Africa, optimism and what it means for companies

With economic difficulties looming ever larger around the world, pessimism has now taken hold among consumers in a growing number of countries, infecting even those that have so far been doing well -- like emerging economies in Asia and Latin America.

But for many, Africa now constitutes a bright spot. Rapidly-growing countries such as Nigeria and Ghana contribute to the cautiously optimistic public opinion around the world when it comes to the continent's economic future.

Learning more about this sentiment can serve companies well when it comes to managing their reputation.

In GlobeScan’s latest polling for BBC World Service in 22 countries around the world, an average of nearly three in five (58 percent) are confident that Africa will experience significant economic growth over the next ten to 20 years.

Faith in Africa and broader global optimism seem to be linked. Barely one in three (34 percent) surveyed in the GlobeScan poll say they think the world is headed in the right direction -- a figure that has slipped over recent years. But optimism and a sense of global citizenship is higher (39 percent) among those who are confident that Africa will see imminent growth.

Africa's optimists: Who are they?

What is this optimism based on when it comes to the issue of African development? It is useful for companies operating in the continent to understand a little more about who these optimists are, as it suggests that there are lessons to be learned from a perspective of managing its reputation.

It is also encouraging that the poll indicates that those who expect to see the continent grow economically are younger than the rest of the population (nearly half are between 18 and 34) and better-connected. They’re also more informed and aware of business and political issues, discuss them more frequently, are more likely to use online social media, and are also more likely to support environmental and social causes advocated by NGOs. The fact that this is a more informed and engaged group is reason for hoping that their optimism is well-founded.

But what of their economic convictions? The data suggests that the positive outlook of those who are optimistic about Africa is underpinned by a belief in the ability of open markets to make a difference, with optimists about Africa slightly better disposed towards free market economics than most. In all countries surveyed, they’re much more likely than their peers to consider that foreign investment in African countries is a good thing for the economy of the continent (79 percent, a full 16 points above the proportion for the total sample). This group’s upbeat perspective, then, appears to be strongly linked with a belief in the power of foreign investment.

Graphic of Africa featured on globe provided by Anton Balazh via Shutterstock

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