When I first saw, the agenda for the Africa Rising seminar at this year’s IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings, I posted a tweet:

Probably not the wisest thing to not provide any context. So, here goes.

My issue with the seminar is the makeup of the panels. I believe there could be a greater representation of African academics and practitioners. Currently, 30 percent of the panelists are African nationals. Considering that the topic is Africa, this strikes me as odd.

Consider the following promotion of the Africa Rising Conference slated to take place in Mozambique next month.

The Government of Mozambique and the IMF will convene a high-level conference in 2014 to take stock of Africa’s strong economic performance, its increased resilience to shocks, and the key ongoing economic policy challenges. The Africa Rising conference will be held May 29-30, 2014, in Maputo. The event is intended to follow up on the 2009 Tanzania Conference, which helped galvanize international support for Africa after the 2008 financial crisis. The conference will bring together policymakers from Africa and beyond, the private sector, civil society, academics, and private foundations with the goal of sustaining the current growth and sharing its benefits among African populations.    

I find the statement in bold odd considering the relative struggles much of the rest of the international community faced after the financial crisis. Furthermore, the statement defaults to Africa somehow being dependent on externally driven development. I think the structure of this week’s Africa Rising seminar could potentially do the same.

Afara Global exists to see a world in which African and Western countries engage economically at an eye-to-eye level. To do that, you need the right people at the table. While the majority of the panelists are quite impressive, I think the right people are not all present – at least not in this seminar.

A few candidates come to mind for future reference:

Amadou Hott runs Senegal’s newly established sovereign wealth fund and chairs the development of the country’s new airport.

Rolake Akinkugbe is Head of Energy, Oil and Gas Research at Ecobank.

Alexander Chikwanda serves as Zambia’s minister of finance. As Africa’s biggest producer of copper, the country has had to deal with global copper prices while driving inclusive growth at home.

Yaw Nyarko is Professor of Economics at New York University and is Director of the university’s Africa House and focuses his research on technology and economic development, and has done work on human capital.

Dambisa Moyo is CEO of the Mildstorm Group and has a global view on economics and development from an African perspective.

Rentia van Tonder is Head of Renewable Energy, Power and Infrastructure at Standard Bank.

Akinwumi Adesina is Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and has earned a lot of attention for his efforts to grow Nigeria’s agriculture sector. He could speak to inclusive growth and structural transformation and economic diversification.

Who are some people you think would make for good panelists?

I am on the train headed back from Sankofa54: The Youth Empowerment Conference, nicely put on by the Yale Undergraduate Association of African Peace and Development. I spoke on a panel addressing Africans Investing in Africa, an issue that has kept
me awake at night since high school. The other panelists were Solomme Lemme, founder of Africans in the Diaspora, and Adewumi Mobolaji, special advisor to the CEO at Aso Savings and Loans Bank.

Solomme challenged the audience to imagine the impact 1 percent of the 60 billion dollars that is remitted to African countries could have on development if targeted towards initiatives focused on creating transformative change on the continent.

Adewumi covered macro developments that are creating the environment for increased investment on the continent, while also highlighting challenges that are still present in the quest for a strong investment climate on the continent.

I found a way to weave an Anansi story into my talk – major win.

One of today’s keynote addresses came from Ladi Delano, an entrepreneur who has been getting it done for about a decade. He made some great points on the need for the extermination of Africa’s corruption problem. He discussed the need for greater manufacturing to meet consumer demand. He cited a recent meeting he had with the head of Massmart Nigeria and how little sense it made to him learning that all of its products are imported.

Another keynote speaker was Obinna Ukwauni, a senior economics major at MIT. Beast. This guy has started an initiative to teach robotics to secondary school students in Nigeria with support from organizations like Shell and Innoventures – quite impressive. He plans to use this as a step towards launching a school in Nigeria in partnership with MIT’s Media Lab.

Last night, Nobel Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee discussed the challenges of being a mother and in-demand activist. She did not regret having missed a significant portion of some of her children’s lives on account of her belief that she was laying the foundation for their futures. Tough.

I was really impressed that undergraduates put on a conference of this caliber and I appreciate YAAPD inviting me to speak. I look forward to next time!

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Nigeria has some of the most successful entrepreneurs across the African continent. Individuals like Titi Odunfa, Tony Elumelu, Adenike Ogunlesi, and Jason Njoku have made their mark across a range of industries. While these individuals may not call themselves social entrepreneurs, their motivation to improve the lot of Nigeria and its people comes through in their work. Tweet me @kwamesompimpong if you would like to argue this point.

