A new digital generation of informal African entrepreneurs have adopted and adapted gig economy tools and digital platforms to meet their needs for a flexible and negotiable digital marketplace. Apps that can drive demand and scale reach affordably are transforming African markets, opening up new opportunities for young Africans...[more]
On this day Funmilayo is approached by 3 young individuals who offer to train her on better and more hygienic ways to preprocess the locust beans and sell to them for a fee which potentially increase her income by 3times what she earns at the University. This company then finalizes processing and innovatively package the product in their factory
These individuals are Adebowale Oparinu, Elizabeth Alagbe and Maduka Emmanuel, the audacious cofounders of the emerging multinational food processing company; LifePro Food Mills.
LifePro aims at tackling malnutrition by scaling up local sources of nutrients to ensure all Africans have diginified access to nutritious yet affordable food products.
The boss in a factory relies on compliance. More compliance leads to more profits. Do what you’re told, faster and cheaper, repeat.
This is the history of the twentieth century.
The studio, on the other hand, is about initiative. Creativity, sure, but mostly the initiative to make a new thing, a better thing, a process that leads to better.
It’s peer to peer. The hierarchy is mostly gone, because the tasks can be outsourced. So all that’s left is leadership.
Initiative plus responsibility. Authority is far less important, as are the traditional measures of productivity.
You can tell a studio and factory apart in about three minutes. Where do you work?
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.
--James Beaty, Paying the Pastor: Traditional and Unscriptural, p.75-80
The people who get you.
The ones who have been through it with you.
Who see you.
Our life is a series of cohorts, and the special ones connect with us deeply. They raise the bar and they provide a foundation for what’s next.
These are the source of our best memories, the moments where we moved forward and felt the chance to make a difference. I won’t forget the Fast Company Advance in 1997 that changed my life. The late August dinner in 1979 with a dozen peers. The circle of people we reach out to and seek to engage with… These are circles worth being part of.
Two weeks ago, we had our first ever altMBA coaches gathering. Of the 84 coaches we invited, more than 75 came. Five came from all the way from Australia…
Every one of them is an alumni of the altMBA. Every one of them has been through the workshop–and even if they weren’t part of the same sessions, they immediately saw each other, and they understood what they’d been part of. They see the work to be done and the chance to help others level up. They show up with their whole selves simply to turn on lights for others.
You can find your cohort. You can organize one, join one, do it with intention.
We each need to see and to be seen.
[Today’s the last day to apply for the upcoming altMBA. If you’ve been waiting to level up, today’s your day.]
This article provides findings from a study of innovation and knowledge management practices in two informal-sector micro and small enterprise (MSE) clusters in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa: a handloom-weaving cluster and a shoemaking cluster. The activities in these two clusters were studied in order to explore the patterns of innovation in the MSEs, and to identify factors that influence collaboration and the spread of knowledge among the enterprises. The research also explored the enterprises’ knowledge appropriation behaviours and perspectives in relation to their informal-sector innovations, i.e., their orientations towards both informal knowledge appropriation mechanisms and formal tools of intellectual property (IP) protection.
Improving food production in drought-prone, insecure areas of West Africa is a major challenge and concern for governments and their respective communities. A new crop management system incorporating the promotion of perennial shrubs may be a key potential solution to such problems.
Native shrubs have persisted throughout the toughest of climates and growing conditions, and by using such plants to our advantage, farmers may be able to improve crop production by more than 900% in some areas. A recent study lead by Richard Dick, published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science states that when planting the shrub Guiera senegalensis adjacent to millet, water is shared out between the plants in the soil. Thus improving the productivity of crops growing in drought conditions...[more]
They’re difficult because they resist simple solutions. Glib answers and over-simplication have been tried before, and failed.
People have tried all of the obvious solutions. They haven’t worked. That’s why we’ve resorted to calling them difficult problems.
Difficult problems require emotional labor, approaches that feel risky and methods that might not work. They reward patience, nuance and guts, and they will fight off brute force all day long.
This is a brave and generous thing to say.
If you’re not able (or committed enough) to do the reading before you give your opinion, please have the guts to point that out.
“I didn’t read the proposal, but my bias is…”
We’re winging it. All of us. The world goes faster and faster, and so people are finding themselves unable to read the bill before they vote on it, listen to the entire album before they review it or keep up with the best in the field before they do their work.
That’s not always a good idea.
Winging it is a fine way to start a conversation or get back to first principles. If you’re clear about your background and your focus, you can add a lot of value without doing the reading.
But doing the reading matters. It’s the shortcut to being better at your craft. And it’s respectful to those you’re working with, the ones who cared enough to allocate the time.
But… if you’re not going to do the reading, at least let us know so we can process your input in a useful way instead of assuming that you’re doing the analysis wrong.
Our eyes are wonderful devices. They are autofocus, auto-zoom, autoexposure, and (to a large degree) auto white balance. Our cameras, on the other hand, see things more objectively.
Today, how to finesse that difference when adding light.
