SOME eight or so years ago, blue-chip Innscor, at an analysts briefing, revealed the philosophy to its rapid growth into one of the largest conglomerates. Their axiom was very simple: “Follow the money.”
Anyone who’s watched Innscor’s growth into the behemoth it is in the local economy today has seen its tentacles spread into several and oft-unrelated businesses. From the original business of selling chicken and chips, Innscor has consolidated itself in the fast food sector and has moved into diverse enterprises that range from food processing to fridge-manufacturing and crocodile farming.
That’s really following the money! But one can also say that it’s the megacorp’s ability to “think outside the box” that has lurched it forward. And that is exactly what our government and the rest of our economic agents need to do.
Since dollarisation there’s been banter about mega investments that would get our relatively huge factories going again. But that hasn’t happened, and perhaps might never happen. In fact, that hasn’t happened over the last two decades. So, how about thinking outside the box and follow the money? If we look at most of our economic activities today, we can see that the structure of the economy has clearly changed and as they say, when the game changes, change the players.
Our economy has since changed from the big enterprises of the past, many of which were virtual monopolies and oligopolies, to several micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, the so-called MSMEs. Take the urban transport sector, for instance. Long gone are the days of Harare United, ZOC, both of which later became one under Zupco. Instead we have thousands of small operators running the much smaller commuter ominibuses, better known nowadays as kombis.
Only visionary companies like Econet have seen this reality and started advertising on these vehicles, in much the same way other advertisers used to on the Harare United buses. The rest in the advertising industry appear to be still caught in a time warp, perhaps waiting for the reincarnation of Zupco. And yet the kombis are such an opportune platform for placing adverts, given their mobility and that more than 90% of greater Harare’s estimated two million people use them everyday. The same applies in Zimbabwe’s other cities and towns.
In fact, in London, the bulk of 25 seater kombis carry advertisements. But the industry is just one example of a changed economic structure. In retail; whereas we were accustomed to big shops and vast departmental stores, these have been replaced, especially downtown, by very small boutiques, some of which are hardly big enough to fit the salesperson. That too, like my visionary mathematics teacher used to say when calculators were first introduced and there was hesitancy to use them in schools, is not going to go away.
Manufacturing has been no exception and things we thought could only be produced in established factories are now being produced in backyards, garages, by the roadside or even under trees.
The quality can be gobsmackingly good. We understand one upmarket furniture outlet now purchases some of its products from these informal businesses. That’s seeing the gap. And yet our national budget seems to concentrate on the old economic structure alone. Sure, we still need the old economic structure, but we must also recognise and actively support the new structure.
In the new economic structure is where the bulk of employment potential lies and government must stop paying lip-service by making philosophical and expedient speeches on this sector at rallies and yet do nothing pragmatic on the ground.