケーションを通じて、新しい価値を提案するという意味において、教育そのものです。今、短期的な利益を見越した、物理的なプロダクト開発に、あえて注力していないのは、常に存在していた哲学的、文化的な知恵や知見と、限りなき創造性など、アフリカの知的財産(これらの質の要素)こそが、究極的な経済的価値を作り出すと考えているからです。さらに、展示会やファッションショーなどの既存の王道的なビジネスのやり方をチャレンジし、新しいBorn Globalな市場構築を目指しているのです。