Young business owners and startups in Africa have been charged to demonstrate a high level of integrity and diligence when executing government contracts as the quality of their country defines their future.
The charge was made by Africa’s leading digital entrepreneur and Chairman, Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh.
Ekeh made this call during a recent mentorship programme with a select group of African foreign-based postgraduate students in the latest edition of an annual lecture series aimed at grooming the next generation of certified entrepreneurs.
Speaking during the virtual session which was monitored online, Ekeh counselled the participants to shun the overwhelming temptation to treat government contracts as an avenue for overnight enrichment or sub-standard implementation, adding that this often has disastrous consequences. Citing the importance of ethical standards and principles as uncompromising foundations of a successful business, the Zinox boss lamented the disturbing tendency of young, impressionable entrepreneurs to get easily excited and throw caution to the winds, especially when it comes to executing government contracts.
Consequently, Ekeh, a Forbes Best of Africa Leading Tech Icon, sounded a note of caution, warning that these acts can irreparably fracture the trust reposed by the government in entrusting major projects to startups or even to other established firms with proven capacities in their respective countries, further resulting in capital flight and erosion of the giant strides recorded in local content development.
‘‘Government is the biggest spender in any economy. Some of you, while doing business, may get a chance to execute some projects for governments, whether at sub-national or Federal level. It is a call to service and an opportunity to prove the growing faith in our indigenous capacities.
‘‘Having the opportunity to execute a government contract must, therefore, be seen as a privilege and not as a chance to outrageously inflate figures, deliver shoddy outputs or unduly enrich yourself overnight. You must seize the opportunity to grow your social capital and open the doors for others to enjoy the confidence that has been reposed in you.
‘‘There is a spiritual commitment that should naturally come with such high-profile deliverables. As a matter of fact, it must be the signature of your business that you can be counted on to deliver excellent results for any contract you win, whether big or small. I have always emphasized the importance of building yourself as a personal collateral as an entrepreneur. It is the only way you can gain the confidence of your suppliers, partners and the people or establishments that patronize your business,” he noted.
Ekeh lectured that it is a fact that doing things properly in some African countries sometimes attracts pains from competition who write frivolous petitions to security agencies to inconvenience the preferred company, but he advised them to stay on the path of honour and provide time to answer those queries as they come up, instead of compromising on quality. Using Nigeria as an example, he disclosed that for every big tech contract won by his company, they had always expected petitions from faceless blackmailers to authorities such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), among others. However, he advised his audience not to be deterred by these antics.
‘‘The only way to win is doing things right. I am lucky all my investments are in the tech sector and technology does not lie, so we always won,” he stated.
Urging the budding entrepreneurs not to lose hope because of the ongoing difficulties in the macroeconomic environment, Ekeh expressed optimism that the African economy would survive the present challenges and rebound stronger.
‘‘The current challenges in the economy are not new. We have witnessed similar cycles in the past. But our economy has always shown resilience to rebound from them. Also, you must bear in mind that the difficulties are not only local. The global economy is passing through a period of intense stress, further worsened by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and potentially set to be impacted further by the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas.
‘‘In times like these, the failure rate of startups and other businesses increase. However, difficult times also represent periods of great opportunities. It is your responsibility to sniff out those opportunities which abound around you and take advantage of them.
‘‘You must always remember that to succeed, you cannot take pleasure before pains. In setting up your business, you must have a clear roadmap and vision. Hype is good and gets you noticed but you must work very hard behind the scenes to fill up the blank spaces with substance. Otherwise, the hype will fizzle out and you will have nothing concrete to stand on. You must also remain spiritually strong, retain a healthy risk appetite, and rely a lot on your intuition and common-sense logic to make a success of your venture. Finally, never forget that your passion must pay your bills,’’ he concluded.
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