Last week, I got to speak with Misan Rewane, a dynamic social entrepreneur who is bent on disrupting the high level of youth unemployment in West Africa. She and three co-founders hatched the idea for West Africa Vocational Education (WAVE) while at Harvard Business School. The idea led to a second-place finish at Harvard Business School’s Social Venture Competition and the team was off.

WAVE provides the hospitality industry with thoroughly trained interns and future employees. The company selects participants using an emotional intelligence test that enables the team to catch innate strengths. Participants in the program take on a 3-week 150 hour mini-MBA. WAVE developed the curriculum for the program in collaboration with top local and international employers in order to provide participants with the skills needed to succeed in the hospitality space.

The company uses a shared-cost model where the student and participating companies pay a portion of the cost. The student pays a portion when she starts the program and pays the rest of the cost when she secures an apprenticeship with a company, enabling her to earn while she learns. The company that brings her pays a portion of the cost as well.

The WAVE team aims to be training 25,000 people annually within 5 years, with academies located across West Africa. While the company is currently focused on the hospitality industry, the team does have its sights set on expanding to other industries.

Nigeria has to be one of the most frustrating and exciting country in the world.  Security concerns in the country have people in parts of the country looking over their shoulder with heavy hearts. The country imports so much food when it could be such a powerful force in the agricultural space. That said, this is a country that will be the largest economy on the African continent in a few years. Enterprises like WAVE will ensure that the people who enjoy this macro position will not be just a few. Because of them, the crowd that is bullish Nigeria will continue to grow.

I’m excited about linking up with Misan while in Lagos during the 2014 Innovation Excursion. Join us if you want to connect with talented social entrepreneurs focused on changing the fate of Africa. Let’s go!

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Kenya has garnered lots of attention for Nairobi’s tech scene and the pending completion of Konza City – enticing talking heads to debate Nairobi’s status as the Silicon Valley of Africa. Yet, the technology space is not the only sector sector seeing exciting growth.

Participants in the Geeks Gone Global’s 2013 Africa Innovation Excursion witnessed the impact social enterprises are having in Kenya. Startups like Soko Kenya are providing a platform for Kenyan clothiers to sell their products globally. Soko recently landed $700,000 to continue the growth of its business.

Johnni Kjelsgaard, Co-Founder of The GrowthHub, provided interesting insights on the social entrepreneurship space in Kenya. The GrowthHub is a startup incubator in Nairobi that helps East African start ups position themselves “to deliver sustainable business growth, create employment, and contribute to social progress. According to Johnni, social entrepreneurship is not really a concept in Kenya. A number of the entrepreneurs he has encountered do not consider themselves as entrepreneurs in the first place.

Because of this, The GrowthHub does not use the term social enterprise in the majority of its work with entrepreneurs. It hones in on building a strong and sustainable business model. The GrowthHub sees social benefit pouring out from that. Startup founders like Stefano Carcoforo at iProcure and Melissa Menke at Access Afya are hyper-focused on creating a great product that also contributes to the good of their customers.

Johnni and The GrowthHub team are busy with Village Capital/GrowthAfrica2: Innovation to Impact which just launched on September 13 and will run until December 6. Started in 2012, in partnership with Atlanta-based Village Capital, the accelerator equips social enterprises with the tools to take their business to the next level. One of the 2012 winners, iProcure, recently secured a portion of a $500,000 funding round by 88mph, another VC/incubator that operates in Cape Town and Nairobi.

Are you an investor, looking to place funds in a startup that knows its market, is focused on sustainable growth, and has plans to create positive social change in Kenya and beyond? Join the Geeks Gone Global 2014 Africa Innovation Excursion.

Credit: Waste Enterprisers

The Geeks Gone Global team is excited to lead you on an excursion to check out the innovative things happening in the social enterprise space in Ghana, Nigeria, South African, and Kenya. Check out the first of four country and company profiles to prep you for the trip.

Ghana is among the fastest growing economies in the world. The country has been known for its stable democracy, large deposits of gold, and tasty cocoa.  The country has faced headwinds with a disputed presidential electionconcerns over government management of oil revenue, and the Ghana Cedi depreciating due to rumors of the US Federal Reserve drawing quantitative easing to an end. Despite this, there has been no shortage of excitement about Ghana’s future.

