“Kuuambia ulimwengu kwamba Africa ni wazi kwa ajili ya biashara!” which means “Tell the world that Africa is open for business!” were the welcoming words of Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, at the Opening Plenary for the recent Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi.
The 6th GES, organised by the Kauffman Foundation and co-hosted by the Kenyan and American governments, aimed to catalyse the development of entrepreneurial ecosystems and promote entrepreneurship. The global media coverage of Pres. Barack Obama’s speech at the Opening Plenary made history for Kenya and for Africa. The excitement in the auditorium was palpable. Obama’s speech, his engagement with Pres. Kenyatta and three young entrepreneurs, was symbolically significant in buttressing the expectations of the next generation of game changers who are emerging globally and in Africa especially.
A Youth and Women (Y&W) pre-summit, dedicated to driving entrepreneurial growth in women and youth, set the tone on 24 July. This pre-summit was opened by Amina Mohamed who challenged our perspectives and encouraged young people to continually ask “why not?” and to have the courage to take a stand by saying “no more!” to the current way of doing things. In a tweetable quote, Rick Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Affairs in the U.S. said that “Youth and women are not the future, they’re the present!” and I couldn’t have agreed more. This empowering theme continued throughout the day through dialogue and workshops.
Entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their business ideas at “Spark the Fire” – an initiative that put participants through their paces by having them pitch to a panel of high profile judges. The top ten finalists impressed Lauren Kickham (Social Impact Investor), Jean Case (CEO of The Case Foundation), Iqbal Paroo (Managing Partner at Paroo & Associates and previous CEO of the Omidyar Network) and Courtney O’Donnel (Head of External Affairs for Airbnb). Southern Africans were proud when two finalists from our region walked away with top awards. Ally Angula from Namibia received the “Top Women Owned Business Award” and South African, Rapelang Rabana, was awarded third place with a total prize of US$6,000.
There are many insights to share from the Summit, so I’ll reflect on five recurring nuggets:
1. THE NEED TO PROVIDE OPPORTUNITY TO TALENTED POTENTIAL ENTREPRENEURS
Julie Hanna, Executive Chair of Kiva and Advisor at Idealab, challenged everyone by saying that “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. Technology needs to be used to make opportunity universal.” This statement resonated with me as Africa is filled with talented young people. But how do we ignite opportunities that will unlock our latent potential? How do we grow and develop entrepreneurs and catalyse their impact? Technology and other innovative methods must become a long-term focus for government, corporates and civil society if we really want to drive sustainable change. Kellie Kreiser, from Thunderbird School of Global Management, has been mandated with just that.
Kreiser administers the global implementation of business and entrepreneurial training to entrepreneurs in over 44 countries. This programme has already created opportunity for over 110,000 entrepreneurs some of whom were at the summit showcasing their products in a global market place.
It was evident from many interactions that there is a universal need to provide innovative ways to catalyse and fast-track human potential, and through this, drive economic growth and the impact of entrepreneurial talent.
2. KNOW YOURSELF AND REALISE THAT YOU CAN’T DO IT ALONE
Self-knowledge and self-belief are often referred to as key to entrepreneurial mindset because they drive entrepreneurial behaviour and action. Most people hold this view. However, an entrepreneur’s role is also about being able to identify one’s own weaknesses and to fill these weaknesses with people who have strengths in these areas. In order for entrepreneurs to have significant impact, collaboration is critical. Jose Andres, Chef and Founder of Think Food Group, summarised it well – “Money will show up, what is more important is finding people you can trust and hiring people better than you”
3. DESENSITISE FEAR
Daymond Garfield John, founder of the clothing brand FUBU, said “Invest in people who have failed more than they have succeeded”. Depending on perspective, the ongoing battle against the fear of failure and fear itself might not be a battle at all, but rather a blessing. Daymond’s mantra was for entrepreneurs to “take affordable next steps”.
Dash Dhakshinamoorthy, founder of Startup Malaysia, provided a useful analogy for the necessary mindset to achieve entrepreneurial success. He said that many young entrepreneurs want to jump straight onto a cruise ship with their idea or start-up. If the cruise ship sinks it may be exceptionally difficult to recover. Instead, he said, entrepreneurship should be like surfing. When you are starting out, jump straight into the water with an old surfboard and give it a shot. Falling off and failing are part of the journey. Be prepared to apply the learning and continue until you find your balance. If you fail – you can afford the failure enough to get back up and try again. With time and effort, you will be ripping and the journey will be characterised by stepping stones to success.
4. BEGIN WITH AN ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET
Sometimes even with access to all the opportunity in the world, things still do not progress. This may be because the one obstacle between you and the true value you can bring as an entrepreneur, is the person in the mirror – YOU. A golden, and yet implicit, thread throughout the GES was the need for you to challenge your mindset.
When I asked some key panelists what they deemed the most important mindset to challenge or develop, Selima Ahmad (Chair of the Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce) said self-belief. Nic Nesbitt (General Manager for IBM and former CEO of KenCall) added other-belief, which is the ability to realise that you need others and to trust them. Debbie Hockley, in a blog post after the GES, said that it is a half-truth that launching a company will make you a successful entrepreneur – you must adopt an entrepreneurial mindset in order to be a successful entrepreneur.
5. FIND A DEEPLY PERSONAL PROBLEM IN YOUR ENVIRONMENT THEN MOVE OTHERS TO SEE YOUR VISION
During the coffee conversations, I met Armelle Kouton from Benin. She was deeply moved by the problem of malnourishment in her home country and made it her mission to find an innovative solution to turn this problem into a viable business. Her company “Biskara Biscuiterie & Divers” creates top quality biscuits that address the specific nutritional needs of children aged 6-12 months, 1-3 years, older children and adults. Kouton was understandably passionate about her product and its viability in serving its customer segments. Kouton is my entrepreneurial heroine because of her innovation and courage.
In closing, Jonathan Ortmans, President of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, said that young entrepreneurs are not only motivated to do well, but also to do good. He reminded us that the largest global entrepreneurship conference – the annual Global Entrepreneurship Congress – will be taking place on African soil, in Johannesburg in 2017. This is an incredible opportunity for the continent to showcase its talent and learn from others across the globe.
An African Proverb says “When cobwebs unite they can tie up a lion”. I’m convinced that through Ubuntu, Africa can rise on the shoulders of entrepreneurship.
Author – Immanuel Commarmond
Commarmond is the Foundation’s Head of Impact Assurance