Jobs are from Mars, Business is from Venus

It is astonishing the lengths that humanitarian and development organisations will go to avoid talking about business or to businesses.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General Juan Somavia speaking at the XIth African Regional Meeting called for a new development approach in Africa which “puts people at the centre of development and judges the success of economic and social policy according to what happens to people at work … autonomous and independent social partners and institutions of social dialogue are bedrocks of democratic governance.”

I don’t know what that means either. But he really laid down the importance of this when, stressing the need for action, he said, “Each and every day, another 10 000 African women and men are being added to those workers already living with their families on less than US$1 per day.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Ato Zenawi continued the confusion with the following statement: “There is no better forum for a practically oriented deliberation on decent jobs in Africa than a meeting at which the major participants are government representatives and representatives of employers’ and workers’ organisations. There is no other way for most of our countries to make headway in the fight against poverty than making it possible for our citizens to be engaged in productive work, which would continue to be decent, within the context specific to our circumstances, as productivity increases.”

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete went even further into the mire: “The problem of youth unemployment is exacerbated by the global demographic trend which has seen the size of youth increasing at a faster rate than our economies can absorb. It is therefore, critical that partnership is forged in tackling the specific needs of young people in this era of globalization, including human capacity building. Harnessing the energies and potentials of young people represents an invaluable opportunity to nurture agents of socio-economic development.”

Let us summarise: they need jobs to be created to absorb their vast labour pool. How do they intend to create these jobs? They haven’t the faintest idea.

Unfortunately it is talk like this that prevents business executives from seeing opportunities. What they hear is “chaos, chaos, chaos, handouts, handouts, handouts” instead of: here’s Africa, a billion people, without access to things as basic as soap and toilet paper (whatever Sheryl Crow thinks).

The question from business is: well, ok, so they have needs; do they have cash?

The World Bank’s Global Monitoring Report is very exciting reading. South East Asia has reduced extreme poverty (that US$1 / day that everyone gets excited about) to less than 9% of their population. This is led by China who has created 300 million jobs in the last decade. Africa trails a lot, absolute poverty is at 41%.

Conversely, though, 59% of Africans are NOT destitute and have money to spend. They just have nothing to buy.

With the current state of communication, though, the development and business sectors are not just speaking different languages; they’re standing on different planets.

x-posted to

4 replies »

  1. Okay – and being an entrepreneur myself I’m with you all the way here. But you may be letting businesses off the hook a little. They can see the numbers as well as you can. Surely they’re not going to be scared off a real opportunity by government confusion and cluelessness (if that were the case you couldn’t do business most places in the world).

    So there’s more to the story on the business side, right?

  2. Oh, sure, but when those asking for help choose to use language inviting misunderstanding, they shouldn’t be too surprised if businesses please themselves.

  3. Sure, and most biz types I work with react just as you’d expect when they hear gummits talking around reality as they know it. I guess I’m sort of asking about the diff between govt talk not incenting business and govt talk that actively discourages business. It seemed you were suggesting that this was the latter case, but maybe you’re suggesting the former and I’m misreading.