Read more »
I’ve argued before, alongside others, that the main inhibitor of ubiquitous and perpetual internet connectivity at a global level isn’t a technology problem, it’s a business model problem. Mostly the tech exists to put the signal everywhere. What we overlook when we say this is, that while that is true, it’s unsavory to point out that many of “those users” are not valuable – that the population covered won’t make a good return on business investment. So, even if you covered the initial cost of the equipment outlay in those areas with a subsidized government funds, without a proper business model to support the ongoing operations of running the network, then the ROI would be weak and maybe even negative.
The unspoken technology issue
Many of the incumbent ISPs and mobile operators have sunk too many resources into legacy technology, and then subsequently, outsourced their technical capacity and platform knowledge to foreign firms. This leaves them in an unfavorable position when it comes to new technology that would decrease the cost of rollout by up to 90%, or of taking advantage of how software is changing the way networks work. Due to heavy GSM investment, the industry thinks it best to switch those from 2G/EGDE to 3G. This misses the mark though, it’s iterative change driven by sunk costs, ignoring the fact that we’re moving to a data-only network world. GSM is a dead man walking. IP networks are the future.
It’s not just me saying this, two years ago Deloitte was saying,
“African MNOs should create business models around smartphone users and brace for the rise of the data exclusives and data centric phone users.”
This then provides the opportunity. This is the time to bring new networks without legacy business or technology paradigms, and the ability to apply web-scale economics to the network itself, backstopped by new open software stacks and business models that don’t rely solely on end-user payment.
Fortunately at BRCK we’ve been able to find great investors and strategic partners who see this bigger picture and understand the investments needed to make change happen in this connectivity industry of ours. BRCK, alongside some other firms, are on the forefront of changes happening across all types of data pipes, at the infrastructure level all the way through to the retail side – for both people and things. And as we start running the numbers it becomes increasingly clear just how big of an opportunity this actually represents. It only helps that many incumbents are stuck in aged technology stacks and legacy business models, so the window for positive change is here and profits are substantial.
A new railroad
I tend to think of what we do in the connectivity space as similar to our forebears building railroads, making it easier, faster and more efficient to move data and connect far-flung parts of the world. The 1990’s brought us the rebels in the form of scrappy upstart mobile operators and ISPs, they were real cowboys and renegades then! Inspiring leaders, courageously trying everything from pre-paid credit models in Africa, to thinking of mobile credit as cash, to digging the first fibre cables into the hard parts of the continent. Regrettably, these cowboys have handed the reins over to our modern day robber barons, sitting fat and happy on their oligopolies (or monopolies), and making damn sure that no one else has a chance to build something better if they can help it.
I like to think that at BRCK we are building the new connectivity railroads. The tip of the spear for us is unlicensed spectrum, where we take advantage of the ability to roll out public WiFi hotspots without much in the way of regulatory or political hurdles. We layer this with a free consumer business model, so that anyone who can get that signal can connect and take advantage of the whole internet. The underlying economics of the Moja platform are built around the idea of a digital economy. Businesses create engagement tasks that users can complete to earn value within the system. Users then spend their value on faster connectivity, premium content, or additional services. The flow of value into and out of the Moja platform creates the monetary value necessary to profitably run the network.
This is just the BRCK model though, and as I sit on some global boards and in meetings I hear of the others trying their new models as well. New technology stacks, driven primarily by open source software (and some key open source hardware plays), are a big part of the significant decrease in the cost profile (both CapEx and OpEx). But again, the business models… this is where we see the real changes coming and I’m excited to have a front row seat.
As these new railroads are built, by us and others, there lies such great opportunity for economic growth, social development, and business profit.
Midunu Chocolates are artisanal handcrafted chocolates. Made with Ghanaian cocoa, they feature the flavors and essences of Africa. Taste the subtle infusion of the bounty of the African continent – fruits, spices, coffee, teas, and tisanes. These complex flavor profiles embody the beautiful patchwork of Africa’s culinary heritage.
The inspiration for the chocolates comes from different parts of the continent, reflected in the name given to each truffle. We have named the truffles after different African women who have inspired the truffles and are culinary custodians throughout the continent. Get your taste buds ready for an unforgettable journey through Africa!
Joni Mitchell was one of a kind. A sensation. A record-selling machine, with legions of fans.
And then she made Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. A personal, idiosyncratic album that marked the final gold record of her bestselling streak.
She knew exactly what she was doing. She knew that the crowd wasn’t going to follow her, just as Dylan knew what would happen when he went electric, then gospel.
She had a choice: to make the records her fans had decided in advance that they wanted to hear, or to make the music that she was proud of.
After this, she was free.
Free to make the music she heard in her head, the music she wanted to share.
In a post-Top 40 world, the irony is clear: your Reckless Daughter might very well be the breakthrough you need to reach your true audience and to do the work you’re most proud to do.
The challenge is in accepting that the masses might not cheer you on.
As with most CEOs of younger companies, I find myself on the investment raising treadmill. Doing so for a company focused on internet connectivity in frontier markets provides an extra layer of complexity, since it’s not a sexy of a proposition as a new app for ecommerce, agtech, fintech, etc might be. Those are easier to invest in since you’re playing with a world of software, not any hardware or infrastructure to muddy your hands with. Unfortunately, in my BRCK world, we have to deal with atoms, not just bits and bytes (though we do those too). Which is why many of my conversations find me explaining why connectivity is critical – thus this post.
