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“Let’s make Africa a digital Africa,” Jack Ma tells entrepreneurs

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From Madagascar to Liberia, Africa’s “digital lions” are preparing to roar, speakers said at an event co-organized by UNCTAD, the Alibaba Business School and the Jack Ma Foundation at South Africa’s Wits University on 8 August. The day-long e-commerce and technology event featured an announcement by Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, of a $10 million prize fund for African internet entrepreneurs, to be known as the African Netpreneur Prize. “Let’s make Africa a digital Africa,” Mr. Ma said at the event, dubbed Netpreneurs: The Rise of Africa’s Digital Lions. Mr. Ma, who currently serves as UNCTAD special adviser for young entrepreneurs and small business, said he always believed that “when everything is ready it’s always too late” for entrepreneurs. Their role is to create the conditions to prosper, not wait for them. Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said by video that he would sit on the African Netpreneur Prize advisory board. “All young Africans should seize the opportunity to aim high,” Mr. Ban said. “Put your best foot forward and I look forward to your application to the African Netpreneur Prize.”

Jack Ma in South africa

Around 30 African graduates of the eFounders Fellowship Programme, launched in 2017 and run by UNCTAD and the Alibaba Business School, also attended the event. “Those of us from Africa, and friends of Africa, are facing the challenge of how to convert the young talents emerging in Africa into a dividend and not a curse,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said.

“As everyone keeps telling them ‘go and make employment for yourself,’ how can we make it possible for them to create employment?” he said.

“Since last year, UNCTAD and Alibaba have been recruiting a number of young net entrepreneurs and sending them to Alibaba Business School in Hangzhou, China, for a short intense training on the possibilities on electronic market platforms, gaining visibility on the global market through remote technology and liberating small-scale producers through a conscious, purposeful impact investment in linking them to the electronic market.”

Dr. Kituyi described these eFounders fellows as the start of “an army of impatient entrepreneurs” that will ignite a digital revolution in Africa.

Kenyan eFounder fellow Catherine Mahugu described her journey as a technology professional and entrepreneur. After her encounter with Alibaba in Hangzhou she founded an e-commerce coffee export firm.

Another, Nigerian eFounder fellow Adetayo Bamidura, founded MAX, a platform that uses mobile apps to connect businesses and commuters to safe and affordable motorcycle-taxis on demand.

Africa’s opportunity

17958413 – finger is touching african continent on virtual map

South Africa’s science and technology minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said “innovation coupled with entrepreneurship is the engine of growth of any modern economy”.

“The emerging fourth industrial revolution, which will affect and change the whole world, demands that we invest in information and communication technology infrastructure – otherwise we will be spectators of this revolution and not active participants,” she said.

Wits University acting vice chancellor Tawana Kupe asked “Where is Africa in the fourth industrial revolution?”

Three panel discussions were held in answer, the first on how governments and policymakers can nurture innovation in the digital economy.

Botswana’s investment, trade and industry minister Bogolo Kenewendo said the “last mile” of internet infrastructure was often the hardest in Africa, but “policy infrastructure” in terms of laws, regulations and government awareness of the issues was at least as important.

South African economist Miriam Altman agreed, and said that digital infrastructure was often seen by African governments as “something extra” on top of traditional infrastructure needs like water and electricity.

University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor and principal Tshilidzi Marwala added that he thought governments should make provision for free Wi-Fi, as well as “virtual economic zones” to spur investment.

Lion cubs

“I have to be honest, the digital economy concept has been so slow to catch on in governments,” Ms. Kenewendo said.

This included in “soft” policy areas like education as well as in “hard” infrastructure like broadband, she said.

For Ms. Altman, “kids get it,” but “institutions often don’t.”

She said that basic standard-setting and building a digital infrastructure was incumbent on governments – not just in Africa – and e-commerce would flow from that.

Ms. Kenewondo said that young digitally-aware Africans should not afraid to be disruptors because “what we have now clearly isn’t working for us”.

“I encourage you to throw away your caution,” she said.

Panellists agreed that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was a welcome step toward freer regional circulation of goods, but much work remained to be done on transport logistics and connectivity.

Investing in talent

A second panel addressed access to capital and investment.

Mara Corporation founder Ashish J. Thakkar said that with M-Pesa, Kenya’s mobile money system, covering 98% of that country’s GDP, Africa had proved that it could develop, use and exploit new technologies.

AfricInvest venture capital director Selma Ribica said that M-Pesa’s success, and that of Nigerian ecommerce giant Jumia and others, was itself a spur to investment capital and now it was pouring in – to the tune of $500 million in 2017.

However, she cautioned, so far this flow of investment was unevenly distributed in a few sectors and mostly to just three African countries: Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.

IFC Venture Capital’s Africa head Wale Ayeni said that “angel investing” was in its infancy in Africa but this was changing.

A third panel considered skills gaps and employment for young people.

Wambui Kinya, chief strategy officer of Andela, a full-service tech talent agency which spots, trains and places African developers and other technology professionals, urged businesses in Africa not to look outside the continent for their technology service needs.

“Africa has the tech talent they need,” she said.

Hubs and ecosystems

Mr. Kupe said Wits University had launched a digital innovation hub five years ago in partnership with the private sector with students working in areas as diverse as fintech, health and gaming.

“Our challenge is to make digital life the ‘new normal’,” Mr. Kupe said of his university’s commitment to future-forward education. “We must change our mindset.”

Anna Ekeledo, executive director of AfriLabs, a community of 100 innovation hubs in 30 African countries aiming to build technical and entrepreneurial skills and engage in policy advocacy, said that the linkage between academia and innovation hubs needs to be strengthened.