Last year, President John Mahama announced the groundbreaking of Hope City, a $10 billion technology hub that would locate outside of Accra.  Hope City will compete with Konza City in Kenya for bragging rights as being the Silicon Valley of Africa.

The startup space in Ghana is humming.  A few months ago, Accra-based Dropifi became the first African startup accepted into Dave McClure’s 500 Startups Accelerator Program. Startups that have gone through the program include the likes of StyleSeat and TaskRabbit. Other startups that are making waves in Nandi Mobile and Leti Arts, just to name a few.

The social enterprise maybe has not gotten the same kind of attention that the technology startups have received, but that is sure to change in the next year or so as more and more pop up in Accra. Social enterprise startups like Ashesi University are revolutionizing what it means to educate in Africa. Global Mamas brings together makers in order to give them greater exposure through one big retail shop. Golda Addo is building the Born.Again recycling label, a recycled and up cycled line of products. Exciting stuff.

Meet Waste Enterprisers, a social enterprise based in Accra that is focused on creating value from energy found in human waste.  Ashley Murray founded the company in 2010 after completing her doctoral studies in sanitation engineering at UC Berkeley. The company wants to see a global sanitation revolution that – one in which waste is no longer seen as that, but as a free resource.

Waste Enterprisers takes human waste and converts it into biomass the company calls Green Heat, an energy source that is 20 percent more efficient than comparable biomasses.  Green Heat comes in brick form and the company generated between 10 and 20 tons of the product during its pilot phase.

On the competitive landscape in Ghana, Tim Wade, Waste Enterprisers’ COO, stated that the social enterprise space in waste is still in its early stages. The company has come across a few enterprises and international NGOs looking for ways to contribute to sanitation management in Accra.

Looking forward, the team at Waste Enterprisers want to master being a manufacturer that contributes to sanitation as a by-product of its work.  If the team gets the model right, it wants to see uptake of the model in Accra’s sanitation industry and around the world.

If you’re not pumped for January’s trip after this, you need to get a TastyKake and RC Cola, and go think about yourself in the corner of a room for a while. Then sign up and let’s go!

Credit: CBS

And thankfully, Mark Mobius aka Lex Luthor is breaking up the fight going on between emerging and developed markets on US Federal Reserve Bank guidance rumors. The dance has gone something like this:

Emerging Markets: Sigh, the Fed is being pretty tight with it’s currency. Come on coach, let emerging markets spin!

Ben Bernanke: Policy accommodations are warranted. You get cash! You get cash! You get cash! Everybody gets cash!

Emerging Markets: Invest in [Insert Emerging Market country]. Check out our growing middle class, enormous investment returns, and sandy beaches.

Ben Bernanke: My arm is getting a little tired from throwing these hundreds, so I’m thinking I’m going to wrap this thing up a little early.

Chorus aka Traders: Sell!

Emerging Markets: Wait! Hold up! Oh snaps, what are we going to do? (Christine LaGarde’s name pops up on the cellphone)

Jim O’Neill: Why are you crying? Quit being punks. Step up your financial market game. Give me one good reason why US currency continues to be more important to your economy than your currency is to developed markets. (Silence) That’s what I thought. Quit crying.

Richard Koo: Welp, that’s what you get for not making some hard decisions and preventing US currency from impacting your economy so heavily.

Mark Mobius aka Lex Luthor: Hey. Everybody calm down. Looking historically, emerging markets are killing the game with the returns they are generating for investors. Their foreign exchange reserves are larger than those of developed markets. And, their debt-to-GDP ratios are typically lower. That’s attractive, and if emerging markets keep it up, will remain so for a while. A bump in the road here and there will only make them stronger. Furthermore, there’s still a ton of liquidity out there. Ben has been throwing dollars Lil Wayne style. On another note, do you like my creme suits?

My Take

Mark Mobius is spot on. Involving oneself in emerging markets is a long-term play.  Because of that, traders looking for quick hits are going to find themselves in panic-mode more often than they would like – especially if they have not done thorough research. Commit to the long-term, do the homework, don’t panic, and investors won’t regret the experience.

Emerging market policy makers have a tough line to walk. Consumers in emerging markets are working hard to be able to afford Nando’s (delicious stuff). Policy makers in efforts to create a virtuous cycle of FDI are trying to put consumers in a position to meet their aspirational tastes. At the same time, emerging markets must instill the discipline necessary to position their citizens for Singapore-like sustainable growth. That takes hard teamwork from all stakeholders. Done well, I anticipate having fewer restless nights pondering why Africa is so far back.

