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.