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What is the point of data without knowledge?

The past decade was instrumental in shaping the narrative of Africa as a continent that is ripe for exploration and investment, the narrative of “Africa Rising”, “Africa the last frontier” reverberated across international media throughout the period between 2010 and the dawn of 2020. During this time, I spent a considerable amount of time in the continent working on various projects in the market and strategy field for a number of multinationals. The biggest challenge working in Africa during this period, and I am sure it was the case in past decades, was the perception that data and information was notoriously difficult to get a hold of, and where it was available it was either very costly to attain or unreliable.

Fast forward a decade and I can personally concede that this has fortunately changed. Getting access to data, in particular, data on economic growth and trends, demographic data, household and consumer income data and poverty statistics are available through sources such as the World Bank. However, what is the point of data without knowledge?

Data is important and we are becoming inundated with it. The data points mentioned above, are great indicators of what is happening in Africa, they can tell us how fast economies in Africa are growing, how quickly populations are growing and what percentage of those are youth, how many Africans are moving from rural environments to the urban cities looking for better opportunities and how are our incomes growing as a result of these opportunities being realized. All of this tells us What is happening and can be very useful in beginning to change the narrative of the real Africa and the growth that is underway.

However, I would argue that what is more important to Africa realizing its growth potential by increasing investment and development in the continent is the knowledge and expertise to determine What is driving these trends, Why are they happening and of course How can investors take advantage of the opportunities that these trends present.

This is where local knowledge and expertise becomes so important. As African markets have become increasingly open for business, there is a generation of Africans that have plied their trade in the continent for big multinationals over the past few decades and have amassed significant knowledge and expertise, as well as those who studied abroad and have brought back with them global skills and have started entrepreneurial ventures that are meeting the needs of local communities at scale. Importantly, this group of Africans bring an innate cultural understanding to doing business in Africa that is so vital to thriving in this environment. It is this local knowledge and expertise, that can add context, colour and texture to the data and trends we are seeing and can inform better decision making on the continent.

There will always be a need for data, and the granularity with which data is becoming available in Africa is improving, however data matched with the best local knowledge and expertise will provide the key edge to smart decision making.

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