Go Big AND Go Home – reflections on Net Prophet 2014 by Melody Arendse

Go Big AND Go Home – reflections on Net Prophet 2014 by Melody Arendse

NetProphetGo Big AND Go Home!  This was one of the many nuggets I took away from the Net Prophet 2014 event which Anthony Farr and I attended recently.  This annual tech/entrepreneurship event is the brainchild of the Ramp Foundation.   Having never had the good fortune of attending SXSW (yet) I would imagine that Net Prophet could easily be one of the events which would form part of the line-up at SXSW except, of course, this is a proudly South African platform committed to local growth with global reach.  The organisers sum up the event best on the website: “Take the most innovative/ successful/ creative/ ambitious thinkers and entrepreneurs in the Internet space, and ask them to share their stories, ideas and predictions for the future in a format that is fresh, relevant and engaging. The result: Net Prophet” This year’s line-up of Prophets included the likes of Jody Ford, (VP for Marketing at eBay), Andrew Valentine (Founder of Streetcar), Nicole Yershon (Director of Innovation at Ogilvy), Simon Dingle (entrepreneur and host of Tech5 on 5fm) amongst others.  The keynote speaker was none other than the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange who was beamed in via video chat. All the Prophets shared some interesting insights and thoughts on the future of business, the tech space and doing business in Africa but I will focus on the takeouts that stood out for me. Aaron Marshall, founder of Over, shared his insights and the importance of a supportive partner when pursuing your start-up efforts.  Aaron left the USA (with access to already established start-up communities like Silicon Valley) and opted to establish his base in Cape Town (he refers to our beautiful city as the #nofiltercity in reference to its natural beauty which doesn’t require a filter to make it look prettier). Aaron shared the following:

  • To be a great creator, be a great consumer.  This is true of most things, if you wish to be a great writer; you need to be a great consumer of words!  In order to make or create products or services, you need to be a consumer of products and services.
  • Embrace complexity to find simplicity.
  • Go Big AND Go Home!  No amount of success at work can make up for failure at home.
  • Passion/Market Fit – do something meaningful that matters – find that intersection between what you are passionate about and what has a market.

Rob Stokes, no stranger to the Foundation community*, Founder of Quirk and just off the back of WPP purchasing Quirk, had the following to share:

  • The most adaptable to change survive. 
  • Businesses struggle to innovate internally.  Rob explained that innovation must take place, but that it should not affect your ability to deliver on your core business.  Quirk innovated with businesses such as Brandseye and IdeaBounty but they were launched as separate entities to the main business.
  • Make yourself saleable, even if you’re not for sale.  This speaks to making sure that you have all your ducks in a row as you never know when an opportunity might arise.  Especially around ensuring you have the right corporate governance structures in place.
  • You need luck, it happens through perseverance.   Enough said, even Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it”.
  • Be generous with your knowledge.   I remember getting my free copy of the Quirk marketing textbook like it was yesterday!
  • If you’re going to do something, commit fully. 
  • Always play to people’s strengths.  Ensure you surround yourself with the right people and then let them do what they do best. This leads into the next nugget.
  • Surround yourself with people better than yourself. 
  • Timing does matter (just hard to predict).

The Quirk team are also behind the awesome Legocy Project, an initiative to get the makers of Lego to manufacture the Madiba: Freedom Fighter set so that future generations will always be aware of Nelson Mandela’s legacy.  Sign it! Events such as these provide great fuel for the work we do at the Foundation.  Both in terms of looking at the various components of the entrepreneurial ecosystems that exist for our Allan Gray Fellows to join as well as ensuring that those of us who work here keep our own entrepreneurial fires stoked.  Thanks to all @Netprophet for an awesome event! The last nugget came from Andrew Valentine, founder of Streetcar, who simply said, “Africa is an entrepreneurs dream.”  I, for one, am looking forward to seeing all your entrepreneurial dreams become a reality in the coming years…

*Rob Stokes appears in the Foundation’s Fellowship opportunity video (starting at 0:32)
Arushka Bugwandeen – long term significance

Arushka Bugwandeen – long term significance

AArushka Bugwandeen 2rushka Bugwandeen has always liked being different. Where some would jump at the opportunity to become an accountant or doctor she considered these roles too traditional for her. The thought of simply obtaining a qualification and working up the ranks in a profession was an unbearable one. She knew she could do more for society and the world than make a purely economic contribution.

This motivation to help others is one that runs deep. It is what drew her to apply for the Allan Gray Fellowship. And thanks to the Foundation’s entrepreneurial development, it now informs her general approach to life. “I am constantly thinking about transformation and opportunities to improve, develop and grow things,” she says.

