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Africa is championing the flexible workspace revolution

Franchise opportunities – Africa’s economy will grow faster than any other continent’s over the next five years and flexible working is a huge part of that future.

The African workforce is mushrooming, and by 2035, its numbers will have increased by more than the rest of the world’s regions combined.1 According to World Bank analysts, this expanded working-age population could lead to a growth in GDP of up to 15 per cent – equivalent to doubling the current rate of growth in the region.2

The World Economic Forum is bullish on the economic possibilities. “This could dramatically raise labour productivity and per capita incomes, diversify [the] economy, and become an engine for stable economic growth, high-skilled talent and job creation for decades to come,” says Richard Samans and Saadia Zahidi, authors of The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa.3

But of course, it’s not quite that simple. Only recently the International Labour Organisation warned that both sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa are facing challenges in terms of job creation, quality and sustainability. Despite the creation of 37 million new and stable wage-paying jobs over the past decade, only 28 per cent of Africa’s labour force hold such positions, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report. Instead, some 63 per cent engage in some form of self-employment or ‘vulnerable employment’, such as subsistence farming or urban street hawking.4

Add to this the logistical difficulties for the stable wage-paying workers in actually getting to Africa’s urban centres. Millions in the continent’s congested cities endure long, difficult commutes. Kenya, Algeria and Central African Republic are notorious for their long commute times, while tech start-up WhereIsMytransport estimates that poor transport could cost South Africa’s economy a huge $104bn a year.5

The result is stagnation and emigration. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest emigration rate globally (1.5 per cent, against a global average of around 1 per cent, according to UN population statistics), due to a lack of decent work opportunities.

On the cusp of change

Yet change is coming. According to the World Economic Forum, Africa stands to benefit in a big way from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While the First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production, the Second used electric power to create mass production, and the Third used electronics and IT to automate production – the Fourth fuses technologies such as AI, robotics, the Internet of Things, biotechnology and quantum computing.

Africa has already seen significant technological investment in its major cities, including increased access to mobile broadband, fibre-optic cable connections to households, and power-supply expansion. This, combined with the rapid spread of low-cost smartphones and tablets, has enabled millions of Africans to connect for the first time.6

And as the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, Africa is poised to develop new patterns of working. In the same way that mobile phones have allowed some regions to bypass landline development and personal computers altogether, Africa may be uniquely positioned to jump straight past the adopted working model in other countries to a more liberated future of remote and flexible working.

The trend towards flexible working is capturing the attention of the global market. International flexible workspace provider, IWG plc (formerly Regus), recently announced its rollout of franchising opportunities into 14 further countries on the continent. This is the first time that a proven national serviced office proposition has ever entered the African franchise market.

The IWG franchise model offers landlords, private equity firms, multi-brand franchise operators and high-net-worth individuals with the opportunity to buy into the flexible working market at attractive returns. Flexible workspace is also proving to be a solution to filling the many inner-city buildings that remain empty in current markets and prospective investors are afforded the opportunity to build a property portfolio while buying into the flexible working market.

Their reason? “The flexible workspace market is cleaner, simpler and less volatile than other, traditional franchise opportunities. Coupled with the opportunities we see for growth in the African market, we see it as a lucrative opportunity for early adopters,” says Mo Nanabhay, Franchise Director (Africa) for IWG plc.

A new way of working

In many ways, flexible working is the perfect fit for a continent with a geographically diverse, work-ready population and a strong mobile communications network, which lacks the infrastructure to support urban working patterns. Why insist on big hub offices and long commutes when there’s a way to harness talent from across the continent? Instead, the solution could be a distributed, virtual workforce, with companies that integrate virtual freelance workers.

A report on trending professions in Africa in the last five years shows that the number of entrepreneurs has grown by 20 per cent. And online platform work is on the rise, allowing many of these entrepreneurs to launch innovative start-ups that solve real-world problems and create jobs.  One example is Gawana, a Rwanda-based ride-sharing company co-founded by African entrepreneur Agnes Nyambura.

