TEDGlobal 2007: Session 12: Patrick Awuah

Patrick AwuahPatrick Awuah left Microsoft to found Asheshi University. The questions of transformation in Africa is a question of leadership. He gives a shocking example of two incidents at a hospital when they lost power. Learned about courage when stopped at age 16 and stopped by soldiers who wanted him to join some protesters. He found it’s helpful to think about girls, basically taken the anxiety of the moment away for him at the time. He won a scholarship to attend Swarthmore College. The ability to create is the most empowering thing that can help an individual. While he worked at Microsoft the revenue of the company group grew larger than the GDP of Ghana.

Three major problems were identified when he came back to Ghana and interviewed many people to find out the root causes. What was identified is corruption, weak institutions and leadership. A sense of entitlement was found in graduates. He wishes there was a liberal arts university in every African country, they would make a huge difference. A month after launching he received and email from a student, “I am thinking now.” Another student asked “Can we create a perfect society?” after they were issued a challenge to come up with their own honour codes. This has lead to a vigorous debate among the students on campus. For the first in the history of Ghana, a woman was elected to be president of student body. This is real hope.

A 100% of the student have been placed after two graduations. Excellent feedback is pouring in from corporate Ghana and corporate West Africa.

This project reminds me of the impact of the CIDA City Campus university in South Africa. I really think Teddy Blacher, founder of CIDA should have been invited to speak or at least attend TEDGlobal.


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 12: Fred Swaniker

Fred was invited onto the TED stage for another 3 minute slot…renaissance, steam revolution, information age: pc, mobile and Internet. President Thabo Mbeki proclaimed the African Renaissance. The African Leadership Academy was launched. Goal is to become more systematic and being proactive about bringing about peace and prosperity. Young people from all 54 countries in Africa who have the potential to change Africa. Bring them together and four 2 years. In 50 years about 6,000 leaders will have been developed. Ended up with a short video clip to show the reality of young people and their perceived negative future.


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 11: Ory Okolloh

Ory Okolloh blogger activistAfrica is a continent full of contradictions. You’re Harvard educated and you’re coming here to tell us what to do? She told us about her experiences growing up. Although not in the slums she grew up poor. She was sent to a expensive school and kept being thrown out. And once when she failed she went with her father to request that the teacher make an exception. The teacher insulted him, asking him who he thinks he was asking for this special request.Father died of AIDS in 1999. She figured it out because she’s a nerd and used the Internet to make her own diagnoses of the infections. She got the right slide show again.Afrigator was highlighted as a South African project which allows African bloggers to spread the message. The Swahili Wikipedia has 5 contributors, 4 which are white males, 1 is from Tanzania contributors. Gwyneth Paltrow featured on Vogue in the “I am African campaign.” She mentioned Enablis, the Canadian non-profit that helps entrepreneurs in South Africa and now in East Africa. She also mentioned her Mzalendo blog which tracks performance of Kenyan Parliament. As Africans we need to take responsibility for our continent.


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 11: James Shikwati

James Shikwati economistThis is the 2nd talk on the second last session of TEDGlobal 2007. We need to commercialising enterprises or entrepreneurship in Africa. Chris Anderson, TED curator, described him as one-man think tank, a libertarian economist.

Address famine as a business opportunity. Lost $200 million due to famine in Kenya. Estimated cost 300 to 500 million people to malaria and cost billions to the GDP of Africa. Young people in a project he is running are cleaning huts and using it as a business to fight mosquitoes. Exploit urban set-up with endless opportunities and offer more variety.

What is missing in Africa is confidence – not money! Africans sometimes think it’s someone else’s problem to fix things in Africa. We need to start using passion of young people to start businesses. Create Olympic style business plan competition to get young people interested and excited about business.

Now back to the Jeffrey Sacks debate. We need to understand how the world works, how the world thinks. The Aid debate operates under the constrained position i.e. the African person is in a box, somebody else must free him. We need to focus on releasing the African mind. Everybody talks about corruption. When a foreigner meets an African the first thing they see is corruption.  One example he quotes, which I’ve heard before is that in Africa not even the most corrupt or the poorest people will deny you water. Yet million of dollars are being spent on buying water like the very popular bottled water products.

