China sees the future in Africa (and it’s not alone)

Earlier this year, The Los Angeles Times ran a fascinating series on China and Africa and I only just got around to reading it.

I recommend at least reading Part I.

China is funding a massive railroad project connecting Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, to the port city of Djibouti where most of the country’s exports have previously traveled by way of roads in disrepair.

Clearly, China is not doing this for philanthropic reasons. It need resources. But China has a long game in mind as well — selling products to the locals (which is has been doing quite successfully for a number of years).

Some fascinating takeaways from the article:

By 2034, Africa is expected to have 1.1 billion workers, the world’s largest working-age population, according to economic forecasts. By 2025, the continent’s consumers will be spending $2 trillion a year.

And:

Zhang was proud of his Ethiopian investments. The new rail will knock shipping prices from $5,000 per container to $3,000, he said. And for the cost of one Chinese worker, Zhang can hire five Ethiopians. He plans to employ 50,000 within eight years.

“Ethiopia is like China was 40 years ago,” he said. “Even though this place is pretty tough, we think within five or 10 years, its economic development will be pretty good.”

China has not proven yet that it can build global brands. But it has proven itself adapt at building cheap white-label products. It sees in Africa an emerging base of middle-class consumers, a familiar growth pattern. That’s not to say China doesn’t face cultural and political challenges, but that as other Western countries have pulled back in Africa, China has found itself welcomed with open arms.

The CEOs of Google, Microsoft and Facebook have all visited Nigeria over the past year and have announced investments around training developers, supporting new businesses and increasing Internet penetration.

What The Google CEO’s Visit To Nigeria Means For Africa

So the question for any global company should be: What’s your Africa strategy? 

India: Growing like crazy and craving local-language content

Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins released her 2017 Internet Trends report today — the mother of all PowerPoint decks. I last commented on the 2014 deck.

A few slides jumped out at me this year — as part of her in-depth focus on India — noting that 46% of India’s Internet users primarily consume local-language content.

This number if higher than I would have guessed and underscores a point I’ve been making for several years now —  the days of assuming you can succeed in India supporting only English are coming to a close.

Google and Facebook got the memo quite some time ago and now support a significant number of India’s 29 official languages. But the question is: When with the rest of the global brands get the memo?

After all, India is now the fastest-growing large market and with plenty of room to grow.

 

According to the 2017 Web Globalization Report Card, just 6% of the world’s leading brands support Hindi, which is the most popular of the Indic languages.  Close behind are Urdu and Tamil.

Amazon is investing heavily in this market, no doubt trying to avoid the many missteps it made trying (and largely failing) to dominate China’s ecommerce market. Did you know that last fall Amazon celebrated India’s Festival of Lights?

India added more than 100 million web users in 2016, more than any other country.

If you have time, check out the full deck. Yes, there are more than 300 slides, but they’re a quick read and I guarantee you’ll learn something. I sure did!

PS: I’ve included a section on India in my new book Think Outside the Country.

Languages are a means to an end, a journey as well as a destination

I recently wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times about the importance and value of thinking globally. Here’s an excerpt:

Consider Starbucks. In 2003, this aspiring global company supported a mere three languages. Today, it supports 25, which may sound like a lot until you compare it to many other global brands. Among the leading global brands, the average number of languages supported is 31, a new high based on my years of research. And then there are those companies that left 30 languages behind years ago — like Facebook, which supports more than 90 languages, and Google, which supports more than a hundred.

This degree of language growth isn’t just a tech phenomenon. John Deere supports 31 languages, Ford supports 42, and even Jack Daniels is fluent in 22 languages.

So while the U.S. leaders are speaking the rhetoric of isolationism, American companies of all sizes are speaking a different language — in fact, a lot of languages.

And here’s the full article.