When the opportunity came to improve, develop and grow the Association of Allan Gray Fellows, she availed herself. Like many of the other Fellows, she didn’t fully comprehend the purpose of the Association and so she wanted to change this. She has since been elected as president of the Association and explains that the essence of the Association is to start high-impact businesses and her role is to create an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurial thinking. Once Fellows enter the working world it becomes more difficult for them to pursue entrepreneurship and while they are more than able to chart their own course, she understands the importance of facilitating that process.

Being president of the Association is the achievement Arushka is most proud of. “I think being a Fellow has opened doors in ways that no other affiliation has for me,” she explains and points out that the Foundation not only made it financially possible for her to study at the institution that was her first choice, the University of Cape Town, but also paved the way for her to pursue a Master’s degree at the Antwerp Management School in Belgium.

In Belgium she was able to use her Fellowship experience along with what she was learning in her Master’s programme in Management: Innovation and Entrepreneurship to compete in the Hult Prize Challenge 2013, a global innovation challenge that awards $1 million in seed capital to the winning idea. The contestants were challenged to tackle the topic of food security and were asked to create a business model that solves global food insecurity in five years. Arushka teamed up with four other class mates from around the world and together they came up with a model that entailed a system of buying in bulk that allowed patrons to purchase items at a significantly lower price and do so via sms. Their idea made it to the regional finals in London and has been documented and open sourced.

In answer to the question, “What do you do for a living?” she responds somewhat controversially. She never wanted to be in this business, referring to consulting and the disparity between the value the industry adds and the profit it generates. Her current position as consultant in the sustainability and innovation space is what she terms ‘an experiment’, the results of which depend on whether or not she can add value. Swimming upstream and making career decisions contrary to what society expects is something with which Arushka is very comfortable. She says it’s easy to do “if I know that what I’m doing is the right thing.”

By her own admission she is headstrong and independent – both qualities she got from her dad. Growing up in the care of her father Aroon, in the small town of Estcourt, KwaZulu-Natal, instilled in her a sense of being an equal. He also showed her that it’s possible to overcome the most adverse circumstances. Despite a physical disability he leads a very normal life: driving, swimming & pursuing his trade, which is welding. Only by the time she was ten did she realise that he only had one leg.

Arushka believes that her role in society is to use her privilege to better the lives of others in the broader society, especially children. As such she aims to become involved in foundation-phase education and in helping people who face physical disabilities like her father to live a similarly fulfilling and self-sustaining life. It is with great pride that the Foundation recognises one of their Foundation Pillars in her.  Her Spirit of Significance – the weight of personality that comes from living a life of passion and integrity; the recognition that personal satisfaction comes from empowering oneself in order to serve others – is what will continue to make Arushka who she’s always wanted to be. Different.

 Written by Alexa Anthonie

 

Akosua Koranteng – shaping the African story

Akosua Koranteng – shaping the African story

Akosua KorantengLet Akosua Koranteng speak to you about Africa.  Don’t expect a lashing of fervorous rhetoric about the ‘Renaissance of Africa’ or ‘Africa Rising’. Instead prepare to hear the measured tones of a woman who knows where she comes from, where she is going and what she is courageously committing to in order to get there. Akosua is a woman who understands the deep complexity of Africa’s plight and its potential. She also understands that her heritage and destiny are inextricably linked to this continent.

A Ghanaian by birth, Akosua was born in Accra and immigrated to South Africa with her parents when she was five. Ghana was in turmoil and South Africa, despite its fresh wounds from the defunct apartheid regime, symbolised a beacon of hope to her family. Her parents established a hair salon, Amalinda, in East London and thus exposed Akosua to the virtues of entrepreneurship from an early age. Her mom Florence would never let her sit idly at the salon and used to point out that it paid for their schooling. Her father Isaac, a lecturer at Walter Sisulu University for a time, also emphasised the importance of education, making it easy to understand why Akosua is so entrepreneurially minded and academically inclined.

She works as research analyst at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), evaluating the effectiveness of social programmes aimed at alleviating poverty. She describes it as being in line with Mr Gray’s vision of creating sustainable development through high-impact leaders who have identified entrepreneurship as the best way to do this. Her role in this vision then is identifying the spheres of development that entrepreneurs should focus on.

When Akosua first heard about the Allan Gray Orbis Fellowship Opportunity her thoughts were, “I’m not good enough for this yet.” She later realised that the prospect of being part of a community unified by the vision of leveraging their privilege, talent and intellect to effect change for the better was something she could not ignore. It called for some courageous commitment on her part. She would have to push aside the familiar fears of inadequacy.

