The importance of contingency planning

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The importance of contingency planning

After months of anxiously waiting to learn where I would be for my summer with the Africa Business Fellowship, I was very excited to get a call from the MLT program manager. He shared that I would be working in Johannesburg for Kwesé TV, the new media subsidiary of Econet. I was excited by this news! I love media in all its forms and I was keen to understand the business of this fast growing industry. Also, during college I studied in Cape Town, so I was eager to discover a new city in a country that I loved.

Fast forward to June 9th, when I am hustling trying to make a flight to Nairobi. South Africa had become a dream deferred. The South African Consulate had denied my visa and so I was not allowed to enter the country for work. This was a very humbling moment for a holder of a US passport but it also taught me several lessons. After I was denied, I tried to understand why the government did not want to welcome me into their country for 3 months. While researching, I came across this article that shed some light. South Africa’s official unemployment rate is 27.7%, the highest since 2003. I started to understand the reluctance of a country to allow a foreigner to enter their country for work when so many of their citizens were unemployed.

I soon learned the importance of contingency planning. In the space of 1.5 weeks, the ABF team and I successfully created a plan to have me work in Nairobi with another Econet subsidiary, Liquid Telecom. When we finally decided that South Africa was not a viable option - housing and plane tickets were booked in a matter of 24 hours. This experience showed me that when working in a fast-moving environment such as Africa, having a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C is important. Lastly, I learned about how supportive and dedicated the ABF program is to my professional development and experience on the continent. The MLT and ALN program administrators spent countless hours working to devise a solution that would fulfil my professional and personal goals. They often just listened as I vented about my frustrations and worries. Thus, despite the last minute changes, I boarded my flight to Nairobi confident that this summer would be one to remember.

I began my first day at Liquid Telecom very skeptical about how a Political Science undergrad major turned banking professional turned beauty brand manager would add value to a telecommunications company. By the end of week one, I was amazed by the possibilities that existed in this company and how much I was enjoying my work.

In pure technical terms, telecommunications is the transmission of signs, signals, messages, words, writings, images and sounds or intelligence of any nature by wire, radio, optical or other electromagnetic systems. However, the heart of this industry is connecting people. Whether it’s a mom sharing the news of the birth of her baby on Facebook, a recent college graduate in New York conducting a tele-interview with his dream company in London, or a new start-up trying to optimize how their employees communicate, the telecommunications industry impacts them. I am fascinated by that and know that Liquid Telecom is the best company on the continent to learn about this industry.

Founded in 2004, Liquid Telecom is the leading independent data, voice and IP provider in eastern, central and southern Africa. It supplies fiberoptic, satellite and international carrier services to Africa's largest mobile network operators, ISPs and businesses of all sizes. For the summer, I am working on a market, customer and competitor analysis project. I am looking forward to a summer in Kenya learning more about the business of connecting people and taking in all that this diverse, vibrant country has to offer.

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Introducing the 2017 ABF Class!

The second class of Africa Business Fellowship Fellows will be working for the following companies.

Patricia Coly - Botho University (Botswana)

Alryl Koroma - Liquid Telecom (Kenya)

Curtis Kidd Telemaque - Safal Group (Kenya)

Donald Lew Bedney III - Duma Works (Kenya)

Joseph Mehari - Liquid Telecom (Kenya)

Nnenna Ikoro - Intex/Medanta Africare (Kenya)

Nwanyinma Nnodum - Lori Systems (Kenya)

Ruth Lawanson - Career Directions Limited (Kenya)

Christina Ju - Cafe Neo (Nigeria)

Eric McCarthy - OneFinance (Nigeria) 

Bruce Dunams - Entrepreneurial Partner Solutions (Rwanda)

 

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Private equity takeaways

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Private equity takeaways

"Where are the most promising markets in Africa and what are some of the recent developments driving opportunities in these countries? How do you recruit the people and connect them with the resources to help improve the operational performance of a portfolio company and unlock value? What are limited partners looking for when selecting a private equity general partner? What types of due diligence do limited partners perform and why do the general partners that have been the most effective at fundraising share a few key characteristics?

