By Strive Masiyiwa
Many years ago, I was on holiday on the tiny island nation of Mauritius. Not long after I arrived, I set out to understand how its economy ticks and its key drivers. I do this all the time, wherever I go.
First of all, I had a good look at its economic data: Very impressive… Wow!
It’s in the top five African countries when measured in terms of GDP per capita. Currently, it’s measured at about $9100 (per citizen). Not distorted by a major mineral like oil or diamonds, this is a very meaningful measure in their case.
I don’t want to get into a major economic or political debate because that’s not the purpose of this platform. I know the population at 1.26m might seem very small for a case analysis but I want to share with you one anecdotal story that’s relevant regardless.
One day, I asked the hotel to give me a car and driver as I wanted to tour the island on my own. For an entire week, a young Mauritian driver would pitch up at my hotel and take me around. Having realized what I was interested in, he began to make suggestions…
“Today, Mr Masiyiwa, I want to show you our diamond industry,” he said excitedly.
“You have a diamond industry?” I asked surprised. “My studies show that you have no minerals in this country?”
“We don’t mine; we cut and polish. Here we are like the Japanese. We don’t have minerals, so we buy raw diamonds, cut them and polish. You make more money that way,” he said.
“Can you take me there?” I asked quietly.
On another occasion, I asked him for a place I could stop to eat and he drove me to a very expensive restaurant. I asked him why he had taken me to the most expensive place!
“Our economy, sir, is tourism. We need you to spend as much money as possible when you’re here. If I take you to a cheap restaurant, it’s not as good for Mauritius.”
Then he added apologetically, “I can take you somewhere cheaper, if you like?”
“No, it’s ok, let’s help Mauritius.”
“After lunch, I will take you to Cybercity, sir.”
Back at the hotel, the hotel manager said to me, “Did your driver show you Cybercity? That’s our future, sir. We want to go into IT, as a country,” he said proudly.
“I have seen Cybercity. It’s an amazing vision.”
“Will you invest, sir? If you like, I can arrange someone from our Ministry of Industry to come and see you? Should I arrange?”
As soon as that holiday was over, I sent a team to begin the process of setting up a big office in Mauritius. We went to Cybercity. Soon we were joined there by some of the largest companies in the world.
Years later, I shared the story with a friend who was also a businessman, and a huge investor in Mauritius.
“So, they did that to you as well?” he asked. “They are absolutely obsessive about getting investment into their country. That’s how they turned a nation that was essentially a sugarcane plantation into one of the wealthiest African nations.”
Here the cab driver knew and had been drilled that they must encourage tourists to spend money. The hotel manager was also at work encouraging investment.
And they had pitched to the right guy… Have I mentioned before that I’m an entrepreneurial tourist?
# I look at needs in that community that an entrepreneur could help solve.
# I look at solutions being used there that could work somewhere else…
Imagine if every taxi driver and hotel manager in Africa met visitors with such business-minded vision for their countries…
Let’s be smart. A mindset doesn’t cost a cent to change!
The article first appeared on Strive Masiyiwa Facebook page.