These fears plagued her especially during her early school years. She was mercilessly bullied at her first school. When she was eventually able to attend a better school she found that most of what she had learnt at the previous school was wrong. “In my whole primary school experience all I can remember was being told not to do things … I was also pretty slow in school … I used to be the last person to finish my work … I struggled to make friends in school … and teachers hated me,” recalls Akosua. Another poignant memory of hers is of arriving at an East London church in her Sunday best (which in Ghanaian terms means a puffy, brightly coloured dress with frilly socks and patent leather shoes) and being greeted by barefoot peers in Billabong t-shirts and jeans.

Despite initially feeling out of place this church turned out to be exactly what she needed. Here she was encouraged to get involved and take up leadership positions, singing in their worship band and teaching at children’s church. Before long the skills she had learned in church were being transferred to her school life. She started excelling in Maths and English and by Matric she was doing well in all her subjects and heading up three committees.

Her focus during her first few months at university was applying for the Fellowship. She worked really hard. And her hard work paid off. She was awarded a Fellowship and now, four years later, she has been elected as vice president of the Association of Allan Gray Fellows.

Akosua’s work in development will continue and become more specialised once she pursues her Master’s degree in Public Policy and International Development. She also plans to spend six months in Ghana to write her family history and collect oral traditions and histories in the village that her parents are originally from. She explains, “I’ll make my best contribution to solving the developmental challenges facing Africa once I have fully explored its origins and its history as told by its people and those who have sought to make it a better place.”

Her journey up to this point and the future she envisions for herself and Africa, the continent she is so passionate about, embodies what the Foundation calls Courageous Commitment: the courage and dedication to continue, realising that applying consistent commitment has a way of overcoming.

 
 
Written by Alexa Anthonie 

 

 

 

 

Year Equip Connect

Year Equip Connect

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During Year Equip, the second year of the Fellowship Programme, Candidate Fellows attend an event called Connect. The event is aimed at developing a sense of community among Candidate Fellows and allowing them to think about the dynamics of community by observing a particular community. Connect is usually held over a weekend during which the Candidate Fellows and Foundation Talent camp together and then interact with a given community. The 2014 camp was hosted in Grabouw between 4 and 6 April and the community they engaged was based in Villiersdorp, some 40 km away.

Connect is the first opportunity that Candidate Fellows have to meet the other Candidate Fellows in their year. This is because the Foundation has two intakes for every Fellowship group: Grade 12 applicants and first-year university applicants. A weekend spent together, away from their normal surrounds, allows Candidate Fellows to see each other’s more relaxed sides. The person underneath the many achievements is revealed and the Candidate Fellows in a sense become more human to each other. This is where significant relationships are forged, each having the potential to develop into great business partnerships. At this point in the Fellowship they realise that together they can do more.

This year’s Connect saw the Candidate Fellows engage with one of the five schools in Villiersdorp. Tshepang Afrika, a Year Equip Candidate Fellow, explained their interaction with the school as taking the form of two-hour long inspirational presentations. They discussed the virtues of a strong vision, learning culture, sexual activity, substance abuse and envisioning a preferred future.

From the outset Candidate Fellows understand that one interaction with a community is not enough to bring about any noteworthy change. Instead they purpose to learn from their interaction with the community in question. This is done through debriefing sessions afterwards where they discuss the community’s structure; the social, intellectual and moral influences within it; as well as its needs and the shape that a future intervention might take. One could call this a first and hands-on lesson in how to effect social change – one of the earmarks of the Fellowship Programme.

Connect deals with the Foundation Pillar called the Spirit of Significance. It is defined by the Foundation as “a weight of personality that comes from living a life of passion and integrity; a recognition that personal satisfaction comes from empowering oneself in order to serve others.”

 

Scholars and Fellows Graduate

Scholars and Fellows Graduate

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Scholarship Class of 2013 Graduation

With its view of creating responsible, high-impact entrepreneurs, the Foundation has established a pipeline that starts at school level and ends at the point when high-impact businesses are born.

The Foundation believes that education is an important part of an entrepreneur’s journey and as such they support future entrepreneurs’ education by funding it and cultivating an entrepreneurship culture in the one hundred or so schools they partner with. Learners with the potential of becoming high-impact entrepreneurs apply for and receive the Scholarship that entail the funding of their high school tuition as well as a personal development and entrepreneurial mindset development programme that lay the groundwork for any future entrepreneurial action.

