Africans are responsible for Africa 03/24/2012
When will Africans stop pointing the finger at everyone but themselves? When will we accept responsibility for our past, present and future? When will we realize that blame suggests we are inferior, powerless and irresponsible? Whoever we blame for our predicament, we invest them with power over us and divest ourselves of responsibility.
It is no news that Africa has been pillaged and continues to be, from within and from without. Who is responsible? If the "world powers" are responsible, it means we are irresponsible. Who but Africans permitted Africa to be ravaged? We are deeply spiritual people but instead of using our spirituality to defend and develop ourselves, we use it to fight and kill each other, in pursuit of daily bread.
Empowerment begins with realizing that Africans are the cause of Africa's problems, not colonial masters, not America, not China. If so, we have the solutions and not the foreign NGOs and social entrepreneurs trying to "help" us. No amount of aid or social entrepreneurship can help a people who have disempowered themselves mentally and spiritually. Social entrepreneurship is easy, aid is easier. Mental transformation is harder work and can only be achieved by Africans but is prerequisite to sustainable progress.
It is high time Africans stopped blaming their "masters" and started taking responsibility for their continent and future generations. It is high time Africans stopped looking outside for salvation and started looking within for solutions. This approach will be resisted by salvation and solution peddlers but there is no moving forward without it.
Back to the drawing board 04/30/2011
ResurgeAfrique is back to the drawing board. We are talking to more potential partners and will be carefully selecting our partners, going forward. We are selecting partners who understand:
Yar'adua Lamp 02/14/2011
We conducted our survey in South West Nigeria late last year and have completed our analysis, in conjunction with our partners Nuru Energy. Providing sustainable and clean energy solutions in the remote areas is a no-brainer. The villagers presently spend high amounts on kerosene, because they have no better, readily available options. Interestingly, there are many options but kerosene is still the winner. There is the relatively new local lamp made from Compact Discs, known as "Yar'adua" in South-West Nigeria, named after the late Nigerian President. But our survey and interactions with users show that while "Yar'adua" lamps (shown above) are very cheap, they are not durable and are battery-intensive, which would end up being expensive on the long run in addition to contributing to environmental pollution. Surprisingly, a number of people also use the flash lights on their cell phones, for lighting at night. Kerosene remains the winner, but it seems they will try whatever new product comes along in the hope that something healthier, less expensive, brighter and more available than kerosene comes along.
We are going ahead with our solution and the next phase is the commencement of a pilot with a number of micro-entrepreneurs who will among other things serve as "generators" for people in their community. Our model involves creating employment at the village level and making sure that a significant percentage of the thousands of dollars that leave each village annually to purchase fuel stays to fuel the local economy going forward. It also involves retaining some of the characteristics of the present kerosene model that make it sustainable - possibility of incremental purchases, centralized sourcing at the village level, etc. The end user does not need technical knowledge for the solution to work, the micro-entrepreneur gladly holds that expertise and is compensated for it. For the end user, the solution is plug and play. We anticipate a model that is simple and elegant.
At the moment, we consider it wiser to wait until after the Nigerian Elections to commence our pilot. In the interim, we are putting together a training package for entrepreneurs, working on establishing partnership with financial institutions with integrity and other necessary details. One of the challenges at the moment is finding a micro-finance institution that is really into micro finance in the remote areas and not merely operating in Lagos or any of the other big cities.
Creation or consumption mindset 10/21/2010
I returned recently from Nigeria, where we were conducting surveys in neglected areas as a prelude to commencing our pilot. I saw decades of neglect and lack of investments in basic infrastructure and social amenities that are taken for granted elsewhere, but which are so vital to societal wellbeing. I saw poverty of infrastructure and social amenities. I also saw opulence, outside of the villages, in Lagos, where billions of dollars are invested daily, not in alleviating the suffering of the masses but in transactions that further enrich a few of the top 10% of the populace. I concluded that the problem of lack of infrastructure and social amenities is not necessarily a problem of inadequate capital but one of mindset.
