Why Invest in Africa?

December 30, 2010

Jambo from Nairobi Kenya!

I’m so energized. I’ve been in East Africa for the past three days visiting tech entrepreneurs and tech investors.

While I spend about 95% of my working energy focusing on building iContact into a high-growth purpose-driven business, I like to take a couple weeks each year to travel and explore what’s going on with tech companies in other parts of the world.

This week I’m in Uganda and Kenya to find investment opportunities for the Humanity Fund, a personal investment fund I have for investing in African and American tech companies.

Why Invest in Africa?

There is so much economic opportunity in Africa, support for IT investment, and entrepreneurial energy. There’s an opportunity to make a lot of money investing in great companies while creating lots of jobs and doing a lot of good at the same time.

Africa is the least developed continent in the world. There are 1.03 billion people in Africa. Of this 1 billion (source) 65% of Africans live on under $2 per day (source) and 59% of African households do not have electricity (source),  and the number increases to 69% if you only look at Sub-Saharan Africa.

But Africa is no longer about famine, poverty, and war. That was the Africa of the 20th century. The 21st century Africa is about opportunity, technology, and entrepreneurship.

You may read about Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Eastern Congo, and the Ivory Coast in the New York Times and hear about these countries on the nightly news. But these are only five of the 54 countries in Africa.

The real, untold, narrative of Africa is what’s happening in the other 49 countries. Tremendous economic growth, investment, and rapidly rising living standards. What happened in South East Asia from 1950-2000 (rapid growth and poverty reduction) is now happening in Africa from 2000-2050. Most of the world just hasn’t realized it yet.

Why Invest in East Africa?

Here in East Africa (Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania) the GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 7.6% the last four years compared to just 0.5% for the USA. Africa will be the economic lion of the 21st century as McKinsey proclaimed in their July Report, “Lions on the Move: The Progress and Potential of African Economies.”

Take a look at these average annual GDP growth rates for 2006-2009 from the World Bank Development Indicators GDP database.

  • Uganda: 8.75%
  • Rwanda: 7.925%
  • Kenya: 4.375%
  • Ethiopia: 10.45%
  • Tanzania: 6.675%
  • USA: 0.5%

Uganda was the first country I came to in Africa back in 2008 and so I decided to start investing here in East Africa and expand later. I hope someday to run a fund making investments in high-growth socially responsible companies all over the developing world.

Investing As a Way of Making a Positive Impact

This is my third time in East Africa. When I came for the first time in 2008, I held the view that the way to best make positive change was to give money away to NGOs and non-profits.

I come now with the perspective that it takes all three sectors of society (government, non-profits, and for-profits) working effectively to create sustainable economic growth and that the private sector has a huge power to make positive change in the world.

The best way I believe I can contribute to positive change is to help high-growth companies that are creating jobs expand and create more jobs. At the end of the day, the cause of poverty is a lack of jobs and productive capital. Low education, low health care, and low nutrition are the symptoms of poverty, not the causes. If you increase someone’s income they can afford better education, health care, and food for their family.

So now, I believe the best way I can use my experience and resources to make an impact in reducing extreme poverty is to invest in high-growth companies that are creating jobs in developing world.

What I’m best at is figuring out how to grow technology and internet companies. Over the next two years I hope to invest in about ten more privately owned high growth African tech companies as part of dipping my feet into the water and beginning to create a model for eventually building a private equity fund some years down the road.

I hope to be able to eventually show that it is very possible to build a microequity investment firm that gets above market returns investing in high growth socially responsible companies in the developing world.

The field of impact investing is developing rapidly and I’m glad to slowly be learning about it. To learn more check out this Impact Investing Primer from the Rockefeller Foundation and this one from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Existing VC Funds in Africa

In my time here and in talking to people at the Skoll World Forum in April I’ve come across the following funds that are actively making venture capital investments in tech companies in Africa.