The new company solves a problem – long-distance transport that gets people from A to B affordably – and provides job opportunities for East Africans. Travellers making their usual journeys are able to advertise any spare seats in their car using the Gawana app and earn money for the trip by ‘working remotely’ from their car – in other words, simply driving to their destination.

Another example is Lynk, a Kenya-based start-up app that connects users to their desired service providers – be it an accountant, a graphic designer or a personal assistant. With one in six people unemployed in Kenya, previously these skilled individuals might have struggled to find formal employment. Now they’re able to open the app, accept a job, and often work remotely to complete their assigned tasks. This system is also better for the worker, who’s able to track his or her hours and obtain references that help to secure further work.

A growing demand for African coders

Big global businesses are already starting to recognise the untapped potential of Africa for their tech needs, in the same way that companies did with India 25 years ago. In the new world of work, remote employees don’t even have to be on the same continent – let alone the same office as their employers.

For example, Moringa, a Nairobi based coding school that develops African tech talent, trains more than 250 new students a year. Its graduates go on to work remotely for the likes of global bank Barclays, which has offices in countries including Kenya, Ghana, Botswana, South Africa and Zambia, and Safaricom, an East African telecommunications company.

As African cities such as Nairobi, Lagos and Kigali become major tech hubs with a wealth of well-trained tech experts at hand, global job opportunities abound. And, because of technology, individuals can work from their home countries rather than move to the countries where big multinationals reside, thus contributing to local economic growth.

An office away from the office

Flexible workspaces are becoming an essential part of a modern country’s business infrastructure. “For us, a high degree of interest has come from local and international businesses willing to establish a footprint in Angola, as well as from companies that need to rationalise and downsize unused resources, namely office space,” says Rui Duque, Regus Country Manager for Angola.

Two major brands that have used Regus to grow in Africa are Google and P&G. Google has 50 employees with Regus in Kenya, and P&G has 100 employees in the country. Though they have the finances and resources to build their own offices, start-up costs can be expensive in developing countries, and getting an office up to spec with high-speed broadband, useable meeting rooms and desk space can take up valuable time. Plus, using flexible office space reduces the commitment for these big organisations, many of whom are still testing the water in new African cities.

African businesses are using flexible working as a way to attract talent. In a recent survey by Regus, senior executives and business owners confirmed that flexible working could be used to avoid employee churn (and the consequent expense of recruitment agencies), with 71 per cent of respondents pointing to flexible working as a perk that attracts top talent.Flexible workspace is also a preferred option for workers. Seventy-seven per cent of African workers said they’d choose one job over another similar one if it offered flexible working, while 56 per cent would actually turn down a job that ruled out flexible working.

An exciting future

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, the most competitive countries in the world are those that nurture innovation and talent in ways that align with the changing nature of work. If the trends of the past decade continue, Africa will have created 54 million new, stable wage-paying jobs by 2022. It seems clear that remote and flexible working will be a huge part of this growth and the next step for the franchise market.

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Business

Pula smiles at COVID-19 vaccine

25th November 2020
COVID-19 vaccine

A squeaky and glittering metaphoric smile was the look reflected from the Pula against the greenback this week and money market researchers lean this on optimism following Monday’s announcement of another Covid-19 vaccine which is said to have boosted emerging market economies.

With other emerging market currencies, the Pula too reacted to optimism and fanfare on the new Covid-19 vaccine against the weakening US dollar which has been losing its shine since the uncertainty laden US elections.

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Business

Choppies high on JSE rollercoaster volatility

25th November 2020
CHOPPIES

After bouncing back into the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) last week Friday, following a year of being in the freezer, the Choppies stock started this week with much fluidity.

