MarkLives (@marklives) is running two extracts from a recent Yellowwood paper, “Africa’s Opportunity in the Future World of Work”, over the next couple of weeks. Here’s the first, “Disintermediation of industries expands Africa’s access to the future world of work”.

Yellowwood September 2019: Africa's Opportunity in the Future World of WorkDisintermediation of industries expands Africa’s access to the future world of work

by Amanda Murray & Nokuthula Radebe (@askYellowwood) Africa’s cultural comfort with diversity and informal short-term work, constantly requiring the reinvention of skills in a fluid business environment prioritising consensus, means that the continent is well-placed to access the future world of work.

In future, industries and professions may not be as narrowly defined, exclusive or expensive to enter as they are today. Technology and globalisation will lower barriers to entry across most professions and industries. Technology also improves individuals’ ability to quickly and efficiently acquire new skills, allowing workers to perform a range of different tasks across multiple industries or professions.


Businesses emerging in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) arise to meet specific, usually very narrow, needs. Initially structuring themselves as a lean core, they expand by building an ecosystem of partnerships, all focused on efficient delivery of new or better services. In this much more fluid concept of what a business is, how it grows and where it fits within a wider universe of relationships and services, there is much more room for experiment, failure and, ultimately, innovation and broader inclusion.

A culture of ‘failing fast, failing forward’ presents a broad and constantly shifting theatre of opportunity to access and service a multidimensional business ecosystem.

Technology has, for example, the potential to increase financial inclusion by reducing the barriers to capital and scale that traditionally define the financial services industry. M-Pesa, East Africa’s most-widely used mobile money platform, for example, allows Africans to transact, even cross-border, without cash, foreign exchange or even a bank account. Hundreds of thousands of previously economically excluded Africans are now economically active, able to transact and store value. Most importantly, they can also access other resources, services and opportunities through a simple mobile phone, without the need for cash.


Technology has also increased the ability of businesses to quickly achieve scale by reducing the barriers to access. A surgeon in Johannesburg can, for example, today, perform an operation in rural Eastern Cape. The point is that, in the future world of work, scarce skills and resources can be leveraged much more broadly in a significantly expanded opportunity ecosystem. Skills can also easily access opportunity, regardless of where this is. Equally, people can more easily access the skills that immediately connect them to a broad and increasingly integrated — and accessible — global opportunity network.

In this much more fluidly composed and defined future world of work — where almost everything has the potential to be integrated — strict definitions of professions and industries dissolve.

In response, businesses will need to shift away from set definitions of sector expertise, choosing instead to constantly redefine what they do according to current needs, or as new opportunities evolve. In this much more cross-connected business environment, divisions between functions, professions, authority, hierarchies, skills and chains of command become a lot more fluid. With this fluidity comes increased opportunity for businesses to branch out into new sectors, accessing ever-wider opportunity as they constantly reinvent relevance across an expanding value chain.


For people, this means learning how to adapt skills across different industries so that each person can work, flexibly, across a range of tasks and organisations. This will also mean that learning needs to be viewed as an ongoing process, acquired through doing. In an age of information readily available to all, expertise will no longer be defined by the acquisition and retention of scarce skills or knowledge. Instead, the kinds of expertise required and valued in the future world of work are more likely to be those enabling the finding, assessing and application of readily available information and knowledge. The highly integrated and pervasive service-focus of the future economic ecosystem will also require complex problem solving, advanced critical thinking and highly developed people management skills.

The roles of the CEO and boards are, for example, being completely redefined. Today, leaders need to be ‘activist’ in the sense that they understand the broader social and environmental landscape in which they operate — taking accountability for issues in these environments. They are also tasked with building businesses that are ‘future-proof’, able to blend multiple skills, sectors and services successfully on an ongoing basis. Ensuring the sustainability of businesses within the broader human and natural environments in which they operate is also increasingly a key leadership requirement. Only platform-thinking enabled by an operational ability to move seamlessly across multiple ecosystems will enable sustainable outcomes to a much-expanded community of stakeholders in tomorrow’s economy.

Enabling Africa’s highly fluid and complexity-literate human and working culture to access broader opportunity ecosystems holds incredible promise for wider inclusion in tomorrow’s global economy. Digitising the continent’s existing and largely task-based informal economy in a global environment defined by less rigid sector, industry and professional divisions presents the continent with a historic opportunity to redefine its relevance to — and participation in — the future world of work.

See also


Amanda MurrayNokuthula RadebeThe above is an extract from the research report, “Africa’s Opportunity in the Future World of Work”, by Yellowwood’s strategy director, Amanda Murray, and marketing mananger, Nokuthula Radebe, published in September 2019. Focusing on Africa, it contends that the fourth industrial revolution offers the continent an opportunity to leapfrog many of the developmental, skills acquisition and infrastructural hurdles that have been contributing factors in limiting the progression of Africa. It also considers how the world of work is likely to change and addresses some of the potential implications for businesses and the people they employ. Download the full report here (registration required). “Extracts” is a MarkLives column featuring excerpts from books and research relevant to advertising, marketing and related industries.

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