My day at the F.I.A.C. International Business and Trade Fair in Douala
On Saturday 31 March, I attended the inaugural Foire Internationale des Affaires et du Commerce (FIAC, the international business and trade fair) in Douala, Cameroon. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to go to these types of events in order to get a view of the commercial ecosystem and its players.
This is all the more the case when your company provides services that meet the latter’s requirements.
I went for the Business conference organised by my bank, Societe Generale Cameroon. Entrepreneurs will always tell you about how on their own they can feel in certain situations. At the FIAC trade fair, the main thing I wanted to do was talk to other business bosses in order to share best practices.
As well as presenting to us its new services – a mobile app that allows you to monitor your bank accounts and YUP (a “mobile money” solution that lets you access a comprehensive range of transactional and financial services even if you don’t have a bank account), more importantly the bank took the time to listen to our problems and criticism.
The question of financing is one that keeps arising. The bank used the opportunity to remind us of the importance of having a dossier that complies with requirements, pointing out that this is one of the key factors that guarentees access to funding.
After this relatively interesting conference, I had a chat with two businesses attending FIAC. First, I met with Virginie Kamga, Head of Communication and Marketing at Afrimarket, an e-commerce company that covers a number of African countries. Initially it was the diasporas who did the shopping for their family and friends back in their home countries, and Afrimarket would then deliver the goods. Since 6 November, 2017, you can now also order from Cameroon, Senegal and even Côte d’Ivoire.
While talking to Virginie Kamga, I was fascinated by her enthusiasm regarding the development of e-commerce in Cameroon. I’m one of those who believe that there’s a difference between what the media sells (Africa’s digital boom) and the reality on the ground.
I feel that businesses that are looking at this sector need to “educate” their target populations, who are still used to shopping in physical sales outlets. They may be aware of this, but many businesses don’t bother, and subsequently every year lots of them go under.
I suppose that’s also why the Afrimarket team chose to have a stand at the FIAC trade fair to go from offline to online. As David Ekwabi, Head of Communication and Marketing at Societe Generale Cameroon, has said, more and more businesses are going digital, so it’s important to increase the number of points of contact.
I then put the question of logistics, which is also a hurdle to the development of e-commerce in Cameroon. Afrimarket has opted to manage this aspect in-house, unlike other companies, which may explain its success. The Company has developed a GPS app that allows deliveries to go the last mile.
After that, March being Women’s month, I went to meet a female entrepreneur, Mrs. Yomi Ndzé Chimène, CEO of Dexxys Cameroun SARL. Her company sells IT and office equipment to both professionals and individuals. I was interested in her profile because she made the transition from informal to formal in 2015. “I wanted my company to evolve, I wanted to structure my activity and increase my credibility amongst my clients and the bank”, she explains.
I wanted to know whether it had been hard to integrate the banking system. She said it hadn’t, because she’d already worked with a number of microfinance structures. Like me, she’d been to all the banks before choosing Societe Generale Cameroun. We agreed with each other that it’s the only bank that supports entrepreneurship, especially young entrepreneurs, in an environment where few people or businesses do that.
Beyond financing, as always the other challenge is human resources. We both agree that the graduates we meet are often not at all compatible with our requirements.
How can we hire people who aren’t what we need and have trouble meeting our expectations? It can never be stressed enough: this continent’s education system needs a thorough overhaul.
I also asked Mrs. Yomi Ndzé Chimène how she’d managed to establish herself despite her young age. She told me: “You have to fight to get a foothold and then just keep going”. I then ordered a glass of pineapple juice and headed home, proud of this day spent at the FIAC trade fair.