"In 2013, I made my first trip to the continent and visited my friends in Ghana. Spending time in Accra and Kumasi and traveling 5 hours north in “the bush” to stay on a mining site. It was during this trip that my eyes were opened to the numerous opportunities that the continent had to offer. I was awed to see barbershops and other stores made out of shipping containers, logistic companies that only helped people purchase and ship cars from the U.S., a soul food restaurant that specialized in chicken and waffles, the list is endless. It dawned on me that Africa wasn’t just the future; it was the present. Shortly after I returned to the U.S., I had a long conversation with Jeanny David, a close friend, about my burning desire to work on the continent in some capacity and we continued that conversation on and off for the next two years. She encouraged me that my time would come."
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"During this visit to Kenya, the fellowship has given me the opportunity to view Kenya through multiple lenses. This blog is a summation of 4 weeks in Kenya told through the perspective of a researcher, employee, ABF-er, and tourist.
"If you’re reading this, I assume you’re likely someone who is interested in pursuing the fellowship. When I applied, I used ABF’s blog posts to help me understand what being a fellow would entail so provided below is my best attempt at showcasing a day in the life as an ABF Fellow."
"The message that I received from this tradition is that we all must come together; open-minded and willing to find common ground that allows us to live harmoniously. When I left the US, there was nothing but constant fighting amongst people for so many reasons. Neither side on any topic appeared to be open-minded to the others’ plight.
"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.
"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?
"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."
"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."
"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:"
"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)."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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:"
"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."
"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."
"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."
"After a few days of work, we took a trip to go see the students, where I became even more dedicated to their cause. In their faces, I saw a desire for learning that resonated with my experience as a father to my own children, Kelechi and Adaeze. How fervently would I work on behalf of my own children, who often beg me for “one more” bedtime story or a Saturday-morning trip to the library? I imagined that each of these students, clad in their maroon sweaters were my own children. I was honored this summer to have worked on their behalf. "
On Friday June 3rd, Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) hosted the ABF Class of 2016 in New York City for U.S. Orientation. It was the first time Fellows met each other and other ABF stakeholders. The one day programming covered a tremendous amount of advice and information to prepare each fellow as they live and work across Africa and the Middle East.
Catherine Carrington, MLT Chief of Staff kicked off the day's festivities with welcome remarks and Adedana Ashebir, African Leadership Network ABF Program Director, encouraged the cohort to maximize their experience during their placement.
Four panelists shared their experiences working in the continent and focused specifically on cultural competency and expectations. These panelists included Andrew Leventhal of Tau Investment Management, Cherae Robinson of Tastemakers Africa and Bokar Ture of Solektra International. The purpose of the panel was to present fellows with insight on working on the continent. Facbeook's Mitch Harris offered advice on how best to leverage networks during and after the placement. Fellows also got a chance to sample a social enterprise problem through a case study. In groups, Fellows presented ways for Tanzania's Yogurt Mamas to achieve profitability and scale.
Senator Chris Coons of Delaware sent a message to the group via video. He emphasized the importance of U.S.-Africa relations and the unique opportunity the Africa Business Fellowship provides. Fellows were able to meet Peter Henry, Dean of NYU Stern School of Business; Strive Masiyiwa, Econet Founder & Chairman; John Rice, Founder & CEO of MLT; and Mindy Silverstein, Managing Director at Credit Suisse at an evening reception. Orientation concluded with a Fireside Chat with Strive Masiyiwa moderated by Mindy Silverstein.
The Africa Business Fellowship is proud to support Fellows during their time in Africa and the Middle East and companies are even more eager to receive and host them. Onward!