Innovative Investment: From Samsung, To Africa

Samsung Africa

VENTURES AFRICA – Africa is working hard to identify quality-growth models that will increase competitiveness and employment, while reducing poverty. Concurrently, Africa’s burgeoning population and swelling consumer base has become an attractive market for regional and global companies.

A particular focus under the leadership of Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum (WEF), is the “Scaling up Innovative Grassroots Technologies; dimensions include budget transparency, climate change, democracy, media and mobile banking.”

So, enter the scene in 2010, Thierry Boulanger responsible for the formulation and execution of product sales for IT in Africa. In expectation of a French speaking accent, I am completely surprised by a South African dialect.

Despite being caught between the expectation and surprise, we are greeted by the warmest, welcoming voice over a telephone you could possibly experience, lending to the vast and successful experience Thierry has as a top notch sales executive.

Thierry’s diary is penned to brim with the direct management of a 15 people strong team, the development of partner networks, as well as the development and maintenance of the service and logistics network for Samsung’s IT division as too is keeping appointments out in the public domain.

Additionally, with the launch of Samsung Business, in February last year, Thierry is responsible for the successful development of this business critical division as well as the development of the business-to-business team that is significantly making in-roads into the corporate market in Africa.

Chatting to Thierry is firstly rewarding in that this Central African born executive, first positions Samsung not as a global conglomerate, but almost as a continental concern with the African people, their needs and Samsung development, belonging to Africa. Thierry Says, “Samsung is in Africa for the long-term and has made considerable investments as proof of our (Samsung’s) belief Africa as a sustainable market.”

In 2011, Thierry had indicated that Samsung’s expansion into Africa will increase continental revenues by 40 percent. Thierry confirms confidently, “We are well set on achieving this goal.” Samsung Africa is set to generate, if not exceed the 10bn USD sales revenue mark by 2015.

An important characteristic of the African continent is the demand from especially the youth market, for digital devices and any electronic mechanism that fits into the growing internet usage growth in Africa.

Thierry highlighted that, “Important to Samsung’s in its strategic approach is that we (Samsung) consider and develop a strategy for each country where we have operations in Africa.” Thierry goes on to highlight that, “Samsung because of their wide product base, sees select products as applicable for a specific country.”

All in all Thierry executes a tiered strategy in 49 countries across the continent dealing with more advanced or less developed environments in ICT (Information Communication Technologies), teleco’s (telecommunications), mobile devices, 2G or 3G and some countries far less developed mobile environments. He iterates that in Ethiopia as an example, their focus in much more on teleco (telecommunications) and then in Nigeria the company has a more advanced approach to mobile communications.

To emphasize the precise and innovative strategy Samsung employs if Africa, Thierry explains that the approach to Africa is unique and has thus adapted their product development strategy approach. As an example he points out that Samsung has developed the DuraCool fridge that has added built-in insulation. Africa in many regions is synonymous with energy load-shedding. This technology aids the consumer in this event by trapping the cold air, maintaining temperature and prolonging the fridge-life of the food stored therein.

In addition and also based on the energy needs of Africa, Samsung has developed a unique and advanced TV electronics circuitry called SurgeSafe that protects the television set from multiple power-surges.

Shifting gears and focusing on the rural Thierry articulates (you can hear the pride in his voice) the development of Samsung’s solar-powered generator. My eyes light up as, for the last 12 years I have had a hands-on approach to helping small businesses, even survivalist micro-businesses in the enterprise development arena. Given this rural background, the heartstrings are ‘jingling’ with just the thought of how this development can aid such businesses and even households.

Thierry also mentions that given the need for energy and a global focus on education, this technology development, especially on this continent is completely applicable to helping kids work not only in the classroom but also in their homes.

Africa’s GDP is also largely made up of micro-businesses with limited to no energy in many regions. This technology now enhances the ability of such trading entities to add to their product range of perishable goods, bridging the divide between rural and urban settings, giving access to families.

Continuing, Thierry highlights the development of the first solar-powered laptop. It can absorb energy while you’re working and while after the user has closed it and it is left in direct light.

Thierry changes the direction to point out that Samsung does not have a one track mind. Having studied his presentation at the 2012 AfricanBrains – “Southern Africa ICT for Education Summit”, we can see that Samsung not only understands the needs of Africa, but that their product development is submerged in the facts that depict Africa as a burgeoning market.

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To this effect, Thierry emphasizes Samsung’s “BUILT IN AFRICA, FOR AFRICA, BY AFRICA” corporate social responsibility initiative. The focus is on youth unemployment, emigration of talented graduates, high crime thus creating conditions for ethnic tension and violent conflict which is typically synonymous with Africa.

Thierry repeats the Samsung belief that, “investment in education is felt to be ‘wasted’ if young people cannot apply their education to gaining a livelihood.”

To this extent Samsung has progressed by creating access to an enabling technology infrastructure at the bottom of the pyramid.

The three major programmes that are reaching the bottom-up approach (one of the guiding principles for Samsung) are depicted below;

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Thierry alludes that Samsung understands well that success in Africa requires committing to help create the market and infrastructure around it- not just entering it, and says “We have set ourselves a goal to positively impact the lives of 5 million people in Africa by 2015.”

Making a success in Africa Thierry says is designing our ‘Built for Africa’ products with the preservation of the continent’s resources in mind, where partnering with local African governments to address critical environmental issues like waste and e-waste, carbon footprint reduction, chemicals and environmentally sensitive re-design practices.”

What makes Samsung special in many ways is that their corporate social responsibility speaks directly to their huge investments over the continent. From the ashes to the Mobile Education initiatives, to Solar Powered Internet Schools (such as the first set up in Botswana and Lesotho with pilots in Kenya, Angola, Nigeria, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa) and Electronics Engineering Academy, youth could see themselves employed in the private sector or within the assembly plants being set up in Africa for Samsung technologies.

To a large extent Samsung is leading the charge, not only as a global brand but as a leading proponent leading product development and change for our African people.