Every year the graduating cohort of Allan Gray Scholars are honoured for their achievements throughout school and, more importantly, for gaining access to higher education institutions – something that might not have been possible without the initial access to a high-quality education at the Foundation’s chosen partner schools. The past year’s cohort of 17 Scholars were celebrated when they walked across the stage at their graduation ceremony held on 15 March 2014.

An even greater achievement for graduating Scholars is qualifying for the Allan Gray Fellowship that, besides the funding of their university tuition, includes a personal development and entrepreneurial mindset development programme that builds on what they learnt as Scholars.

Other Grade 12 learners and first-year university students may also apply for the opportunity to become Candidate Allan Gray Fellows. Once Candidate Fellows complete their degrees and the concurrent Fellowship Programme they graduate to become Allan Gray Fellows. A graduation ceremony is followed by an induction into the Association of Allan Gray Fellows, which represents their life-long commitment to and association with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation and their vision. The Association not only serves to support the further development of entrepreneurial thinking, it also provides access to venture capital finding through E2 and the opportunity to plough back any additional entrepreneurial experience and resources into the Foundation and the Fellowship.

The Fellows graduating in 2013 represent the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation’s sixth cohort of graduates. These 41 Fellows were duly celebrated for their sacrifices and effort over the last four years at the Fellowship Graduation ceremony held on 1 March 2014. They bring the total number of Fellows in the Association to 192, a figure that makes the Foundation very proud and brings it one step further in achieving its vision of an emerging generation of high-impact, responsible entrepreneurs who will be at the forefront of the continuing economic and social transformation of Southern Africa.

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Fellowship Class of 2013 Graduation
Growing with purpose by Ingrid Kalie-Moses

Growing with purpose by Ingrid Kalie-Moses

Ingrid 1

I am inspired by the challenge of forging a new path. My main strengths lie in organising myself and others so I perform best in a role where I can offer discerning advice and direction. For example, I’m good at organising a group to take responsibility for the vision and mission entrusted to them and for the fulfilling of each one’s own individual purpose on the journey.

The challenging and stimulating environment that the Foundation offers is what drew me to first apply for the position of Programme Projects and Data Manager. I wanted to develop my skills and expertise and position myself to become a senior manager and business leader.

My interest in initiatives that encourage social responsibility and my passion for the development of individuals so that they are empowered to fulfil their destiny are echoed in the Foundation’s vision, mission and values. By working here I’ve received all that I asked for and so much more.

Because I joined the Foundation just over a year into its existence my growth became intimately entwined with the Foundation’s growth. As the organisation expanded so too did my knowledge and skills. It was invaluable to transition from one role to another and be involved in various projects. It afforded me the opportunity to work with exceptional the Foundation’s exceptional Talent – people who are passionate about developing future entrepreneurs and embodying the values and ethos of the Foundation.

I have also been touched by the many Fellowship and Scholarship applicants over the years. Their resilience, intelligence, zeal and commitment have been nothing short of inspiring. I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to see them grow and mature.

People often comment on the fervor I project when I speak about the Foundation. This is because the mission and vision of the Foundation so resonates with my core values and passions that it feels like I am fulfilling my calling instead of just doing a job.

Through my engagement with people from diverse backgrounds and my engagement with the Foundation’s development programmes I have realised that true empowerment comes from self-knowledge. Our responses to the world can be better managed when we know our strengths, weaknesses, our triggers and how we show up in various contexts. There is still a lot of hurt woven into the fabric of our South African society. This hurt probably stems from the past as well as a sense of despair from unfulfilled expectations, especially socio-economic expectations. My hopes and dreams for South Africans are that we do not lose hope. We have a better chance of doing this when we know ourselves better.

May we not lose Hope

Hope in our individual abilities to make a difference.
Hope in our abilities to find new solutions to old and recurring problems.
Hope that we will be able to influence our leaders to be accountable for their decisions and wipe out corruption.
Hope that collectively we can make this country a better place to live in for our children and future generations and,
Hope that as a country we can realise the possibilities that comes with being a unified nation.

Unlocking the potential of South Africa’s innovation pipeline

Unlocking the potential of South Africa’s innovation pipeline

MH.Jamboree027The implications of South Africa’s inability to generate jobs and growth was brought into sharp focus last week with the release of the Cato Institute’s Misery Report.  South Africa now has the unwelcome accolade of being considered one of the ten “most miserable countries” in the world.  The report calculates the misery rate of 90 countries, using the misery index, an economic indicator found by adding the unemployment rate to the lending and inflation rates, minus the percentage change in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. On this ranking, largely due to the level of our unemployment, South Africa ranked number eight in a list headed by countries such as Venezuela, Iran and Serbia. This development is a powerful reminder of the urgent need to revitalise both the quantity and quality of our entrepreneurship as it remains the most powerful weapon in the fight against unemployment.  Surely we cannot accept a legacy centred on economic misery?

