Two weekends ago, I was at the Stanford Africa Forum. If you were there and you saw a young man wearing an African shirt, unlike the many others who were wearing suits and their cousin-type attires, that would be me. The fairer one. The theme for the event was "Entrepreneurship and Development: Doing Business in a Frontier Market". It was organized by Stanford students, including some from the Graduate School of Business (GSB). I must congratulate the team for putting up a great event. I wasn't going to miss this event for anything. It's what I do. I live for events like these. I documented a lot of what happened at SAF through.... tweets. Yes, I am loving my HTC Aria powered by Android. Let me tell you what I took away from SAF as per the tweets.
First of, I am not a big fan of keynote speeches. I won't lie, I wasn't too interested in who the keynote for SAF was, so I skipped his speech totally. You can find his name at the Stanford African Business Forum website. I arrived at Stanford's Graduate School of Business premises right in time for the first set of panels. I chose to go to the energy panel. The panelists were Sameer Hajee of nuru light, Andrew Klein, Ndubuisi Kejeh & Ade Dosunmu. Ade was a co-founder of the Africa Business Club at the GSB. Google them. Without much further ado, let's get into the tweets. The hashtag was #saf2011, you can find them if Twitter is still keeping them online. I'm not here to break down the Tweets and discuss what was said, am here to give you soundbites. So, as we say in Ghana, "allow".
From the energy panel, here are a few interesting points I caught: "The Energy sector in Africa should take lessons from the Telecoms sector by way of cheaper costs of implementing technology, innovation, etc." "Are #energy companies in #Africa sabotaging new, sustainable, green energy companies trying to enter #African market?" "Government must ensure there's knowledge transfer to the public, & reduction of initial/ start-up costs." "There are a lot of little alternative green #energy start-ups in #Africa. What are the big ones? Are there any big green energy companies worldwide?" Meanwhile, Peter Chadri @pchadri was attending the Social Enterprise panel and tweeted this "In #Africa, we need infrastructure but investors rarely make money off it. They make money off associated business".
I didn't meet many new people at lunch, though I met a few people I knew about/of for the first time. Normally, I'll pay as much attention to networking and talking to attendees as much as listening in on panels. Also run into someone I met at 2010's SABF but who I never kept in touch with. Before I could get her email address (yes, it's a she), we had to disperse for the next panels. I chose to go to the Education panel, because there is always an Investment panel every year. Blah. Education, that's where it's at. Besides, two African Leadership Academy (ALA) folks were on the panel. :-)
At the education panel, one of the panelists asked who was the poorest country in the world in the 1950s. I didn't know the answer but I thought - 1950s, Africa, poor nation, 2010. Eureka! Must be talking about South Korea and Singapore and the famous tale about how they have progressed into developed countries leaving Africa's nations behind. I guessed South Korea and I was right. @Pchadri, who studied International Relations, had a great response to that. "South Korea had the chaebol, Singapore had a dictator. Africans are to emulate these countries but avoid their means?" Democrazy. Talking about Democrazy, see what is happening in Egypt? Some civil coup d'etat like that hehe. Or wait, Revolution rather.
Zimbabwe's Lennon Chimbumu Adams, an ALA graduate,talked about his experience there while Chris Bradford, the COO of ALA talked about building leaders and entrepreneurs through ALA. The other panelists were Fasil Amdetsion and Boris Bulayev with the panel being moderated by Stanford professor Joel Samoff. Turns out Lennon was a programmer before going to ALA. He made use of his skills there. That's when it dawned on me that the youngest guy on the panel was going to dominate it, and rightly so. Chris shared a lot of insight. "You can create an environment in which #entrepreneurship can be learned. The entrepreneur needs to be passionate too". "You have to understand the context in which you are operating. That's why African studies is taught at ALA." Boris stressed that before one can be successful at entrepreneurship, there has to be personal development. Fasil told an Ethiopian story and people ended up laughing. Good stuff. We should laugh small. Who said forums must be tense? :-)
For the next 15 minutes or so during the panel, I stopped tweeting and starting writing. I had asked the ALA crew a question and the answers were too good and detailed for me to tweet them. I can't type fast enough.A separate ALA blog entry is here. One interesting thing that came up during the panel was the idea of the 'white man's burden'. A lot of the panelists at SAF2011 were white and not from Africa. Are white men and women tasked or the default people with bringing investment/change in Africa? Chris Bradford answered the white man's burden question by talking about an ALA grad who leads a refugee camp in DRC. I love this Chris guy. Way to dodge the question and tell us something we really need to hear. But on this subject, What about the African Diaspora? Are Africans not into volunteering?
Next up, I went to the mobile technology panel. An issue was raised, "Why can't people selling crafts, etc in Africa get to participate in e-commerce? This is a case for mobile money." @pchadri tweeted: "Frontlinesms is doing a lot of great things. Nahim Nahmud from FrontlineSMS:Medic was on the panel. Menekse Gencer talked about Mpayconnect and mentioned that the presentation is on slideshare.net. You can view it here.
@pchadri Peter tweeted "African banks lend on assets not income, small biz cannot borrow. Can mobile money extend such services to those?" to which I responded "Mobile money should enable wealth creation and not poverty alleviation." It's around this time that Mbuhua Njihia (founder of Mobile Monday in Kenya) started talking. He's worked on various startups including Symbiotic and mentioned that it's een challenging trying to get money and to grow his business. I loved how Mbugua Njihia talked from experience and told stories rather than doing a PowerPoint presentation. The attendees were loving it too. He quipped "Angel investors? That's a dream. $30k doesn't get me 2 full page ads in the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper." The audience bursts into laughter. @pchadri tweeted "Kenyan storytelling at its best". I responded "Love him. He's like a more educated, tech focused Churchill. Lol"
Mbuhua advised "We don't need blanket solutions for African problems. Explore 1 opportunity at a time. You don't need to serve everybody; The only way you will get the mwananchi -common man- to use the technology/platform is to show them the value". Mbuhua talked about a little glitch - "Mobile operators may ask for exclusivity, but if the volumes are there, it makes sense for mobile entrepreneurs". Also, the service must be compelling and should bring volume or a partnership with the network/operator, in order for it to be successful (via @pchadri). Menekse also mentioned that another case for mobile money was to serve the informal sector and the unbanked.
The surprising bit was that only @JisasLema, @Pchadri and me tweeted about the Stanford Africa Forum. Were we not in the Silicon Valley? I thought this was tweet heaven. I have an answer. The real social media folks in the Bay Area were not present at SAF2011. Why? I am not about to discuss that here. The attendes at SAF 2011 were awesome, a mix of students, professionals, investors, some entrepreneurs, etc. A friend, @nnewihe declared - "Fola Laoye is my hero" Fola is the CEO of Hygeia limited in Nigeria. Google it. @nnewihe also tweeted: "The Stanford Africa forum was amazing. There are ways for us youth to get involved in transforming healthcare". @jisAsLema tweeted: "Best day ever! Stanford Africa Conference was a huge success. Thank you for coming". I agree with them. Make sure you attend next year or better still, find your way to the next African-themed conference near you. #VIM!