What I find interesting is that everyone wants to benefit from a basic underlying availability of connectivity, but few understand what it is or why it is so important. If you’re with me at a public event, I’ll eventually spout off something along the lines of, “you can’t have a 21st century economy without power and connectivity.” This is my simplified way of stating that for any industry to be meaningful on the world stage (or even their own country stage), they need the ability to move data. If power and connectivity are the foundation, then the aforementioned ecommerce, agtech, fintech, and others are all pillars that stand on that foundation.
I’ve written before on how smartphone penetration has reached critical mass and proceeds on a noteworthy trajectory across Africa and other frontier markets. Africa, coming from a largely 2g/Edge based on old legacy GSM technology will have some of the highest growth rates in mobile data subscriptions globally, driven by chat apps and mobile video, as we transition to data-only networks. In 2022, there will be eleven times more mobile data traffic in Central and Eastern Europe and Middle East and Africa (Ericsson 2017).
- 250M smartphone subscribers in 2016
- 770M by 2022 (Y-o-Y growth of 30%) (Ericsson 2017)
- Over half of mobile phone shipments into Africa in 2016 were smartphones (Deloitte 2017)
All of this means that there are millions of new customers available for new, smart, and data-intensive financial products, agricultural services, marketplaces, logistics, and the list goes on. This is why we’re seeing the rise and rise of startups in these spaces, as well there should be.
What we’re not paying attention to is this: the market is still smaller than it could be.
Imagine that you’re finding amazing market traction with your new mobile lending app, or with your logistics system, or with your online goods marketplace. Imagine that you’re doing well, however did you know that you’re only reaching 20% of the people who own smartphones in the country…. Oh, right, that’s the piece that’s surprising! You could be doing even more, growing faster and capturing more market share if only the other 80% of smartphone owners in your market could afford the costs of getting online regularly to use your service.
This is where BRCK is stepping in with our Moja platform (free to consumer internet). You’ll benefit greatly from our growth. We’ll benefit greatly from your growth.
Even though I’m largely driven by the economic reasoning for connectivity alone, since I believe that the best way for us to make significant change in Africa is to grow wealth for everyday Africans, there is a strong social argument for widespread and affordable connectivity as well.
Connecting an additional 2.5 billion people to the internet would add 2 trillion dollars per year to global GDP and create 140 million jobs
- It enables improvements in health (Deloitte 2014)
- Unlocks universal education (Deloitte 2014)
- Strengthens civil society through public services, social cohesion, and digital inclusion (Deloitte 2014)
It turns out that if we connect people to the largest, greatest network of knowledge and information in the the world, then a lot of great social benefits are realized across a number of important areas. It’s hard to argue against more jobs, better education, better healthcare, more informed citizens, and a stronger civil society in any country.
Connectivity is the foundation
Like everyone else not involved in the plumbing and distribution of the internet, I used to think of this only academically. It’s easy enough to understand and think through intellectually. However, I found that in living it, in dealing with the practicalities of the internet, in coming to know the end-user I began to appreciate just how important connectivity is. Building a new app or service can have big effects, changing the affordability equation for connectivity and you send a shockwave reaching everyone, everywhere.
Eight ways to divide Finland.
As the fossil fuel era comes to an end, gas station attendants (those few that remain, as well as the unpaid pumpers who are filling their own tanks) persist in topping off the tank.
After the automatic switch senses the tank is full, they add ten or twenty cents more gas, to reach a round number.
It’s not faster. It takes time to manually do this.
It’s not more profitable. The extra ten cents on a $40 tank is hardly worth the time.
It’s not more efficient. The number of miles before the next fill-up as a result is tiny.
It’s not even easier. Most people are paying with a credit card, so rounding up does no good.
It’s way more likely to damage the car (gas on the auto body) and hurt the health of the pumper (fumes).
So, why do it?
- Showing the boss and the customer that you’re working hard.
- The appearance of control.
It’s the third that’s the real lesson. Human beings trade enormous amounts of agency in exchange for convenience. But not too much agency. Too much agency makes us feel like automatons. Even (especially) when working with cars, those symbols of freedom and control.
What else are we busy topping off?
The Frontier Markets Access Accelerator will bridge the gap between consumer and business needs in Nigeria and available manufacturing capabilities in China to create market-leading products in Nigeria. This is most easily done by identifying white-label products that already exist at scale, and modifying them in intentional and creative, but inexpensive ways to better apply to market needs. This can be done by providing entrepreneurs addressing the Nigerian market with access to design-for-manufacturing and sourcing guidance, and a modest capital runway of around $50,000USD per company. Frontier Markets Access Accelerator is a partnership between the ARTOP design firm, Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab, and Jeremy Kirshbaum to provide this investment capability to capital partners looking to expand into the Nigerian market and beyond...[more]
Possible Yellowstone Supervolcano Eruption.