What do you see?

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With the economic growth our country is going through there are many new opportunities coming our way. And for those of us who are lucky enough to travel abroad, we come across businesses that can be done here as well, be it in an adapted form and within the boundaries of our own context.
The question is, do we recognise the opportunity? And when we recognise the opportunity, do we consider taking it? I see many of us do and I see some taking the risk. And then some succeed while others fail. Taking calculated risks, based on a sound feasibility study and risk analysis, supported by competent financial institutions is critical though. Sometimes an opportunity passes, and a new opportunity may not come again for some time. Sometimes we miss opportunities because we are afraid to take the risk, or we don’t have the confidence that we have the capacity to handle the challenges.
Ask a class of six-year olds who can sing, and all will raise their hands at once. Ask a group of adults the same and most will hesitate. Perhaps one or two will come forward, still doubting whether they can sing indeed. So, what happens between the time we were young – when we were spontaneous and ready to take on anything even if we have never done it before – and the time we have grown older? Somewhere down the road called life, we get discouraged, we fail and are afraid to make mistakes. People tell us: “You can’t do that, that’s impossible!”
Ever noticed how a one year old tries to walk, falls, stands up and tries again? Ever seen that smile on her face when she made the first few steps? But soon after that the adults come in and, in their desire, to protect the child from hurting herself, they discourage her: “Don’t do that. Don’t go there. You will fall. You will hurt yourself!” And so, many of us grow up, discouraged, with little self confidence, and little experience in taking a risk, trying something new, learning, falling and getting up again.
I have observed much of the same in the business environment here. When somebody has an original idea, wants to try something new, something out of the ordinary, is about to take a risk, there is more often negative feed back than encouragement. And as people here rely much on the advice and council of close ones, the risk is rarely taken. Thus, many opportunities are lost. It seems saver to do what others are doing also, copy what seems to work for others. But without having the original idea, without having a vision for success, this road will only take us to mediocrity or failure. Beware that the ones that are successful are the ones who dared to take a risk, a calculated risk that is, …….. and work hard, very hard, to make it happen. Which brings me to another interesting observation. Many people believe that once you are in business, money will be made just like that. You start a business and you drive a Merc, build a house, travel the world. Not without hard work, you don’t. When a new business begins to pick up, returns often need to be reinvested immediately to be able to manage the growth. More workers need to be hired, more equipment is required, more production is needed to meet the growing demand. No time yet to buy a new car or pay more salary to yourself. It normally takes a few years before you can really pick the fruits of the work.
Those who recognise an opportunity and are willing to take the risk, work hard and reinvest in their business may succeed, no guarantees though. These days, more and more opportunities seem to come our way, as the trends in development cooperation all seem to support the development of the private sector and a free market economy. New opportunities indeed, or so it seems. For those who produce for export for example, they need to build enough capacity to produce the quantities normally required by export markets. In addition, producers need to be able to meet quality standards and adjust their products to the ever-changing trends in fashion, colours, shapes and tastes. And then there are issues related to the supply of raw materials and logistics involved in exporting. If the temperature in the cargo section of an aircraft is not kept at the right level, there is big chance that the fresh fruits or vegetables will not survive the journey for instance. So, while the opportunities are appealing, and many producers would like to have a go at it, a lot of work needs to be done. Work that many producers have not learnt enough yet. Learning is what needs to happen, in an environment that is relatively safe. Like the child that learns to walk, with the watchful and encouraging words of the parents. It is here, where donors, development agencies and authorities have a big responsibility. It is not enough for experts to come in and judge that a product is not good enough or too expensive. They need to support the producers in further designing and developing their products. It is not enough to make funds available to develop policy; policy needs to support those who are willing to take a risk. It is not enough to encourage export; the whole supply chain needs to be considered. There are opportunities indeed, but they can only be taken step by step and with integrated support.
Nobody knew how to run before learning how to walk first. And no parent wants to expose a child to danger, while exploring the world and growing up. Instead they encourage, support and guide.
In conclusion I’d encourage the entrepreneur to look out for the opportunities, carefully consider and take a risk, while seeking and getting the required support to make the opportunity reality.
Look out, what do you see|?

Ton Haverkort