  1. InReturn Capital
  2. BusinessPartners Kenya
  3. TBL Mirror Fund
  4. eVA Fund
  5. Flow Equity
  6. FirstLight Ventures
  7. Humanity Fund
  8. Fanisi
  9. Grassroots Business Fund (non-profit fund)
  10. Acumen Fund (non-profit fund)
  11. RootCapital (non-profit fund)

A more extensive list can be found on the African Venture Capital Association (AVCA) web site. Other resources include the VC4Africa and BiD Network

How You Can Invest in Africa

If you want to invest in private African companies, then you could contact the above VC funds and express interest in investing as a limited partner in their next fund. They will likely require you to be an accredited investor and be able to invest $100,000 and up. You can also find private companies yourself and invest in them directly or join an angel network that invests in African start-ups like Toniic.

If you want to dip your toes into the water of investing in African companies without putting tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk, you can invest directly into publicly traded African companies. There are even Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) that allow you to get index-fund like exposure to African markets. You can invest as little as $75 in these funds through your broker or your TD Ameritrade, E*Trade, or Scottrade account and participate in the growth of the African economy.

You may want to check out:

  • AFK – The Market Vectors Africa Index ETF seeks to replicate the performance of the Dow Jones Africa Titans 50 Index. The fund represents a broad range of sectors and African countries, including exposure to some less traditional, frontier markets. Up 23% in 2010.
  • GAF – SPDR S&P Emerging Middle East & Africa ETF. Seeks to closely match the returns and characteristics of the total return performance of the S&P/Citigroup BMI Middle East & Africa Index. Up 22% in 2010.
  • EZA – South African ETF, up 29% in 2010.

You can also call your broker and ask them to invest directly in publicly listed firms on the Ugandan Securities Exchange or the Nairobi Stock Exchange.

For proper disclosure, as of this writing I do not own any of these ETFs but might in the future. I am definitely not a qualified securities advisor in any way and past performance is not necessarily indicative of future performance.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post! Please share and comment.

Next, I’ll be posting about the entrepreneurs I’ve met in my first three days here in Africa…

- Ryan, Nairobi, 30.12.10

You’re Invited: A Metropolitan Safari for Rwanda at iContact

November 2, 2010

I wanted to invite Dare Mighty Things readers to a special event coming up at iContact. We are hosting a “Metropolitan Safari” on Monday November 8th at 6:30pm at our new offices in Morrisville.

We will have as guests two remarkable women from Rwanda who will share with us their perspective of the Rwandan genocide, how the country has turned their economy around through technology and entrepreneurship, and the role of women in rebuilding the country. We will also be giving the grand tour of our beautiful new space and offering rides on our new slide.

We will have African food, African music, and an open wine and beer bar.

Tickets can be purchased here. You can also RSVP on Facebook. You can use the discount code “ICONTACT” when you register if you wish. All proceeds from the evening will benefit The Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda. More information is in the invitation below. I hope you can come. Thanks for helping us spread the word!

You can also download a PDF invite for the event.



You’re invited to join us for a very special evening at iContact’s new offices in Morrisville, NC

What: iContact’s “Metropolitan Safari” Fundraiser for the Akilah Institute for Women Rwanda

When: Monday, November 8th, 2010 6:30pm to 8:30pm

Where: 5221 Paramount Parkway, 2nd floor, Morrisville, NC 27560

Purchase tickets here

(You Can Use Discount Code “ICONTACT”)

Join us November 8th and see iContact’s new offices in Morrisville for the first time while supporting a great cause.

We’ll be giving the grand tour of our brand new building on the Lenovo Campus that gives us room to grow to 550 employees and offering free rides on our slide.

We’ll start out with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the 2nd floor at 6:30pm then going upstairs for the Akilah presentation. I hope you will join us for this special evening.

Ticket Information

(Use Discount Code “ICONTACT”)

All proceeds from the evening will support the Akilah Scholarship Fund and empower young Rwandan women to become leaders in their communities.

About the Akilah Institute for Women

Akilah empowers young women to transform their lives by equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to become leaders and entrepreneurs in East Africa. Learn More | Make a Direct Contribution

How I Aligned What I Love With What I Do & Scaled Myself

February 3, 2010

This post will require a certain degree of vulnerability. Sometimes we build a hard shell around us when we’re going through difficult times. This is a story of personal growth.

A year ago I was sitting late at night in my Durham office at iContact wondering if I’d become a corporate sellout.