The most common mindset seems to be one of consumption, whether in politics or business. With that mindset, what exists right now is all that can be, so there is a tendency to scramble and compete for the little that is presently manifest. This may be why probably 80% (my own guess) of economic activities in Africa's largest economy takes place in Lagos, and a few other cities. Those cities have some infrastructure to support commerce and the society as a whole, most of which were put in place decades ago, so everyone wants to be in Lagos and a few other cities. So, Lagos is bursting at the seams. When all there is all that can be, maximization, survival of the fittest, competition become the order of the day as everyone tries to grab their share of whatever exists now. It is a broad way and many there be that enter in.
I think the mindset that is urgently needed is a creation mindset. That mindset sees what can be, rather than what is. That mindset is very patient and involves doing the opposite of what the crowd is doing, because it sees what the crowd does not see. This mindset looks at poverty but sees the possibility of prosperity. This mindset sees decades, even centuries into the future. I think what we need is not to scramble for what exists today but to start to create what will be in the next 50 years, if time as we know it continues to exist till then.
One of the most radical and hopeful thoughts I encountered while I was in Nigeria, was the thought that we can create new cities. We need the creation mindset to look at poverty of infrastructure and social amenities and see the possibility of societal prosperity. It is an exciting thought that we can turn present poverty into prosperity, rather than consume, plunder or compete for whatever prosperity seemingly exists now. It is exciting to realize that even though Hamel and Prahalad wrote about Competing for the Future in their book with the same title, there is really no competition for the future because the way of the future is seen only by so few and the mindset that allows creation of future prosperity precludes competition.
ResurgeAfrique is seeking to work with the creation mindset in Nigeria and the rest of Africa. We will be engaging in development entrepreneurship. We are in it for the very long haul. We are not in it to compete for what exists now but to create what will be tomorrow. In Collapse, Jared Diamond wrote beautifully about societies that were once thriving but became extinct, in my mind, due to maximization and the consumption mindset. ResurgeAfrique seeks to create thriving societies of tomorrow where decadence exists today. It is a radical mindset, a narrow road, a winding path and it is exciting to be on it.
We are currently in the process of planning our distribution pilot in West Africa. I am finding out that there is a tendency to complicate things for ourselves, our target audience and all participants, forgetting our true objective - getting solutions that improve quality of life across to people at the grassroots.
I was reading Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds, and I find myself connecting simplicity in presentation with the need for simplicity in grassroots distribution. How do we eradicate superfluity and make our solutions and models very simple and cost-effective for ourselves and our target audience? How do we eliminate non essentials? For example, how do we ensure all revenues are reported by our micro entrepreneurs in the absence of elaborate and expensive technologies that would help to seamlessly keep track of revenues? Simplicity, interestingly, requires more creative thinking and inspiration upfront.
I found these quotes in the book:
"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" - Leonardo da Vinci
"When forced to work within a restrictive framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost - and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom, the work is likely to sprawl" - T.S. Eliot
"By stripping down an image to essential meaning, an artist can amplify that meaning" - Scott McCloud
"Emptiness which is conceptually liable to be mistaken for sheer nothingness is in fact the reservoir of infinite possibilities" - Daisetz Suzuki
Wisdom from Greg Mortenson 07/03/2010
A few weeks ago, I shared the ResurgeAfrique idea with my friends, Lynn Harris, author of Unwritten Rules, and her husband, Jeff Arnold who is a co board member at Santropol Roulant. Lynn and Jeff thought ResurgeAfrique's mission was intriguing and as is typical with them, they graciously offered to organize sessions at their home for me to present the idea to small groups of people. The sessions would allow me to receive feedback and ideas, while improving my ability to present ResurgeAfrique.
We had the first session on Wednesday June 23 and it was stimulating. There were lots of questions and ideas including, selection of suppliers, reducing Africa's dependence on Chinese imports over the long term, ensuring local ownership and making love the guiding principle.
Lynn suggested that I read Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea. I devoured the book last week on my way to DC to meet with Tricia Chirumbole and other ResurgeAfrique participants. I am inspired by Greg Mortenson's work and impact in areas that are mostly perceived as being hostile. As I read the book, all I saw was possibilities. Limitless possibilities, when we are ready to identify with people at the grassroots, when we are willing to work together with them recognizing that we are not better, we just have different roles. I see that we can move mountains if we are willing to be guided even by those we are trying to 'help'.