Choppies was suspended in both the Botswana Stock Exchange and its secondary listing at the JSE for failure to publish financial results. Choppies suspension on Botswana Stock Exchange was lifted on 27 July 2020. On Friday last week, when suspension was being lifted, Choppies explained that this came into fruition “following extensive engagement with the JSE.”

Choppies stock, prior to suspension, hit a mammoth decline in value of more than 60 percent, especially in September 2018. Waking from a 24 month freezer, last week the Choppies share price was at R0.64 and the stock did not make any movement.

However, Monday was the day when Choppies stock moved vibrantly, albeit volatile. Choppies’ value was on a high volatile mood on Monday, reaching highs of 200 percent. At noon, the same Monday, the Choppies share had reached R1.05. Before taking an uphill movement, Choppies stock slightly slipped by 2 cents. But the Choppies share rode up high and by lunch time the stock had reached the day’s summit of R2.00 and that was at 13:30 when investors were buying the stock for lunch.

The same eventful Monday saw gloom on the faces of Choppies rivals, when Choppies gained by 220.31 percent around lunch time its rivals in the JSE Food & Drug Retailers sector were licking wounds. Spar lost 2.94 percent, Pick Pay fell by 2.43 percent, Shoprite 7.52 percent and Dis-Chem 1.98 percent. The only gainer was Clicks by a paltry 0.51 percent.

In an interview with BusinessPost, Choppies sponsors at the JSE PSG Capital Managing Director Johan Holtzhausen explained that the retailer’s stock was in high demand after a long suspension. He said when a company list or a suspension is lifted the market needs to find itself on the pricing of the share.

“Initially when the suspension was lifted there were more buyers than sellers. As far as we could see this created a shortage of shares so to speak and resulted in the price at which the shares traded going to R1.20 and eventually R2.05 before finding its level around R0.80 sent from a JSE perspective.

This is marked dynamics and reflect that there are investors that are positive about the stock in the long run. This is a snapshot over a short period and one requires a longer period to draw further conclusions,” said Holtzhausen in an interview talking about the Choppies stock.

On Monday this week where the Choppies value grew by 200 percent, the stock took a turn looking down, closing the day at R0.87 from a high of R2.00. According to local stockbroker Motswedi Securities on Monday while there was no movement by Choppies in the local stock exchange as the retailer appeared on the board as 141,000 shares traded at P0.60 each.

However in Choppies’ secondary listing the stock price rallied to over 200 percent during intraday trading on Monday before losing steam and declining to around R0.87 share.

Before press yesterday Choppies opened the market with the stock starting the day at R0.80 then went flat for few hours before taking a slide downward, dropping 5 cents in 30 minutes. Choppies then went flat at R0.75 for 50 minutes yesterday before going up at 10:20 am where it nearly recovered the open day price of 80 cents, but was shy of 1 cent. From 79 cents the price went flat until noon.

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Business

Foschini-Jet merger, a class and rivalry conundrum dissection

25th November 2020
Foschini

Competition and Consumer Authority (CCA) has revealed that in its assessment of the Jet take over by Foschini, there were considerations on possible market rivalry and a clash in targeted classes.

According to a merger decision notice seen by this publication this week, high considerations were made to ensure that Foschini’s takeover of Jet is not anyhow an elimination of rivalry or competition or if the two entities; the targeted and the acquiring enterprise serves the same class of customers or offer the same products, to elude the anti-trust issues or a stretch of monopoly.

The two entities are South African retailers whose services stretched to Botswana shores.  Last month local anti-trust body, CCA, received an acquisition proposal from South African clothing retailer, Foschini, stating their intentions to take-over Jet.

South African government’s Business Rescue Practitioners earlier this year after finding out that Jet’s mother company, Edcon, is falling apart, made a decision that Foschini can buy Jet for R480 million. This means that Foschini will add Jet to its portfolio of 30 retail brands that trade in clothing, footwear, jewellery, sportswear, homeware, cell phones, and technology products from value to upper market segments throughout more than 4085 outlets in 32 countries on five continents.

