MTN and the $2bn umbrella people

In less than a decade MTN has taken 40% market share in Nigeria largely as a result of letting informal entrepreneurs resell its products. In a fascinating article on How We Made It In Africa, Robert Neuwirth describes how they did it.

Ladipo Market in Lagos, Nigeria [is] part of a $10 trillion worldwide economy known as System D.

You probably have never heard of System D. Neither had I until I started visiting street markets and unlicensed bazaars around the globe.

System D is a slang phrase pirated from French-speaking Africa and the Caribbean. The French have a word that they often use to describe particularly effective and motivated people. They call them débrouillards. To say a man (or woman) is a débrouillard(e) is to tell people how resourceful and ingenious he or she is. The former French colonies have sculpted this word to their own social and economic reality. They say that inventive, self- starting, entrepreneurial merchants who are doing business on their own, without registering or being regulated by the bureaucracy and, for the most part, without paying taxes, are part of “l’economie de la débrouillardise”. Or, sweetened for street use, “Systeme D”. This essentially translates as the ingenuity economy, the economy of improvisation and self-reliance, the do-it-yourself, or DIY, economy.

He goes on to quote MTN’s Akinwale Goodluck: “The umbrella market is a very, very important market now […] No serious operator can afford to ignore the umbrella people.” System D will be a major growth driver in Africa and elsewhere for many years, and sensible businesses in many industries will find ways to build on it. It’s certainly where I’ll be pushing Paperight.

Read the rest of the article. (Thanks to Emeka Okafor for pointing to it.)