A key highlight of Greg Mortenson's story is the importance of building relationships and I want to bring that into my not only for-profit work in the grassroots of Africa. I love what Greg said about his mentor, Haji Ali, who could have been written off as illiterate. "Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them." I think those of us working in Africa will do well to heed that advice.
Without a doubt, one of the greatest encouragements on this path and surely the best gift from my first session at Lynn and Jeff's is Greg Mortenson's story in "Three Cups of Tea". He has been successful in enrolling and working with people commonly perceived as opposed to the education of girls, to become champions of female education, against many inconceivable odds.
There are many things to take away from Greg Mortenson's story, including the fact that he is also human, with weaknesses. But one important learning point for me is his insistence on enrolling local and at times 'uneducated' or 'unqualified' people rather than "expats" and turning over operations and ownership to them. It does not sound like an intelligent thing to do but time reveals the wisdom behind the strategy. I am convinced even a not only for profit enterprise can learn from that.
Greg Mortenson's story is the triumph of spirit, compassion, humility, love. Qualities that are typically excluded from development or economic endeavours. It suggests that we can achieve better results in the world when we connect to people's hearts rather than their heads. I think this is a story of the triumph of wisdom over mere intelligence.
Africa is becoming trendy 06/15/2010
Another McKinsey quarterly issue focuses on Africa. Africa is obviously becoming trendy. The magazine has an article by Paul Collier titled "The Case for investing in Africa". The challenge is to not turn Africans into large scale consumers but to enable truly sustainable, human-scale, people friendly, poverty-alleviating solutions that not only help Africa but help the rest of the world.
I think the existing risks and costs of doing business in the remote regions of Africa create opportunities for those who are thinking beyond just profit but actual development. The opportunity in Africa right now is not just investment opportunities but development opportunities. One of the challenges is to create investment opportunities that benefit everyone, from the development opportunities that exist presently.
Fulfilling the promise of sub-saharan Africa 06/01/2010
A time to be local and a time to be global 05/16/2010
There is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time for everything under heaven, says King Solomon. There is a time to be small because smallness has advantages that bigness does not have. Having read E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, I see even more, the advantages of smallness. However, smallness has limitations.
In Africa right now, we have pockets of good things happening all around but they are so tiny compared to the magnitude of the challenges that I am not sure keeping initiatives small and localized is advantageous, especially for systemic change. That is why I like Bill McDonough saying that growth is not necessarily bad. Afterall, there is growth that at times bothers on excessive, in nature. The question is what do we want to grow? I think we need to grow our initiatives or link up small initiatives happening around so we can have systemic change.
I think the new JoinAfrica initiative led by Kayak's Paul English is a great idea. I think the time for localized good initiatives is passé and this is the time to scale up good ideas that have the advantage of being local but broader and much more widespread.
In Africa, we have experience in being small and local but what will completely change the landscape for the better is having many good small and local initiatives linked up to become not just fringe ideas but the new reality. We need truly game changing initiatives with the intention of addressing existing Africa-wide inefficiencies rather than within a tiny geographic area. I think this is a time to take local global.
I stumbled on the article with the above title on Pambazuka News and I thought to respond here and on their website.
I think this is a great analysis linking this recent oil spill in the gulf of Mexico to the regular spills in the Niger Delta that have destroyed lives, livelihoods and ecosystems and continue to do so while no one is held responsible as BP is being held responsible for the gulf of Mexico oil spill.
I think we will continue to suffer such injustices as we suffer in the Niger Delta as long as we (Africans, Nigerians) place more value on money than we place on life. The US, Multinational oil companies, our governments will keep doing what they do - exploit and destroy the poor and voiceless as long as we don't give a hoot what happens to our brothers and sisters or to our natural environment so long as we are comfortable.
While I am not an expert in Yoruba proverbs, there is one that means "The way you treat yourself is the way you will be treated by others". The US government will treat us and our environment differently than they treat their citizens. How can we expect outsiders to place value on life when we don't?
Sadly, oil exploration will continue and there will be more focus on the African continent for exploration, and exploitation will continue until we have more voices speaking for the voiceless and increased, stronger and effective resistance to exploitation. I don't expect such resistance and leadership to come from the governments but from ordinary citizens and citizen groups. Hopefully, with voices like the writer of this article and platforms like Pambazuka the negative tide will be stemmed.
Sustainable economies and environments are impossible without sustainable societies.