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Purpose in Africa: Doing well by doing good
Posted by
Nicole Velleman at 12:00

Brand purpose is one of the most powerful tools for growth and sustainability in a global marketplace devoid of trust in business. A brand's purpose is its reason for being - it goes beyond what you do, or who you're doing it for. Purpose is the why: why your business exists, and why that should matter.

Purpose is psychologically hard-wired into our motivations, and consumers are increasingly paying attention to how their brand choices can improve their lives in a meaningful way. They are choosing to buy from brands that support their values and aspirations, and gravitating towards brands they can engage with on a human level. In a meaning-starved marketplace, brands that know their purpose and use it wisely will build more significant, sustainable relationships and retain a more engaged workforce.

It's not about aggressively attaching yourself to causes or bombarding consumers with do-good messaging, but rather organising your business around a central reason for being that guides brand behavior and allows you to leverage your strengths for social good. Dove, for example, exists to celebrate the natural beauty that lives in every woman.

So what does purpose mean for businesses and brands playing in Africa?

Africa's economic performance over the past decade has been staggering. The IMF predicts growth in Sub-Saharan Africa will reach 6.1 percent in the next year, making it the second fastest-growing region in the world. Rising domestic consumption, a growing middle class, a young population, and the emergence of accountable and democratic governments are all contributing factors to Africa's steady economic performance. The continent is home to some of the world's most attractive emerging markets, but many societal challenges persist without much hope of resolution, and often governments do not have the ability, much less the appetite or intent, to solve these problems alone. The purposeful mind views these challenges as opportunities for commercial success. Business is one of the most powerful forces for driving social change, and Africa is hungry.

The Phillips brand promise -sense and simplicity- puts insight about humans at the centre of their operations. Since the introduction of the first incandescent light bulb in 1891, Phillips has strived to develop simple solutions that make lives easier. In 2012, Phillips launched an initiative to install 100 solar-powered lighting centres across rural Africa by 2015. Phillips saw opportunity in the fact that over 500 million people have no access to electricity, and that a basic solution has the potential to strengthen Africa's economic, social, educational and cultural activities. The LED lighting centres focus on schools linked to villages and towns, and will provide communities with powered areas that can be used for sports, education, healthcare and commerce. If you're thinking this is all about doing good - think again. Phillips already sells these centres as temporary lighting solutions in the developed world. The aim is to demonstrate that Phillips is a part of the quest towards a sustainable future through technology that has the potential to transform lives: smart business, if you ask me.

Mobile technology continues to transform African societies. Sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest-growing mobile market in the world, and this growth is driving innovation. Safaricom's M-PESA, a mobile-phone based electronic payments system, transformed the lives of Kenya's unbanked with a simple, compelling message: "send money home". From its beginnings as a basic text service that allowed people to transfer money to loved ones in remote areas through their handsets, M-PESA now processes more transactions domestically than Western Union does globally, says GSMA. Those without formal bank accounts can not only transfer money, but also save, invest, insure, pay bills, shop and apply for credit through M-Shwari. With 15 million subscribers and handling transactions responsible for 31% of Kenya's GDP, Safaricom is proof that purpose and profit are not mutually exclusive.

Brand purpose is not a nice-to-have when expanding into the rest of the continent. As African markets grow at unprecedented speed, it is the brands that understand their core purpose that will succeed. It's not about trying to save the world; it's about understanding how you can add value to the lives of your new customers. That means addressing their needs and aspirations and often, in Africa, that will mean helping them solve a societal issue that holds them back.

By addressing these needs you will bring about the good in a way that is unique, resonates with your stakeholders, integrates seamlessly into your business and brand identity and, most importantly, makes business sense. The brands that get it right will most certainly prosper.

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