No. 266 – The Welfare of the City

I’ve been struggling to write this month, particularly this week. Figured I’d share my scripture reflection from this morning.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Jeremiah 29:7

It’s hard to sing the Lord’s song in this country. Yet, God gave instruction to the Israelites in exile to do everything to ensure Babylon did well.

That seek and pray in the verse is key. Action and prayer. I worry that we’ve put government on the pedestal as this out of reach “principalities and powers.” As a result, we’ve given up our responsibility to be involved in the components that go into making a city, a country do well.

The couple verses before verse seven talk about building resources to take care of ourselves and growing our families. What else goes into seeking a city’s welfare? A country’s welfare?

-Vote
-Be involved in shaping policy
-Run for elected office from the lowest to the highest level
-Support folks around you who you think could good officials
-Hold officials accountable
-Hold yourself accountable if you’re one of those officials
-Build businesses either as employees or founders
-Invent things that make life easier for folks

AND

-Pray

There’s a lot to do. We’ve got an uphill battle working through the bullshit in how this country works. But, we have a responsibility to slog through it and reshape it into something better.

We can’t throw up our hands under the guise that there is some spiritual force operating in high places, so we’re only going to pray. That’s not doing our job.

Yes, we have in our hopes that heaven is at the end of our time here on earth. While we’re here, let’s focus and tend to this place well.

It’s hard, I know. I’m feeling quite tired. But, I can’t let my daughter’s children live in a world that hasn’t felt my presence.

No. 253 – Tuesday Reads

Low Covid-19 death toll raises hopes Africa may be spared worst – So far, African countries have avoided the devastation the US and Europe have experienced from Covid-19. The nervousness in my chest won’t leave for some time, and I pray that Africa countries continue to navigate this virus as best they can. It’s been encouraging to see several African leaders take aggressive measures to contain the virus. Hopefully, this amplifies the sense of urgency in developing infrastructure that furthers the resilience of Africa’s people. If Africa gets through this pandemic relatively safely, that doesn’t mean its countries will get through the next one in the same shape.

Ghana government to invest in healthcare infrastructure – President Akufo-Addo announced that the country will be building 88 100-bed hospitals across the country. This is good news, though you have to wonder where the money is coming from. China has put untold amounts of money into projects across Africa, and will leverage that diplomatically. As African countries make their way toward a post COVID-19 world, it’s imperative China isn’t able to make incursions on their independence because it has put billions of dollars into shaping their economies.

Covid-19 has blown apart the myth of Silicon Valley innovation – One of my favorite lines in scripture is “do not think too highly of yourself, but think with sober judgement.” I’m very curious to see how how Silicon valley culture evolves post COVID-19. Hopefully, it finds a path forward in it’s foundation in early Silicon Valley like Genentech that shifted science and life.

Why You’re Not One of the World’s Great Investors – There’s a great book on hedge fund manager Jim Simons called The Man Who Solved the Market. In it, you’ll see how this man used algorithms and math I’ll probably never understand to find trading opportunities. There’s a benefit to creating your own lane and not trying to find your fortune in someone else’s. Simons did that. He was a math professor before getting into the hedge fund world, and built a completely different way of approaching trading. As I continue this journey towards venture investing, reminders like these to keep doing me are helpful.

Antitrust After the Coronavirus – Matt Stoller put together an interesting piece here laying out the dangers potentially ahead of us in big corporations consolidating their industries with the help of the financial world. He calls for pause on merger activity and an act that would outline a path for breaking up companies that gain power due to pandemic. He also calls for a systematic process of working through that disappear due to pandemic situations situation. I’m with him. Corporations don’t have all the answers, just like governments don’t. They’ve got their own respective roles in making this thing work.

Perhaps a random aside, but has anyone heard from Haven? Amazon, JP Morgan, and Berkshire Hathaway made a big splash last year announcing this new business that was supposed to reimagine health care. Why have we heard nothing from them?

No. 246: Monday Reads

W.E.B. DuBois

COVID-19 in Africa: Outcomes and Scenarios – Ronak Gopaldas of Signal Risk put together a nice analysis of the potential economic impact of COVID-19 on African markets. The central conclusion is that the path out of this situation is going to take years, something that is true for countries around the world. It’s frustrating to have this be the reality for African countries trying to navigate the path to sustainable economic growth and better lives for the people. Here’s to African countries figuring out that path and marching forward aggressively. Gradatim ferociter.

COVID and forced experiments – This is a good reminder from Benedict Evans that while most of the world is online, a significant number of people are not. eCommerce isn’t the answer for everyone. Telehealth doesn’t work if the patient pretty much has dial-up speeds at home. So, how do you move forward in pushing new technologies while ensuring everyone gets the services they need?

This is where the trope of “let the market handle that” sounds ridiculous. A number of companies will say that ensuring a potential customer in the middle of nowhere gets access to a product or service isn’t profitable enough to make the effort. From experience, I’ve seen them also complain about government trying to step in to fill those gaps. I’d love to see more situations where the private and public sector team up on this sort of thing more, but we’re not there yet.

What is the problem of racism has no solution? – I look forward to reading Afropessimism by Frank Wilderson. I struggle with the world view of folks like Ta-Nehisi Coates who don’t see a world in which black folks get a W. I think the world has been around for too long and civilizations have changed place for top dog position too many times for this to be true.

At the same time, my own pessimism comes out in my belief that centuries from now, if black people (If that’s even a thing at that point in time) have the capacity to be just as cruel as white folks have been in the time they’ve been dominant globally. Hopefully, folks like my cousin Kobe speak enough truth and beauty to keep us from acting on that capacity.

