The general idea of a communal society is one in which a group of people have common interests or values and shared responsibilities. As a result the idea is that the common goal/good of everyone is placed above individual interests.
Africa is really big on communal living. It is one of the fundamental values in Africa. I recall having a conversation with someone who tried to find the English term for his sister-in-laws’ brother’s wife. I found it very hilarious as he struggled to come up with the right word. Needless to say, I burst out laughing. What was even funnier to me was the fact that this distant relative needed to be included in his family’s program of events. In my head I’m thinking “is that really necessary?”
In any case, that goes to show just how important unity, family and collective living is in this part of the world.
Ironically though, I realized it is possible to have a communal society with individuals that tend to be self-centered. And I think it defeats the whole idea. I attended a conference recently where panelists deliberated on the issue of zero hunger in Africa. What I noticed as each panelist dished out their view intelligently was that most of them managed to focus more on marketing their company. It seemed like each person’s aim was “to defend my company’s honor”. But this was supposed to be a group of people trying to find a collective solution to a general problem that transcends any one organization.
While I take no offence to promoting your business, I saw it as a reflection of the problem in itself. Too often people are more concerned about what they stand to gain/lose than the collective good of the society.
How does this relate to business you might ask? An important tool to business success, particularly among startups, is collaboration.
Entrepreneurs need to recognize that it is often better to collaborate than compete. The concept of coopetition is vital for small businesses.
Coopetition advocates for more collaborative efforts among SMEs as well as between large corporates and small scale businesses. This has proved to help startups grow.
Large companies can collaborate with startups by outsourcing parts of their services to startups. For example a Multinational manufacturing firm can locally source raw materials from small scale agribusinesses. This could mean more cost effective raw materials and more competitive prices for the MNC as well as sales and growth for the small scale agribusiness.
No doubt, there are checks that must be put in place to ensure uncompromised quality of the product/services. Ultimately it is a win-win for both parties, and that’s the beauty of selflessness.