What Africa’s Information Gap Means for Business

In the wake of President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative, NASA’s composite map has become a snapshot of the world’s electric power haves and have-nots. America is a bright light, as are Europe and parts of Asia. India, Indonesia and Brazil, flashed on the night map. And then there’s Africa, dark but for the lights around South Africa, Lagos, and the Mediterranean coast. Finally, the world has finally woken up to the pressing need for electricity in Africa.

Now here’s the next frontier: data.

If you were to map data sets around the world, I guess it would look like an electrical map – data overload in the US, Europe and parts of Asia, but sprinkled around North Africa, South Africa, Lagos. And Kenya.

Especially when there are so many pressing needs such as education, health and employment opportunities, it is easy to look at the lack of information and say it is okay, but this is shortsighted. Information is very important.

One of the biggest barriers to investment is lack of information. With information, investor confidence grows. Confident investors, money will flow, and that’s when real, sustainable development takes place. Information is power, but ask any trade minister who tries to promote the country without enough information and you will understand that lack of information is powerlessness.

The Information Gap, Solved: Harnessing the Mobile Revolution

Traditionally, data collection can be difficult in Africa. Remote populations, lack of infrastructure, lack of landlines and lack of security are extremely challenging environments for traditional data collection. As with many challenges, sometimes the answer lies in finding another way.

Enter Africa’s greatest modern game changer: the mobile phone.

In the late 1990s, mobile phones came to Africa and revolutionized the continent. Suddenly Africans could communicate – with each other and with the world. In less than 10 years, there was a new revolution, now it was just about making phone calls; It was all about the application. A whole universe has opened up in e-Health, e-Government, e-Education and most importantly, mobile banking.

Fast forward another decade to today, and we’re on the brink of another revolution. It’s no longer just about being able to make a call or what an individual can do with their phone. Today it’s all about sums. With mobile phones it is now possible to gather individual African views, expectations and habits to create accurate, reliable data and aggregate it in real time. This is information that encourages investment, creates jobs and encourages oil development.

Want to know what Africans think? Snd Af TXT msg

At GeoPoll, our paradigm for this new data is to survey the public using mobile phones, text messages (SMS), voice recordings and web applications. Like many great works, we started in 2010 with a poll of 140,000 people in the Democratic Congo. And results in 48 hours.

With an estimated 85% of Africans owning or having access to a mobile phone, it has become the easiest, fastest and most cost-effective way to reach people across the continent. Using mobile phones allows us to reach places that are normally hard to reach, including remote or insecure regions, poll people repeatedly to see changes over time, and collect data in real-time.

From our database of over 150 million users, we are able to gather real-time information that helps businesses, organizations and governments make better informed decisions. When you consider that almost all development ministers in Africa are working with at least 12-weeks of outdated data, real-time data can be a game-changer.

New data, new opportunities

What can data show us? A lot, and with a surprising amount of grunt, even at the bottom level. Information can be the ultimate myth-buster, and for a region like Africa where myths, stereotypes and misconceptions abound, myth-busting is sorely needed.

The United States Department of State recently issued a warning about travel to Kenya, but how do Kenyans feel? Rather optimistically, in a recent GeoPoll survey, 54% said they believe the economy will improve in the next 90 days. 76% say they are spending more this year than last year, and 52% report spending “more.”

What drives their purchasing decisions? He thinks it must be worth it for such a poor continent. In Kenya, this is true for 32%, but a surprising 53% say that price is a quality staple.

In a similar poll conducted in Nigeria, more people chose quality over price as a key driver of their purchasing decisions. Consumer optimism is alive and well in Nigeria, even as global news is flooded with stories about Boko Haram, where 59% believe the economy will improve in the next 90 days.

In the past, Africans prefer imported products, products made in Africa are of low quality, but this may be changing. 47% of Nigerians prefer Made in Nigeria goods. In Kenya, 57% felt the same about Kenyan products.

Perhaps most surprisingly, 44% of respondents in Kenya and 60% of Nigerians did not find what they were looking for during their most recent shopping trip. That’s a business opportunity! While Kenya and Nigeria are at the forefront of Africa’s most competitive business areas, the figures show they are still untapped markets where investors can market products with better quality, value and accessibility.

Other choices present great opportunities for investment. Only 25% of Kenyans rated traffic as “too heavy”, while 70% would be willing to pay for roads with less traffic. Are they willing to pay for more reliable electricity? Perhaps last year, 41% of electronics reported being damaged by power surges or outages.

Information is power.

One senior CEO said that American manufacturers could not continue to sell to 15 percent of the world. Very true, but that 85% has become extremely sophisticated and complex. Africans now have choices and can raise capital, source products and support projects from a wide range of options. Understanding these markets is important. More than ever, information is power.

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