Our World in Flow Change – David Galbraith lays out the design of systems and what needs to happen to ensure whatever new system we have coming out of COVID-19 is a balanced one.

XTREME: A Massively Multilingual Multi-task Benchmark for Evaluating Cross-lingual Generalization – Google is working on expanding the number of languages for which natural language processing works well. Natural language processing is basically what’s happening when you are talking to Siri or your Google Assistant. Currently, English is the main language this works in bit that will change as Google makes more progress on this project. I’m getting a kick out of my Nigerian friends insulting their Google Home device in Yoruba and it giving them pepper back.

No. 93: 7 Tuesday PM Reads

1. Bree Newsome penned good words on the moral duty of disruption when oppression is the status quo. 

2. Deray McKesson wrote a good reflection on the significance of social media in pursuing justice.

3. Tolu Ogunlesi discusses the impact social media has had on governance in Nigeria. Similar to what Deray wrote, social media mitigates the censuring of voices in Nigeria.

Let me pause here for a bit. I am frustrated to see things heating up again in Ferguson. I’m still wrestling with the words Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote to his son. The racist system we live in is not a mirage. Note in Bree Newsome’s excerpt from Dr. King’s letter that he mentions the white power structure. We still have that today and I don’t want that to be the case when Anna Olivia is my age.

What Deray and Bree are doing is critical to this not being my daughter’s reality.We need folks disrupting from the outside and the inside. Being part of the power structure and holding the power structure accountable.

Regarding being part of the power structure, I would just love to see more black people running platforms like Twitter and Instagram in the US like 2go does in Nigeria. The impact of black people on platforms like Twitter and Instagram is tangible, so when an Instagram account like that of the Dream Defenders is deleted for a short period, I feel anxious. A feeling of being “allowed” exists, and that feels like a cap on the struggle we see going on in America.

The work of folks like Mellody Hobson and John Thompson is critical in getting to those and shaping decisions that impact millions.

Alright.

4. Google, Inc is now a subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc. I closed the post before I realized that this was huge. I look forward to hearing what Clayton Christensen has to say about what this means for disruptive innovation.

5. I’m nervous about governments and developers pumping hundreds of millions of dollars in developing Silicon Savannahs. Some are already being called potential white elephants. Two things come to mind. One. This is a long game. Silicon Valley came together over decades, the foundation of which arguably traces back nearly a century. The developments need to have a long term outlook. 100-years long. Which leads me to the second point. What crazy projects are African governments working on that don’t make sense today but could be commonplace fifty years from now? Silicon. Wi-Fi. GPS. Etc. If not at the governmental level, who’s doing this kind of work at the private sector level? That is a huge part of the foundation for a thriving future for the tech industry on the continent. 

6. This is a good piece on the danger of the big-man syndrome in the tech space and how there needs to be greater acknowledgement of the role government has played in technology. 

7. My face dropped when I saw the news or Berkshire Hathaway buying Precision Castparts for $37.2 billion. One of my uncles owns a company that makes parts for the federal government. We need to see about getting Buffett on the team!

No. 27: Innovation in Ghana’s Social Enterprise Space

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!

No. 19: Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital: Brazil v. African Countries

Entrepreneurs across the African continent are developing highly innovative technologies that are meeting real needs and improving the ease of life for people from all walks of life. At this year’s MIT Venture Capital (VC) Conference, I sat in on a panel that covered Brazil’s VC space. Two things struck me as very different from how entrepreneurship is developing on the African continent and present a case for investors to pay more attention to entrepreneurship in Africa.

I was surprised to learn that Brazil’s entrepreneurs are more active in meeting the needs of the middle class by providing some of the technologies already available in the US like Groupon copycat, Peixe Urbano. In a year and a half, the company has expanded from Brazil to Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. Another Brazilian company, Vostu, is locked in lawsuits with Zynga which is arguing that the company is committing copyright infringement of its games including Farmville, a Facebook favorite.

In Africa, we are not seeing a lot of “copycat” or “geographic innovation” technologies as one of the panelists preferred to call them. We are seeing technologies like Paga in Nigeria that enables mobile bankers to use any bank they choose. We see Sproxil, a company that has developed technology which uses text messaging to confirm that the drugs you are taking are not counterfeit. These creative innovations are exciting developments and ones that increase the fundability of entrepreneurs across the continent from investors both inside and outside the Africa

The second observation that struck me was the presence of VCs encouraging entrepreneurs to try new things in bringing various technologies to Brazil – providing entrepreneurs with mentorship that can help them increase their success rates in the country. Earlier this year, Ndubuisi Ekekwe, an entrepreneur and scholar wrote a nice article on African entrepreneurs’ need for nurturing. Mentoring fell under this bucket. As entrepreneurs learn from the mistakes of their mentors to avoid those same pitfalls, stronger products enter the market. I am extremely happy for Tayo Oviosu, CEO of Paga and the access he has to a mentor like Tim Draper. I think we will see more mentorship as time elapses but the involvement of Brazil VCs in the growth of their companies bolstered my understanding of the importance of mentoring.

Two takeaways came from the panel – the African entrepreneurial market is more disruptive than the current Brazilian entrepreneurial market, while more African entrepreneurs are going it alone as Brazilian entrepreneurs more readily have access to mentorship. Both are interesting phenomena and ones whose evolution I look forward to tracking over the next few years as I believe the presence of venture capitalists and mentors will grow rapidly over the next two or three years.

The following are recent CNBC Africa conversations on entrepreneurship in South Africa and Africa as a whole:

Photo Credit: Afrinnovator