The African continent is, in many realms, an untapped frontier, and many global business analysts believe that one of those areas is entrepreneurship. “East Africa, in particular, is very green ground for basic entrepreneurship,” says Flavian Marwa, SF ’10. “Here, it’s more important to execute a simple idea well than to come up with an idea that no one has thought of. You don’t have to be a sophisticated technologist to take advantage of this environment.”
A consultant with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), an arm of the World Bank Group, Marwa uses his insights into the continent to advise the IFC on how African countries can implement policies that stimulate the creation and growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). “The idea is to bring in the private sector as much as possible. We know this approach leads to sustainable development. To be effective, however, policies to support SMEs also must address impediments in the value chain of targeted sectors.” Impediments like the skills gap, lack of mentorship, and information asymmetry.
Marwa says that leaders who are committed to a robust education system—from primary to secondary to university levels—will enable their citizens to develop a keen eye for opportunities and empower them with the skills to launch businesses. He notes that in Tanzania and other East African countries, the IFC is encouraging multinational companies to collaborate with universities to develop curricula that are relevant to what is actually happening in industry.
Terrorism. Economic crises. Poverty. “We probably have never lived in a time when strategic thinking was more crucial,” says MIT Sloan lecturer Otto Scharmer. “Yet, the currency and quality of strategic thinking is actually plummeting. It’s an interesting—and frightening—contradiction.”
Scharmer is cofounder of the Presencing Institute, a revolutionary action-research community that creates holding spaces for strategic thinking around profound societal renewal. He believes that a key reason that leaders aren’t taking the time for conventional strategy work is because they often can’t wrap their heads around such a vague concept. “What exactly is strategic thinking, anyway?”
After a precipitous free fall beginning in 2008, the Spanish economy, the fourth largest in the Eurozone, is beginning to climb out of recession, and there is nothing serendipitous about the recovery. José-Maria Fernández, SF ’10, Director General of the Spanish Treasury, and his team devote a major share of their working life to in-depth analysis and strategic thinking on how to finance the country and the implications for taxpayers in the short, medium, and long terms. “All our thinking translates into a relatively small number of decisions and actions,” Fernández says—actions, of course, that have wide-ranging impact and potentially long-term consequences.
“We raise approximately 240 billion euros a year selling bonds and bills globally to investors while executing only 50 or 60 funding transactions annually,” Fernández adds. “We probably spend 90% of our time designing, evaluating, and revising our financial strategy in light of market, economic, and budgetary conditions. That means only 10% of our activity is devoted to execution.” The equation, he believes, is as it should be.