Trust, cell phones, social networks and agricultural entrepreneurship in East Africa: A dynamic interdependence|
Mehta, K; Maretzki, A & Semali, L
African entrepreneurs operate within homogenous, tightly knit social networks of trusted individuals. 'Who you know' networks can provide these entrepreneurs with significant advantages in social, economic or political situations. However, the challenge of expanding beyond such networks to access new knowledge, skills and resources can be met only by establishing relationships with individuals outside their existing sphere of trust. The widespread adoption of cell phones has radically impacted the social connectedness of agro-entrepreneurs in Africa and deeply affected their social networks and livelihoods. Cell phones help to easily maintain long distance business connections as well as social ties and decrease dependency on local, face-to-face interactions. New weak social ties may be economically beneficial because they can provide access to new resources and create larger networks. The mobile phone enables and accelerates these social network transformations and helps entrepreneurs aggregate and leverage social capital. A symbiotic relationship exists between social and economic capital. Social capital is generated through the existence of trust which, in turn, encourages cooperation in the generation of economic capital. The existence of trust can promote the growth of an individual's business network which could, in turn, promote greater economic activity. Trust assumes a very important role in developing communities where there is a significant overlap between people's social and economic networks. This paper defines the crucial role of trust in the complex interdependent relationships among social networks, cell phones and agricultural entrepreneurship. We present a diagram which illustrates that the most compelling opportunities for sustainable value creation and self-determined development in Africa may exist at the intersection of cell phones, social networks and entrepreneurship, with the necessary condition that trust, the glue that holds these elements together, is present. A capstone case-study of a nutribusiness cooperative established in the 1990s suggests the importance of social networks and trust building in an entrepreneurial venture involving rural Kenyan women. This paper provides the context for a companion research paper on the "who you know" social and economic network knowledge systems among rural women agro-entrepreneurs in Northern Tanzania and the role cell phones play within these networks. We use secondary data, including academic publications, UN datasets, business ventures and personal observations to describe the role of trust in the dynamic interdependence among entrepreneurship, social networks and cell phones that is crucial for the establishment of sustainable agricultural business ventures in East Africa.
social networks, trust, cell phones, entrepreneurship