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This is not a vacation

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This is not a vacation

"Thinking back on my first day at the New York office of Kuramo Capital, I did not know what to expect. However, the warm reception I got from the entire team was amazing. Working on my first deal, reviewing my model assumptions with one of the partners, putting together a budget proposal for Kuramo Capital’s educational nonprofit and doing a late night with the fund controller before heading to Nairobi were all good experiences and gave me a level of expectation as to what I should expect from the team in Nairobi."

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“Africa may be rising, but not with my money.”

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“Africa may be rising, but not with my money.”

"The High Growth Africa Summit’s goal of teaching entrepreneurs how to build, scale, and fund high growth businesses in Africa fit perfectly with my desire to learn more about doing business in Nigeria.  Although the conference’s sessions were primarily targeted to start-ups, I believe that companies of any size that have an interest in expanding or establishing a venture in Africa can benefit from many of the lessons explored over the two-day event." 

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Learning at SuperReturn

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Learning at SuperReturn

"This conference, known for the quality of its attendees and its superb networking in Africa, was for me all about the first word in its title ‘Learn’. Between the interactive panels, structured debates, and coffee networking breaks – I have four key learnings:" 

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Attending AfricaCom

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Attending AfricaCom

"Traditional telcos in Africa and around the world are seeing revenues from their voice business decrease as more of their customers turn to data. This presents the need to adjust their business models to meet customer demand while maintaining a profitable business, and one such way is by focusing on additional services like digital media. There are also increasing opportunities in fintech, as services like Safaricom’s M-Pesa continue to grow in popularity, and reach people who have been left unbanked by traditional banking models. Cryptocurrencies are also gaining more interest as some traditional currencies have proven volatile in recent years. One of the coolest topics was around the wide range of applications in the space of Internet of Things (IoT), especially in the discussion on smart cities (buildings, transport, home, health, education, agriculture)."

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What Companies Can Learn from Farming

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What Companies Can Learn from Farming

"Atlas Mara is not immune and has to be more proactive given its publically traded status. For a company that essentially did not exist (nor did not own any banks) until it listed its shares on the London Stock Exchange in December 2013, Atlas Mara over-performed and shattered the preconceived concept of where a company should be financially and operationally while in its infancy. Having made four acquisitions since its inception as well as a minority stake in a major bank, the concept of perennially checking the business against internal and external metrics becomes void. Instead, Atlas Mara constantly must re-evaluate itself. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the best analogy for what I’ve learned at Atlas Mara is tied to what I have already learned about farming."

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Our People on the Ground

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Our People on the Ground

"Within my first few weeks of living in Nairobi, it became clear that I would have to rethink how closely I heed the warnings against venturing around “Nairobbery.” Surely there is some truth behind the anecdotes of petty crimes against visitors and even long time residents in the city. Besides, it wasn’t too long ago that major attacks grabbed headlines either in the heart of Nairobi or on the coast of Kenya. However, the warm embrace of my co-workers and everyday folks around the city began coax me out of my shell."

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Lunchtime learnings

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Lunchtime learnings

"I expected my experience as an Africa Business Fellow to be rewarding, but I have been surprised by the magnitude of all that I have learned and the quality of the relationships that I have established. I find myself agreeing more and more with the sentiment that travel is both a window and a mirror. I am not only seeing new things but I am also reflecting on business and life in the U.S. Every day I expect to see or learn something new. Luckily for me, I have met plenty of people to guide me down that path in a way that helps me better contextualize and understand what I am learning along the way."

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Discovering Kenya: Falling in Love with a Beautiful Country

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Discovering Kenya: Falling in Love with a Beautiful Country

"It was 2013 in Barcelona that I first experienced deep fascination for a physical place in space and time. Here we go again! This time, I think I am falling in love! Kenya’s intricate blend of simplicity, splendor, dysfunction, and potential has captivated and provoked my heart in ways words cannot truly describe. I am humbled by my discoveries living in Nairobi and visiting other towns and municipalities including Mwingi, Makindu, Thika, Embu, Meru, Isiolo, Mwea, Malindi, and Watamu."