With aid it’s like foreign countries subsidising their own companies in Africa. So African companies can never compete, being paralysed and never develop to a point where they can be world class. Keep focussing on entrepreneurship with young people. They are the future and can stop Africa crying.

Chris did a short Q&A with James in which he confronted him on aid debate.

For more information on James Shikwati visit the Inter Region Economic Network.  And read this excellent interview with SPIEGEL, For God’s Sake Please STOP Aid!


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 11: Salim Amin

Salim AminThe final session of TED: Leadership and Truth, opened with a short film with photos from the famine in Ethiopia. He open with “My name is Salim Amin and I am an African.” The images from the film saved the lives of 3 million people. Images taken by his father, Mohammed Amin. A24 media project, a 24 hour news channel, covered by Africans for Africans. The short film was an extract from a documentary “Mo and Me” about rediscovering his father’s work. The photos of what his father took is still what people think 20 years on. Children with flies in their eyes and malnutrition.

We have 900 million people on this continent yet we don’t have our own news channel and rely on foreign companies. CNBC is business focused and foreign owned. SABC is largely South African focussed – compromised. Most news usually comes from other sources and focusses on the negative issues. Rely on 46 low cost, regional. Will be offered free to air to all terrestrial broadcasters, mainly because we never get paid.

Private Equity has been set-up in Mauritius for the new media company. And no shareholder will ever own more than 25% of the company to remain independent. We need to empower Africans around the world with knowledge. Great good governance, democracy and holding people in leadership positions accountable is the primary drivers of this bringing this A24 news channel together.

For more on Salim Amin please visit the Mohammed Amin foundation.


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 4: Russell Southwood

Russell SouthwoodRussell Southwood publishes one of Africa’s leading newsletters on technology: The Balancing Act. He’s talk was going to be about tech, wealth and culture. He was inspired John Perry Barlow’s dream of wiring the Internet in Africa as written in this great piece written Wired. Russell referred to what he calls Door Openers which may allow Africa to skip much of the industrial revolution.

The first is what he calls “selling shortage and corruption.” About a decade ago it took so long to get a land line people resorted to bribing officials to get to the front of the queues. Cellphones have removed the need for landlines to a large extent. You can walk into most cellphones shops, buy a cellphone and get a SIM card within minutes.

Russell further described bandwidth as the fuel of the new economy. When you have high costs, you have low volume. And this keeps business out of Africa. When you compare this with low cost airlines, the model changes to low cost, high volume. (In South African we now have three low cost airlines!) Kenya has 32 million people with only 2 million that have bank accounts. And only have half a million can afford broadband. Now you may wonder if there is a demand. An example was given of 650,000 exam results published on the Web and how 220,000 students went online to check their results. There is a single cable that connects Africa to the Internet, the infamous SAT3, controlled exclusively by Telkom in South Africa. The African ISP association has been successful in campaign for the reduction in bandwidth, especially on SAT3. There are some very good precedents e.g. terrestrial radio stations. A decade ago there was only a handful and now there are over 1,500 across Africa.

Remember to subscribe to Russell’s newsletter at The Balancing Act.


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 4: Ron Eglash

Ron Eglash African Fractals
Ron Eglash is a mathematician and author of African Fractals. According to him concepts of fractal geometry resonate throughout many facets of African culture. He started out giving is a brief history of fractals.

In the early 1900s Helge von Koch was frustrated with the complex definition and set out to simply the understanding. This lead to the the famous Koch snowflake illustration. In 1977 Benoit Mandelbrot brought fractals into the mainstream. He coined the term fractal to describe self-similar structures. With a Fullbright scholarship he began travelling around Africa doing his research and interviewing people.

This was a complex presentation to describe. Again I think Ethan Zuckerman did a superb job doing so on his blog here.