I agree with Jim O’Neill’s challenge to emerging markets to develop their financial markets and reduce their dependence on US currency.  A few years ago, Nigeria’s Central Bank shifted a portions of its foreign exchange reserve to include Chinese Renminbi.  Will we see other Central Banks doing more of this? The newly minted East African Exchange and the continued work of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria are examples of African countries taking steps to strengthen their financial markets.

The Work Continues

The emerging market sell-off that has been going on for the past few months has been frustrating to watch. It must reinforce the urgency with which emerging market policy makers create environments for wealth creation locally and globally. The investors who conduct country-specific research rather than look for key words will continue to do well. At the end of the day, folks are going to make money.

In 2009, The World Bank estimated that it would take $93B annually over the next 10 years to bring Africa’s infrastructure to a healthy level. Four years later, how much of the $372B needed has actually been invested on the continent?

Watching Eddie Obeng give this TED Talk left me pondering on how we can think big in solving Africa’s infrastructure challenges. Big thinking like the Cape to Cairo road and Bright Simons looking for ways to leapfrog infrastructure technology is what it’s going to take for African infrastructure to be globally competitive.

I will come back with numbers on where we are with African infrastructure in a later post.

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But I won’t argue the point too hard.

Yesterday evening, I attended the DC Africa Tweet up hosted by Semhar Araia. I learned about the event through Twitter and had a blast chatting it up with folks addressing the task of contributing to African development from different angles.

Of the ~60 or so people at the event, I met three through Twitter – Laura Seay, Semhar Araia, and Teddy Ruge. The statistical analysis may not make much of that, but these are three people who have a significant impact on my thinking in regards to Africa. Since joining Twitter, my connection to people doing work on the continent has grown exponentially, and has created opportunities to do a lot of cool things. There are other potential reasons for this increased connection, I do admit. Nonetheless, I am in constant communication with folks regarding Africa and I am not the only one.

In the span of a few hours, the following happened:

1. I got a better understanding of how Africare sees itself participating in African development.

2. I offered some advice to a recent graduate looking to get into international development work.

3. I connected with individuals interested in a partnership Afara Global is part of.

4. I learned about the work of an individual in London who could offer some nice value-add to one of our projects.

5. I had an incredible conversation with a fellow Greensboro-native on the opportunity areas for growth in the African-American community.

Needless to say, I left the event refreshed and excited to push forward.

Thanks Semhar and Twitter. Let’s make this happen in other cities.

1. Mining and Governance in Africa – Kudos to Ghana for ramping up its move against illegal mining in Ghana with the arrests of several Chinese miners two weeks ago, and several Nigeriens a few days ago. I look forward to seeing how the country and others continue to build their capacity around governance to provide protection for their people.

2. Market Research and Private Equity – While traveling last month, I ran into a few companies doing innvoative work to collect market research in their respective countries. This is a key area for Africa’s economic growth especially as more people move out poverty into the middle class. I’m sure private equity firms will appreciate access to market research as more and more firms scout out investment opportunities.

3. Value Chain Capture – Read about Zambeef capturing its whole value chain. Interested to read more case studies from the continent.

It usually does not take long to sense when certain people have wisdom, but when are you able to actually feel a person’s wisdom? One can feel Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool’s wisdom.

During our conversation over lunch on Wednesday, Ambassador Rasool stressed the importance of South Africa exporting the principle of Ubuntu – I am because you are. Our focus on meeting with technology companies in South Africa is a perfect opportunity to glean this philosophy and take it back to Atlanta.

Ambassador Rasool also highlighted the opportunity for African Americans and South Africans to move past a shared struggle to a shared opportunity. This is critical. The challenges that Africans and African Americans have faced are real and the conversation should continue. What is so exciting is that there are opportunities in the US and on the African continent to take a hold of those challenges and steer them towards a new narrative of global commerce, social engineering, and artistic exposure.

I don’t have much more to say than that my pursuit of wisdom continues. Reading the book of Proverbs has new meaning these days as I move further into the economic development space. It is critical that I remain hyper focused on driving equitable solutions both here in the US and in African countries. One could argue that a solution that is not equitable is not actually a solution. Ubuntu.

Pictures from Lunch with Ambassador Rasool

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