However the main headache for the CCA decision which was released this week, is distinguishing the targeted and the acquiring entity businesses and services.

When doing a ‘Competitive Analysis and Public Interest’ assessment, CCA is said to have discovered that Foschini is classified as a “standard retailer” which targets middle-to-upper income consumers and it competes with stores such as; Truworths and Woolworths. The targeted entity, Jet, is on the lower league when compared to its acquirer, it serves customers of lower classes and is regarded as a discount/value retailer targeting lower income consumers or a mass market. This makes Jet to be in direct competition with Ackermans, Pepkor, Cash Bazaar and Mr Price.

“Therefore, a narrower view of the market is that Foschini through its stores trading in Botswana is not a close competitor to Jet. Additionally, there exist other major rivals who will continue to exercise competitive constraints on the merged enterprise post-merger,” concluded CCA this month.

The anti-trust body continued to explain that in terms of the Acquisition of a Dominant Position, the analysis shows that the acquisition of the target business by Foschini Botswana will result in an insignificant combined market share in the relevant market.

This made CCA reach to a conclusion that there is no case of an acquisition of a dominant position in the market under consideration or any other market on the account of the proposed transaction.

What supports the merger according to CCA is that it is in compliance with regards to ‘Public Interest Considerations’ because the findings of the assessment revealed that the transaction is as a result of the need for a Business Rescue by the target enterprise. This is so because in the event that the proposed transaction fails, it will translate into the loss of the employment positions at the target business.

“On that note the Authority (CCA) found it necessary to ensure that the proposed merger does not result in any retrenchments or redundancies. In light of this, the assessment revealed the critical need to protect the employees of the merged entity from possible merger specific retrenchments/ redundancies,” said CCA.

Before making a determination that the recently proposed transaction is not likely to result in the prevention or substantial lessening of competition or endanger the continuity of the services offered in the relevant market, CCA said it then moved into a concern for public interest which is a protection enshrined in the Competition Act of 2018.

CCA’s concern was mostly loss of livelihood or employment by 126 Batswana workers at Jet stores, stating that possible retrenchments or redundancies may arise as a result of implementation of the proposed merger.

Much to the desire of trade union or labour movements in Botswana and across Southern Africa where the Jet stores are stemmed-who also raised concerns about the retail’s workers job security- CCA subjects Foschini to keep the target entity 126 workers.

“There shall be no merger specific retrenchments or redundancies that may affect the employees of the merged enterprises. For clarity, merger specific retrenchments or redundancies do not include (the list is not exhaustive): i. voluntary retrenchment and/or voluntary separation arrangements; ii. Voluntary early retirement packages; iii. Unreasonable refusals to be redeployed; iv. Resignations or retirements in the ordinary course of business; v. retrenchments lawfully effected for operational requirements unrelated to the Merger; and vi. Terminations in the ordinary course of business, including but not limited to, dismissals as a result of misconduct or poor performance,” said CCA.

CCA also orders that Foschini informs it about all the details of 126 Jet employees within thirty (30) days of the merger approval date. CCA should also know information of when Foschini is implementing the merger, within 30 days of the approval date.

Other conditions include Foschini sharing a copy of the conditions of approval to all employees of the Jet or their respective representatives within ten (10) days of the approval date.

“Should vacancies arise in the target, the merged enterprise shall consider previous employment at one of the non-transferring Jet stores to be a positive factor to be taken into account in the consideration of offering potential employment,” said CCA.

According to CCA, in cases of any job losses, for the Authority to assess whether the retrenchments or redundancies are merger specific, at least three months before (to the extent that this deadline can be practically achieved and in terms of the prevailing and legally required employment practices) any retrenchments or redundancies are to take place, inform the Authority of:  i. The intended retrenchments; ii. The reasons for the retrenchments; iii. The number and categories of employees affected; iv. The expected date of the retrenchments.

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