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 4: Issa Diabate

Issa DiabateIviorian architect, Issa is a partner in Koffi-Diabate Architects. His work marries African urbanity with local solutions. Exasperated with the worship of ethnicity, his goal as a designer is to create classic objects that travel easily. He shows a sketch by an artist of the city of Lagos, imaged 20 years ago.

In seeking out the dynamism he is immensely drawn to markets. Markets are the microcosm of cities. And what he finds is the local governments can’t often keep up with the pace of development. And one of the results is that waste and trash is often not collected or disposed in the best way. This is fine because it becomes part of the design of the district. The more trash is produced the more the markets tend to expand. This becomes an indicator of the growth in an African city. And it also leads to simply economics: if you don’t occupy the street, you don’t sell; and if you don’t sell, you don’t eat; which leads to health problems.

He talks about how innovative Africans have become in their design to showcase goods for sale in markets. This is illustrated with some amazing photographs. And he also mentions something we experience in South Africa all the time, which is the creativity of the people hawking their goods at traffic lights. The designs used are to maximise the amount of goods that can be fitted onto a particular hanger or display piece. He ended of showcasing various chairs based on different designs. Some of them used in different situations where material was very, very limited. This reminded me of a quote by Frank Lloyd Wright, “the human race built most nobly when limitation were greatest and therefore when most was required from imagination to build it all.”


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 4: Kwabena Boahen

Session 4 is entitled: Emergent Design

Kwabena Boahen PhDKwabena Boahen, PhD, is a Ghanian bioengineer working at Stanford University. He received his first computer while growing up in Accra, Ghana. He starts out his presentation with a famous quote by Alan Turing, the father of modern computing, “In 30 years, it would be as easy to ask a computer a question as to ask a person.” But the question remains why can’t the computers we use not challenge the brain. This is the focus of his ongoing research.

The fastest computer in the world is currently IBM Blue Gene. It holds the #1 and #3 positions in the top 10 list in the world. This machine has 120, 000 processors and has a peak speed of 360 Teraflops. It’s power consumption is that of approximately 1,200 households, while the brain only uses about 10 watts – this is similar to how much electricity your laptop uses. This is 100 times less energy consumption! He then referred to the PBS documentary, The Secret Life of the Brain.

The problem is seem is in the design. The brain is designed as a network. So there is always a form of redundancy that takes place. And currently the way that processing takes place inside the CPU of a computer it operates in serial mode i.e. one instruction processed at a time; and so even if multiple processors are used it takes longer. He quoted musician Brian Eno as saying there is not enough Africa in Computers.

This presentation was followed by a 3 minute talk by Marisa Fick-Jordaan talking about her project at ZenZulu. She spoke about how she has been working with groups of weavers to help them increase their output. The products they produced are now available in Donna Karan shops. Here’s a short video podcast I did with Marisa during lunch time:


TEDGlobal 2007: Session 3: Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline NovogratzJacqueline is not new to the TED stage. She lives with Chris Anderson, the curator of TED and also delivered a talk at the previous TEDGlobal in Oxford. Jacqueline is a pioneer in what she calls “market-based philanthropy.”

She went straight into sharing a story of 20 prostitutes in Kigali, Rwanda, who were running a bakery. They were already earning 3 to 4 times the national average but she felt they could do even better with some motivational sales training. A strange thing she observed is that when you have been living in poverty your whole life you are not used to being asked your opinion. And this was certainly the case with these women. And she also realised early on in her work in Africa that dignity is more important than wealth. After she did the training with the women there was not immediate reaction. They didn’t suddenly go out and  start selling to the masses. Instead she had to lead by example. So she showed them how she did it and after that they started to improvise on their own. And the sales increased substantially.

The Acumen Fund, of which Jacqueline is the CEO, has raised over $20 million and created about 20,000 jobs since inception. “As people get healthier, they get wealthier” was another great quote from this conference. She made a plea with a very strong conviction that we must refuse tried assumptions, and get out of ideological boxes. We must demand accountability and start listening to ordinary people.