We put people first... (and we're not just saying this)

We put people first… (and we’re not just saying this)


One of the reasons that I strive to build my own business is to (try to) “do the right thing.” Obviously, there is no single way to do the right thing, but, at least, I have certain perspectives to do things better to pay my fair share to contribute to this world.

I always have so many questions about how things work in ways they work: How large organizations work in a certain way even though some or many people who work there think that they are not necessarily doing the right things. While I am not chasing any idealistic situations, I also want to challenge doing things in a certain way.

This underlining thought applies to all kinds of decisions I make in building a company. And lately, I have been thinking a lot about “job creation.” I have to put parenthesis on “job creation” because I have been really thinking about the very meaning of it. There are at least two perspectives that make it harder for me to think of the activity of job creation. One is about creating decent work and another is about dealing with the dynamics around work (and the meaning of the work) in the global context.

The 8th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is about decent work and economic growth. According to the ILO’s definition (excerpts from the video), “decent work means dignity, equality, fair income, and safe working conditions. Decent work puts people at the center of development. It gives women, men, and youth a voice in what they do.”

“Decent work puts people at the center.” This, to me, is the biggest paradox. “Creating job” in a traditional sense, in my opinion, actually puts companies and businesses at the center (even though so many companies in the world “say” they value their employees). Except for the cases of few startups and the founding teams, I haven’t really heard of cases of companies that hire people first and build businesses around their talents.

Regarding the second point about dealing with the dynamics around work in the global context, my biggest concern is around some sort of double standards. The “global minds” (like McKinsey, the MIT Lab, the World Economic Forum, you name it) are talking about the emergence of A.I. and how such technologies can change the types of jobs to be created. There are a number of research reports and articles coming out talking about how the Millenials have different values and attitudes toward work/life (where they value more personal happiness over economic gains) or how technologies are creating more self-employers, freelancers, or nomad workers. On the other hand, when it comes to the economic development of the emerging or developing economies, job creation simply become the mechanisms of entering faceless people to the “labor forces” and “growing population” often mean “economic growth” because they are the labor forces.

There is another paradox related to that. As China’s labor costs go up, companies have been moving their factories to Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam. And of course, the trend for the past few years is to apparel companies like H&M are starting to look for East Africa like Ethiopia and Kenya to leverage “low-cost labor.” The question here is whether we continue to support these trends of mass production (at the low cost) and mass consumption. The latest report on Africa’s economies published by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) suggests that Africa needs more large companies and that there are zero African companies listed in the Fortune 500, but are we continue to support the companies like the Walmart (yes, the biggest company in the world by its revenue amount) whose key successful strategy is the EDLP (Everyday Low Price) or oil/energy companies that we see on the Fortune 500 top 10 list? Are we making progress to the sustainability?

So okay, I really cannot get my head around these paradoxical aspects. But what’s important for me right now is to look at what I’ve got and to test my hypothesis around “job creation.” I’m not the CEO of a large company (yet) anyways so I can take a risk to fail.

I may be optimistic but I believe that as Millenials actually become the decision makers of the era (there are still bunch of decision makers of the previous generation), more and more people start to value relationships (amongst people), happiness, health, wellness, creativity, arts, and culture more than accumulating wealth and economic gains.

And I might not be the only one who is thinking about these kinds of change that may happen. The recent article on the conversation between President Obama and Joi Ito of the MIT Lab mentioned about such topic.

There are actually very high-level jobs, things like lawyers or auditors, that might disappear. Whereas a lot of the service businesses, the arts, and occupations that computers aren’t well suited for won’t be replaced. I don’t know what you think about universal basic income [(concept where all citizens receive at least a living wage, provided by the government as a form of social security)], but as we start to see people getting displaced there’s also this idea that we can look at other models—like academia or the arts, where people have a purpose that isn’t tied directly to money. I think one of the problems is that there’s this general notion of, how can you be smart if you don’t have any money? In academia, I see a lot of smart people without money. – Joi Ito

So how is all this relevant to Maki & Mpho. Our fundamental philosophy is to celebrate individuality. We put people first. We put creative people first. We put Africa’s creative people first and let them create. We use design as a tool to tell their creative stories because that’s the way we can create and communicate values. We believe that Africa’s biggest asset is people not because they can potentially become low-cost labor to work in garment factories or off-shore call centers. We believe that their creativity and design skills can help people around the world to live more meaning and satisfying life.

Does any of this make sense to people? Let me elaborate… but probably this shall be continued another time…









パラドクスは、これだけに留まりません。中国の賃金上昇で、企業がベトナムなどの東南アジアに工場を移転しています。そして、ここ数年の動きとしては、H&Mなどのアパレル企業などが、エチオピアやケニアなどの東アフリカに生産拠点を作り、「安い労働力」をレバレッジしようとしています。ここでの疑問は、我々は、引き続きこの大量生産(低コスト)、大量消費のトレンドをサポートし続けるのかということです。McKinsey Global Institute (MGI)が発行した最新のアフリカレポートでは、アフリカにはもっと大企業が不可欠であることと、現時点で、フォーチュン500のランキングには、アフリカ企業が1社もないことを指摘しています。しかし、我々は、世界最大の企業であるウォールマートとその戦略であるEDLP(毎日低価格)であったり、トップ10リストに君臨するような石油・エネルギー関係の企業を、サポートし続けるのでしょうか。持続可能な社会に向けて、正しい道を歩んでいるのか。




弁護士や監査役など、ハイ(スキル)レベルの仕事すら、(AIの発展によって)なくなる可能性があります。一方で、サービス業、アート、それからコンピューターが得意でないような仕事は、存在しつづける。ユニバーサルベーシックインカム(政府が最低レベルの収入を全国民に保証する制度)に同意されるかわかりませんが、人々が職を失うということを考える上で、学問やアートの世界のようなモデルを分析するというようなモデルも出てきています。つまり、こういった人々はPurpose(目的やビジョン)を持っていて、それが必ずしもお金に結びついているわけではない。お金がないのにどうして頭がいいといえるのかといった一般的な概念があることも問題です。学問の世界では、お金持ちではないが、優秀な人が沢山います。 – Joi Ito

Maki & Mphoに、これらの議論がビジネスにどう関係あるのか。私たちの事業の根底にあるのが、celebrate individualityという哲学です。つまり人が中心。クリエイティブな人が中心。アフリカのクリエイティブな人材を中心におき、彼らのクリエイティビティを事業のコアとする。デザインというツールを使って、価値をコミュニケーションすること。アフリカの人口が経済発展のドライブになるだろうと考えるのは、彼らが、安いの労働力であると考えるからではなく、彼らのクリエイティブなスキルが、世界の人々がより意義があり、満足できる生活を送るための鍵を握っていると考えるからです。