She said she was looking forward to scaling businesses as a result of trade reforms under AfCFTA, and other ways of turbocharging the “enabling environment for digital ecosystems”.

As well as the panellists, eFounders fellows, students, other participants and dignitaries, the event was also attended by UN Women’s executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and China’s ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian.

 

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Afro Success Stories

African Entrepreneurs creating Jobs and Employment in Their Communities – Olasupo Abideen

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Olasupo Abideen ” My greatest achievement is being a 25yr old employer who employs 35 people and has trained 475 Others” as one of african entrepreneurs.

Meet Olasupo

I am a 25year old one of Nigerian african entrepreneurs, founder/CEO of OPAB Gas with over 6 years of transnational experience leading and working with diverse teams to facilitate youth empowerment, development projects and youth involvement in policy. I am a UNESCO ESD Young Leader, a WEF Global Shaper and a Fellow, Young Africa Leadership Initiative.

Since receiving the $5000 Seed Capital in December 2018, my Company has created employment for thirty-five (35) University undergraduates (through our Work Student and Student Ambassadorship Program), opened ‘four (4) new Gas stores’, and trained ‘four hundred and seventy-five (475) unemployed youth and corps members‘ (through our #Gasprenuer Initiative). As a means of giving back to the community, we have also helped ‘five (5) kids’ return to school through our #StreetToSchool programme for our Community.

My Humble Beginnings

I watched my mother walk long distances to gather firewood and buy coal to cook for my family in my growing up years in my village in south-west Nigeria, where I was raised. It wasn’t peculiar to my mother; this was commonplace for all families. We all knew it wasn’t safe. We knew that if it made them this uncomfortable, there was no way it was safe, but we didn’t know there were alternatives. After all, this is how our grandparents and their parents before them lived.

It bothered me to see my mother’s red eyes, and the wet eyes of other women in our rural community bothered me a lot. Even though I did not know until recently that cooking with firewood is equivalent to smoking 400 cigarettes per hour, and is one of the three causes of mortality among women and children, I knew there had to be something I could do, but I couldn’t figure it out; or better put, I did not have enough education nor access to information to figure it out.

 

My Business Idea

The Idea to start my business came from a need that I identified and solving that problem meant a business opportunity. As a student of chemistry at the University of Ilorin, I was exposed – through volunteering – to MDGs (and subsequently SDGs), and I took a keen interest in clean, renewable energy, that could be used instead of orthodox fuelling options, and one of them was Liquefied Petroleum Gas.

After a long time of advocacy for SDGs, as an undergraduate, my SDGs advocacy and youth development organization, Brain Builders International, signed an agreement with the Kwara State University’s Community Development and Entrepreneurship Centre to train young Nigerians african entrepreneurs on the Sustainable Development Goals, their benefits, and ways toward actualisation.

I noticed that every time I took the 55min trip to Kwara State University to facilitate these training sessions, I would encounter students carrying gas cylinders: either going to fill Gas in Ilorin or coming back from Ilorin after filling Gas. I later learnt that the only cooking gas supplier in the community at that time was exploiting the students by using a manual scale that could be manipulated and also selling at a rip-off price.

 

Solving the Problem

In 2017, I took a soft loan from a friend, added some of my own moneyand after conducting intense market research, filing necessary papers, and satisfying ethical and professional standards, we opened our first OPAB Gas station. The services we offered hinged on three things; convenience, safety, and trust. Students could now focus on academics, as we did not only sell gas at the standard rate, but we also offered pick-up and delivery services. We used safe measures alongside a digital scale to address the issue of trust. Within three months we had broken even.

The TEF Intervention

In 2018, I applied for the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme but was only selected for the GIZ list to be one of the 210 beneficiaries of the training and $5000 funding. The training provided by the foundation on business planning, financial intelligence, scalability, among others could only be likened to a mini MBA.

Immediately after the training myself and my team we started discussing how to dominate the market in which we operate and capture new markets.

With the seed capital, we were able to expand our business.

 

Our Growth and Milestones as one of african entrepreneurs

  • Expansion: We have expanded the business to 6 stations in two townships to target the student populations and made over $25,000 since receiving the seed capital from the foundation.
  • Employment: Staff strength – 2 (in 2017), 35 people (2019).
  • Gas on Wheels: We now own delivery vans and offers delivery services
  • Digitization: We now take orders on the business’ website in both cities where we operate.
  • Introduced Customer Loyalty service
    • Health safety card – to educate users about safety measures.
    • Customer reward: Points reward system.
    • Holiday Promos
  • we also have a few impact initiatives that we run.
  • OPAB Gas has trained 450 Youth Corps members, unemployed youth in Kwara State on the economic merits of the Gas economy and the many opportunities that abound in the sector.
  • In line with the UN SDGs, OPAB student work experience – an internship programme where we train students. During this internship, they work on Sundays for a stipend. They then receive N10,000 for every 1000kg of gas sold.
  • OPAB gas student ambassador scheme – delivery service.

 

The Future

The vision for OPAB Gas has always been to solve energy availability and ease of use for everyone across Nigeria so we are constantly working on ways to reach out to more Nigerians.

Our OPAB telemetry solution will allow people to monitor and manage their gas usage, notify them when it is almost finished, connect them to the nearest gas stations and pay for gas with existing mobile money applications.

 

 

Contact Details

Website: https://opabgas.com

Instagram: @opabgas_

Phone call/WhatsApp: 07068775529.

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