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Lessons Learned

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Lessons Learned

"I could talk for hours about all I have been pondering on during the last few months. I am honoured to have been a member of the inaugural Africa Business Fellowship cohort – all of the learning above would not have been otherwise the same or possible. To close, I want to thank the ABF team, the other fellows, Liquid Telecom, and the various Nairobians that invested in ensuring we had a worthwhile experience. Though it is bittersweet to close this chapter, I am comforted by the relationships I started to build which shall grow into the future."

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The Smell of the Place: First Impressions

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The Smell of the Place: First Impressions

"Here at Atlas Mara, I work within the Office of the CEO, which is comprised of the CEO, Head of Strategy and Planning, and Chief of Staff. This is so cliché but my day is never the same. One day I am drafting a speech for our CEO to present at an international conference and on that same day, I am combing through each country’s income statement and balance sheet and presenting a summary of our financial performance to our management team. The best way that I can summarize how Atlas Mara smells is through the key terms that Professor Ghoshal attributed to a Fontainebleau work environment:"

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Get shit printed

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Get shit printed

"That was the phrase that was designed onto the Printivo-branded mug that I received on my first day of work. The phrase is ironic because— and you would figure this out quickly if you’ve ever attempted to do business in Nigeria— it is nearly impossible to get anything done in this country."

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Hospitality, solidarity, and opportunity

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Hospitality, solidarity, and opportunity

"Over the years, I’ve traveled to a dozen or more countries in Africa but none will ever compare to Kenya - however a close second would be South Africa. I was fortunate enough to spend the first portion of my placement at the headquarters office in Johannesburg where I met many C-level managers and gained insight on how business leaders operate culturally across the continent. I am very grateful for this fellowship experience and all of the opportunities that it has afforded me."

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Life in Addis

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Life in Addis

"My initial thoughts when I first arrived at work-- the Zeleman offices look amazing! It has the vibe of an NYC ad agency. My main project is to help change the culture of the Client Services team, so I'm working on optimization recommendations. I look forward to working alongside account executives to make their work life more efficient."

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Joburg and Harare with Econet

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Joburg and Harare with Econet

"I arrived in Zimbabwe on June 18th. I lived and worked in the country 5 years ago and I had been looking forward to coming back. In the office, I'm currently working on the broadband/data side of the business, with a team in charge of introducing new products and services. It's a very active, busy and dynamic place. All of my colleagues have been amazing. They ask for my ideas and feedback and it's great to see that contributions I make are welcomed and appreciated. I'm also involved with a young professionals program where cross functional teams of young Econet leaders are working on new and innovative ideas."

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Welcome to Lagos

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Welcome to Lagos

"'Lagos is crazy,' 'the traffic is insane,' 'don't be scared when you arrive at the airport,' 'don't walk the streets alone' ...these were just some of the pre-departure warnings. Once I arrived, everything made sense. There was no shortage of heavily armed guards, who didn't hesitate to demand money, simply for pointing you in the direction of baggage claim.  The scene was colorful and hectic.  Lawless, even. Welcome to Lagos."

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First days with Dangote Foundation

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First days with Dangote Foundation

"On the second day in the office I had a two-hour sit-down meeting with Zouera Youssoufou, CEO and Managing Director of the Dangote Foundation, where we discussed everything from the current state of the foundation, her vision for my role, and her vision for the foundation. During this conversation she informed me that the Foundation has traditionally been focused on nutrition but the Board of Directors would like to see more done around early education and increasing education opportunities for girls and women."

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Philanthropy is Quintessentially African

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Philanthropy is Quintessentially African

"Philanthropy is quintessentially African; in Kenya, the spirit of harambee is ever-present in families, communities, and faith-based groups in which individuals take care of each other. According toMwihaki Kimura Muraguri (The Rockefeller Foundation, Sr. Associate Director), Kenyans already have a custom of giving in their own way and many individuals shy away from accepting accolades for their philanthropy. However, Mwihaki emphasized that "if you can't count it then we can't celebrate it," acknowledging the importance of measurement to help facilitate continuous improvements that can scale the impact of philanthropy."

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