Monday, 5 December 2011

Social media in the hopeful continent


   I was in South Africa for a few meetings and a workshop on HR and social media last week.  It’s been a while since I’ve been to southern Africa but it was good to be back – particularly as this meant missing the news that the UK is possibly already back in recession and the announcement that austerity cuts are going to be deepened and lengthened, as well as the public sector strikes during the week (Jeremy Clarkson’s comments on the strikers were still well reported however).

In comparison, South Africa’s economy is getting along quite nicely thank you.  An article in the Economist this week suggests that Africa will grow by 6% this year and nearly 6% in 2012, about the same as Asia.  Although this relates to the continent as a whole, the article touches on a lot of the key themes from my week there too.

For example:

“Africa now has a fast-growing middle class: according to the World Bank, around 60m Africans have an income of $3,000 a year, and 100m will in 2015…

Population trends could enhance these promising developments. A bulge of better-educated young people of working age is entering the job market and birth rates are beginning to decline. As the proportion of working-age people to dependents rises, growth should get a boost. Asia enjoyed such a “demographic dividend”, which began three decades ago and is now tailing off. In Africa it is just starting…

Having a lot of young adults is good for any country if its economy is thriving, but if jobs are in short supply it can lead to frustration and violence. Whether Africa’s demography brings a dividend or disaster is largely up to its governments.”


This mixed opportunity and challenge was something that came up in several of my meetings.  Elijah Litheko from South Africa’s IPM suggested that the country’s dual economies is one of the major issues that HR practitioners there need to deal with, ie that they have a key role in nationalisation and economic development.

One of other things Elijah believes is different is that South Africans are more diverse and that therefore organisations have to deal with, and benefit from, more different perspectives (“everyone in Europe thinks the same way”).  I wasn’t there long enough to test this out thoroughly, but am prepared to accept the suggestion.

I think a result of this diversity, which I also discussed with people, and was demonstrated in my meetings, was that South African culture prioritises conversation, and that people are prepared to really listen to each other until they arrive at a consensus.  This willingness to participate also came through in my workshop (and our use of social media within the workshop, which, whilst not quite as much as I would have ideally liked, was more than I’ve been able to encourage in any other social media workshops I’ve run in Europe or Asia).  And I actually think this is a very positive indication of Africa’s future success as well.  (In the new world of work, organisations need their people to come forward with suggestions and contributions – I think the fact that some cultures don’t support this will limit their future development.)



“Africa’s enthusiasm for technology is boosting growth. It has more than 600m mobile-phone users—more than America or Europe. Since roads are generally dreadful, advances in communications, with mobile banking and telephonic agro-info, have been a huge boon. Around a tenth of Africa’s land mass is covered by mobile-internet services—a higher proportion than in India.”


We discussed this development too, building on the statistics and presentation Bill Boorman had produced for Tru South Africa a few weeks previously.  We didn’t find any HR applications for the local tween focused networking system, MixIt, but did agree that mobile was going to be key for participant’s future social media activities (eg they liked LV’s mobile focused approach to social recruiting here).

We also hypothesised about the deep take-up of social media (especially Facebook) on a personal basis, but the still limited take-up within corporates.  We thought maybe that whereas Europeans in particular tend to do a lot of their mobile social networking on, or waiting for, public transport, given that people tend to drive rather than take public transport in South Africa, and given intermittent mobile coverage and security concerns that they wouldn’t want to try using an ipad in a car, there’s less time for people to go online for company purposes.  I’m not totally convinced by this, but again, am prepared to take it forward as a working hypothesis.


I’ll be back in South Africa again during February…


Picture from The Economist article


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