Was I trading in some of my most productive years of life to build a company I was no longer passionate about?

I had gone from being an entrepreneur to a manager. I was 24 and we had 150 employees and $20M in sales. I was dealing with purchase order forms and paid time off policies. We had achieved all the goals we had ever set out for ourselves. Where was the entrepreneurial passion?

We had gone from #20 to #2 in the market in five years and I had no idea how we’d get to #1. I thought it might be the time to start thinking about finding my replacement.

Even though we were still growing very quickly, we weren’t quite growing at the same percentages as we were before and for the first time in our company’s history we were going to have a year in which we would not double sales.

My confidence was wavering. I had made some big mistakes:

  • I had waited too long to launch a stock option plan for the whole company.
  • I hadn’t hired a CMO soon enough.
  • I hadn’t built the right ecosystem of mentors that could help me get to the next level as a CEO.
  • I had focused too much on the surrogate-family side of our culture and not enough on the performance-focused side that was needed.
  • I hadn’t created values that people believed in and used every day. I could recall just four of our ten values without looking.
  • I had waited too long to start a formal manager training program.
  • I hadn’t truly aligned my passion for social responsibility into the ethos of the corporation.
  • I hadn’t created any effective mechanism for communicating strategic direction to the company and we had a lot of confusion as to what our focus was and operating choices were being made with different assumptions as to direction.

And these were just the mistakes I knew about!

Was I Right for the Job?

As I sat there in May 2009 I wrote in my journal “I’m not sure I’m the right person anymore to lead the company into this next stage of growth. We need to make some changes to keep the growth and hit our goals. Scary to think about. Terrible to have lost some of my confidence.” I wrote an email to our CFO on May 20th thinking about succession planning for me.

I wasn’t sure whether we should try to get acquired or keep the faith that we’d get to the $60M-$70M in annual revenue needed to go public and stay on track for the 2012 IPO. At certain points I lost the faith.

Finally in July we got the CMO we wanted. And things were looking way up by the end of the summer when we got an investment term sheet with a nine figure PMV. Wow!

But then came October. In the same week my business partner got cancer (he is now doing well!), my mom started having worsening chronic arm pain (she is now doing better), and a company that was looking to acquire us told us they weren’t going forward. I guess they say that difficult times are the foundry from which greatness is cast. But it’s sure not fun being the molten iron!

Through that baptismal fire I came to a critical understanding of self and what I needed to do to align what I love with what I do–something I’ve been preaching atop the mountain for five years in speeches but only half-heartedly living. It helped me discover my authentic self. It helped me find my Csikszentmihalyian flow.

Motivated More Than Ever

So I sit here tonight in my home in Chapel Hill motivated more than ever. iContact is now at a $34M revenue run-rate and growing that by more than $1M each month. We will hire more than 50 new team members in 2010. We had our first ever post-investment EBITDA positive month in December(!!!). We’re well on our way to fulfilling our dream of “building a great sustainable company in NC for our customers, employees, and community.” And we’ve got a plan to go from #2 to #1. We have a plan to win.

I no longer question whether I’m a corporate sellout putting in my time. I’m aligned, I’m focused. I’m learning. I’m surrounded by amazing people every day who know how to do what they do so much better than I ever could.

What I Changed?

So what did I do? Three things (and I’m still working on fully implementing them)…

