East African Business Summit – Business Model Session

The last two days I had the great pleasure to speak about business model innovation at the East African Business Summit, a gathering of over 150 CEOs from the region. It is not everyday that I speak alongside Professor Michael Porter and a head of state, President Museveni (hopefully that will become more frequent).

Slides I presented at the event, unfortunately without the animations... (or pdf download):

The most important thing I retain from this event is that East Africa features many remarkable business leaders, whom I had the opportunity to talk to extensively. Remarkable, because these CEOs and entrepreneurs are successfully building and growing businesses in a business environment that lacks the very things many of us can take for granted: sound infrastructures, reliable legal systems and relatively accountable politicians.

Of course I also retain the tremendous interest of the participants in my session on “Competitiveness Through Business Model Innovation”. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me what CEOs and entrepreneurs around the world find interesting in my business model canvas approach to describing business models. Here a couple of points:

  • The ability to describe the business logic of a company on one page: none of the individual elements of the business model canvas are new to business people. But the simple and yet holistic look at a business on a single page is surprisingly new to most of them.
  • Customer centricity as a business model kernel: the ability to understand the relationships between customer segments and all other business model building blocks has attracted a lot of attention. Apparently, few other approaches allow for this as straightforwardly as the business model canvas.
  • The (physical) visualization of the entire business model to foster sounder discussions: In all my workshops I now print out large posters with the 9 building blocks of the business model canvas [link]. Then I get participants to stick post-it notes on these posters to either describe their existing business model or more interestingly, a possible future business model. Experience shows that this process is extremely efficient and also very focused.
  • An approach that allows to easily think out-of-the-box: It seems that the business model canvas combined with the poster-based approach makes it easy for people to sketch-out and explore new ideas.

The East African Business Summit, which took place in Kampala, Uganda, was a very inspiring event in many ways. As some of you know, I have a very personal relationship to Africa, because my wife who grew up in Switzerland, comes from Guinea Bissau - a tiny country on Africa’s west coast.

For me the Summit was inspiring because it is contributing to changing (East) Africa’s image in the world. It showcased the dynamism and experience of business leaders who are overcoming difficult obstacles every day. The summit shows that East Africa is a place of opportunities, where growth rates are very real despite the various macro issues that hold back foreign direct investment (FDI). If the region can tackle some of the most urgent infrastructure and governance issues there seems to be a sound basis for long-term growth.

One thing I sincerely hope will change rapidly is that the voice of business leaders should be better heard and taken into account more seriously. After all it is the companies that contribute to long-term wealth creation and better living conditions. Unfortunately, the state still seems “almighty” in many East African countries (for various historical reasons). This is not to say that the state doesn’t’ have a role to play – the contrary. Yet, it’s role should be the one of an enabler of wealth creation…

Finally, I would like to thank Michael Mithika of J.M. Mantle for his trust in my competencies and for convincing the Summit conveners to invite me.