Madeleine Rosberg and Stephanie Persson are two of the most dynamic entrepreneurs operating in Africa today. Originally from Sweden, Rosberg and Persson launched Responsify Africa in 2010 to spread sustainable manufacturing practices, bridge development gaps, and promoting greater understanding of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Responsify is the first sustainable textile and leather production house in Sub-Saharan Africa, and now consults for some of the world’s largest manufacturing companies like H&M and Ikea, all while standing up for human rights, environmental protection, and ethical production in their countries of operation, namely Ethiopia and Kenya. Their business model forms a compelling triple-bottom line that inspires entrepreneurs and business owners around the world.
EG: Prior to launching Responsify Africa in 2010, neither of you had worked in Africa before. How - and why - did you take that massive leap of faith and courage into working on a new continent?
Responsify: Stephanie and I have always had a passion to do something different in life. The combination of being able to stand up for the people that don’t have the same good fortune as we have had and doing business at the same time was very appealing to us. Both of us were tired of the “easy and predictable” life in Sweden and wanted to try our wings to see how far we could fly. A big passion for the African continent, good timing, and supportive and courageous clients in Sweden have brought us to where we are today. We have gained experience along the way through working with the best and most professional companies in the industry.
EG: Your work is especially important because, through your hands-on, in-the-field approach and strong local partnerships, you ensure that the materials your clients source through Responsify Africa are crafted by sustainable practices that uphold international manufacturing standards and benefit the local communities. How do you think more companies around the world can work to ensure their products are produced in similar environments?
EG: We have been a part of making Ethiopia the number one sourcing market in Africa and we have always been promoting the development of a sustainable production. We try our best to ensure that the people and the environment where we have production won’t be affected in a negative way. It is not only about doing social audits (as many are focusing on today), but it is also about solving the problems the factories are facing and not leaving them if they want to develop further. We are focusing on the work that takes place after the social audit, which includes the training and development of the workers and the factories itself.
Community involvement, a happy and safe working environment, as well as clean surroundings, create happy people. Happy people will stay loyal and do a better job. This is very important when working in young countries, as that usually goes along with relatively fragile governments. To be a part of building up the societies and engaging people’s and the nature’s well-being will only generate positive return, socially and economically speaking.
EG: Part of your core mission is the idea of “bridging the gap between Sub-Saharan Africa and the international community.” What do you think that gap is? Why should more companies work in this part of the world?
Responsify: There is generally poor knowledge worldwide about the African continent, including culture, business, and its enormous potential. Many people have many presumptions about Africa and how things are working here and too few people are actually coming here to see it themselves.
There are different “gaps” in different African countries, and it can be everything from communication, expectations, cultural mannerisms, or expertise. We think many companies and people would grow hugely by doing business in Africa. It is in many ways about going “back to basics”, which creates more meaning in what you are doing because its so immediately results-oriented.
EG: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned during your 5 years working in sub-Saharan Africa that has made the biggest difference in your success of your business? What would you tell other entrepreneurs interested in launching a business overseas?
Responsify: A number of things:
Work on your network and create good personal relations.
Have respect, be caring, and always be polite and humble.
But don’t be naïve when it comes to business and expectations.
Have patience – and think long-term.
Don’t accept poorer quality and service just because “it’s Africa.” That won’t generate development.
Africa is the continent of opportunities – a big portion of courage and confidence will go a long way.
EG: Responsify Africa’s work is going to leave a big legacy in Sweden and in the countries where you operate. What do you hope that legacy to be?
Responsify: That everything is possible in the world and your mind is the only limit. Doing business with respect and love for others will make you a happier person and hopefully rich in the way you want.