We discussed last month, South Africa’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2013 Report which noted the weakness of South Africa’s entrepreneurial pipeline, but there is another significant pipeline that one should consider carefully in the search for greater levels of entrepreneurial impact – the innovation pipeline.  In our determination to move out of economic misery it is important to appreciate that not all entrepreneurship is the same. The far more economically important entrepreneurship is that which is driven by a motivation of opportunity (as opposed to necessity) and opportunity is ultimately a function of innovation.  Innovation is the engine of economic growth and so understanding the country’s innovation pipeline helps identify clear opportunities that can be targeted for maximising economic impact.

In order to set the innovation context in South Africa, the equivalent of the GEM report for innovation is the Global Innovation Index and in 2013 South Africa was ranked 58th out of 142 countries, a drop from 54th place in 2012. Despite this slight drop, there is not much particularly surprising about this ranking as it correlates closely with South Africa’s 2013/14 World Economic Forum Global Competitive Index ranking of 53 out of 148 countries.  But the Innovation Index does give us more interesting information if we delve a bit deeper.

The overall index comprises two sub-indexes, the input sub-index (looking at inputs such as institutions, research, infrastructure and market sophistication) and the output sub-index (looking at knowledge, technology and creative outputs). South Africa ranks much better in the input sub-index at 51 compared to its Output sub-index ranking of 71. This is concerning as it means that our innovation inputs are not generating the expected outputs. In fact if one then looks at the Innovation Efficiency Ratio which divides output by input, South Africa’s ranking collapses to a lowly 99. Clearly there are bottlenecks in the South African innovation pipeline. The question is where are they?

Exploring the innovation pipeline¹ more closely our bottlenecks are to be found in applied research and the developing of businesses.

In terms of research, as identified in the innovation sub-indexes, our inputs are fine. South Africa currently spends 0.9% of GDP on research which is the same or better than other similar countries.  The challenge is that this research is not leading to sufficient applied research, where South Africa only files 1.6 patents per billion PPP$ GDP, a number that has not only been falling over time but is less than comparable countries. In Fitzgerald and Wankerl’s book ‘Inside Real Innovation’ they point out that government funders can invest in two categories: “fundamental innovation, for the ultimate goal of economic growth (with a lot of this type, since that is what the public expects), and research that is expanding knowledge in areas of interest to society but likely not connected to economic growth (with a little of this type). Although difficult to quantify, our experience points to a large imbalance currently: most of society believes it is funding research that will spur innovation and economic growth, but most research activity lies closer to the random research type.”  The facts indicate that South Africa is a victim of this imbalance.  Historically agencies such as the National Research Foundation have been incentivised on publications over patents and so this outcome is somewhat predictable.  We need our research to move out of a government–university loop of non-reality that lacks feedback from the real world, to a space of iterative innovation moving through all aspects of innovation including both the possible market and implementation in addition to the underlying technology.

The second blockage is the development of businesses, the vehicles that take the potential of the innovation to market. The starting point for this blockage is the pool of potential entrepreneurs who can drive this business creation and this sadly takes us back to the challenge identified by GEM and discussed before where our pool of individuals intending to be entrepreneurs (13% of population) is way too small.   But there is another piece to the business creation puzzle and that is the level of angel funding available.  South Africa currently has three angel investors per million people compared to a figure of 80 per million in the United Kingdom and a staggering 720 per million in America. Too much funding is not helpful as it will allow untested innovation to pass through the so called “valley of death” between the initial research funding and market commercialisation, but if that valley is too deep and financial decisions are too conservative some of the most promising innovations may not be able to get across. At three angels per million this is likely to be the case in South Africa.  From a low base angel investing in SA is increasing, but what is really needed is a bigger vision for this as a country in a similar manner to Israel where an intentional decision to create a venture capital industry in the 1990’s through the formation of Yozma has led to it becoming described as the Start Up Nation with the highest number of venture capital investments per capita in the world.

Startup Nation sounds a lot more attractive than top 10 contestant in the Misery Index. It’s about time we unlocked the innovation pipeline.

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¹There are six main stages of the innovation value chain starting with basic research, moving into applied research, followed by the development phase which includes both business and product development, before the translation of this into the commercial roll out stage end the finally expansion.