* Guest Post by Sharon Czarnek
On June 26th, the Wilson Center hosted the South African Washington International Program (SAWIP) event. While I wasn’t able to attend all 3 of the speaker series’, I did make it to two out of three. The first was entitled Business, Technology and Entrepreneurship in Africa. The moderator was Tom Wheeler, the Managing Director of Core Capital Partners and the two panelists included Andile Ngcaba the Executive Chair of Dimension Data and David Frankel the Managing Director of Founder Collective.
While the event was open to the public, its main purpose was really to advise the participants of the SAWIP program which brings young South African leaders to the US to gain skills, network, and volunteer. (Check out their website for more details) They provided some pretty inspirational rhetoric assuring the young participants that as long as they have passion, smarts, and a network that you can succeed (ed – interesting how greatly this differs from what I heard at a recent talk at NED). They also talked about how in this day and age, young people have access to more resources than any given time in the world thanks to the internet.
While it’s a very happy view coming from venture capitalists (and former government officials), overall they really didn’t have any solid recommendations for the challenges of many populations in Africa. How do you get access to the free education opportunities if you are in rural Africa and have never used a computer before? How can you follow their advice to skip getting a job out of college and follow your dream if you don’t have someone supporting you? No one wants to live in a box on the street.
The second panel spoke was entitled Impact Investing, Social Enterprises and Innovators in Africa with its 5 member panel including moderator Larry Irving President and CEO of the Irving Group, and speakers Ross Baird, Executive Director, Village Capital, Lawrence Yanovitch, President, GSMA Foundation and two SAWIP alum members who were present via a Skype connection Erik de Ridder and Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh, Co-founders of InKuluFreeHeid. The two alumni members really seemed to bring to light the problem with the first panel. They had a great idea to create a social media platform to get youth (people 18-24) more involved in the upcoming presidential elections in S. Africa. Their biggest stumbling block – finding funding. Despite having passion, spark, etc – finding funding for an idea just isn’t that easy.
Ross Baird who is an “impact investor” summed it up pretty nicely in that the bottom line is return on investment. While the idea of impact investing is that there is a strong social component where someone presenting an idea is fixing a social problem for the greater good, if there isn’t a good rate on return (money to be made), you’re not going to get the big bucks.
I was really excited to attend this event and here about the latest tech trends in Africa. Both panels mentioned that there are 60 billion people in Africa and 60% of them are below 30. Africa has amazing opportunities to leapfrog technology- be able to jump to the newest technologies without having to invest in the time and research to get the new technologies. Sadly, the only “new” technology was mobile banking and applications – which has been around for at least the last 5 years.
It was a great idea for a presentation with inspirational words, but I think this event fell short. Let’s hope that the Wilson Center pursues another presentation with information on recent development and some practical ideas.