  1. I worked to align my long term life mission with what I do everyday today. My life mission, the one that’s been on my bedroom wall since May 2007, is to “be a leader of our generation as we work to end extreme poverty in our lifetimes.” While I was learning a lot about leadership and management and being paid to do it, I was somewhat unclear how building a SaaS company aligned fully with a passionate desire to end extreme poverty in the developing world over the next fifty years. The incessant question in my head was whether I’d be better off finding my replacement and either applying to the Kennedy School of Government or moving to Africa to invest in entrepreneurs there. I learned a lot about the integrated 1/1/1 corporate philanthropy model of Salesforce.com and wanted to see if we could do that at iContact. On January 8th, 2010 we launched an expanded CSR model, what we call the 4-1s Corporate Social Responsibility Model, at iContact in which we take 1% of equity, 1% of product, 1% of employee time, and 1% of payroll and invest it in local and global non-profit organizations. Since we’ve expanded this CSR program I’ve been able to see the tangible and immediate connection between my passion for social responsibility and what I do going to work every day. In 2009 iContact contributed $109,000 to 63 different 501(c)(3)s and in 2010 we’ll reach $150,000. But it’s not just money anymore. Now, each of our employees has the opportunity to be paid to take 1% of their time (2.5 days off from work) each year to do community service during business hours, which we’re tracking through VolunteerForce. While we’ve got lots of work to do to improve it, the model has real impact and tangible value for us and the community and it’s significantly helped me to a much greater degree see the meaning behind what we do everyday. I love it!
  2. We changed our company values at iContact. I realized in July of last year that we had ten “Corporate Values” but I could only remember four without reading the sheet. At an EO entrepreneurial exec ed program at MIT in June I learned you should never have more values than you can remember and that to be worthy of being a company value you’d have to be willing to let someone go if they didn’t live up to it. Our values fit neither requirement. In December at our two day Senior Leadership Team (SLT) offsite in Chapel Hill we came up with WOWME. WOWME stands for 1) Wow the Customer 2) Operate with Urgency 3) Without Mediocrity 4) Make a Positive Wake and 5) Engage as an Owner. We launched these values last month at iContact and now every SLT member knows them by heart and we’re working toward all managers using them during every performance and coaching discussion. We will hire and fire by these values, live up to them, and hold each other accountable to them. They’ve even inspired me to pick up my game and get it in gear. I love it!
  3. I let go of control. The best thing I’ve ever done for the growth of iContact is let go of control (and I’m still working on this skill). We have a six person Senior Leadership Team at iContact that can all do their jobs much much better than I can. We now have a thirteen person Leadership Team underneath them all of whom have more business experience than I do. When I realized that my job was not to ensure they did their jobs the right way but rather to enable them to do their jobs and hold them accountable for the results, my world shifted. I’m still learning in this area, but this single realization is enabling me to scale. I now focus on 1) people 2) strategy 3) culture 4) investment. Each time we get to a new stage in our company’s growth ($100k, $1M, $5M, $10M, $25M) I have to reinvent myself and my job description. I love it!

And here are some other life changes that are less critical to helping me align what I do with what I love, but are still fun to share…

  1. I made an equity investment in an African company. On January 4th I became a 10% owner of Village Energy Ltd. of Kampala Uganda. For four years I’ve been personally making contributions to non-profit organizations focused on ending global poverty. My philosophy has changed on economic development over the past year. Today I believe that while effectively monitored bilateral aid is an important component of ending extreme poverty and emergency humanitarian aid is morally and critically necessary in many locations, an investment in a local entrepreneur in Africa will have much greater long term impact in terms of job creation, tax revenue base, and constituent-focused democratic institution building. I was very excited to invest in Village Energy which is bringing a $60 solar panel powered LED lighting solution to rural village homes through a microfinance and franchise distribution model for $3-$4 per month per home. The product is a substitute good for kerosene which often costs $5 to $6 per month, causes lung inhalation problems and often burns down the thatch houses. I hope this $15,000 investment turns out to have much greater social impact than a $15,000 contribution. There is SO much opportunity to invest in Africa and so many entrepreneurs and companies poised for growth. And there is a huge gap between the countless MFIs that loan out $50 to $1000 and the Acumen Fund which invests $50k to $250k. Ten years from now I dream of running a socially responsible venture capital firm on the African continent. The challenge will be finding a scalable model of investing $5000 to $50,000 at a time. I think it can be done. I know the pipeline is there.
  2. We started a new entrepreneurial division of Virante. Virante is a 11 person company downstairs in the iContact building that I started as “Virante Design & Development” in 2000 that is now run by CEO Malcolm Young. I won’t say much about this early stage effort now because the team is still acquiring all the related domain names and IP, but it’s a socially responsible ecommerce play that I’m extremely excited about. Fortunately we’ve already got the team to make it happen and it won’t take much time. With the help of the Virante team and a 17 year old intern Aneesh that comes in each Wednesday they’re making it happen. Here I must quote my new New York friend Kim Scheinberg, “Starting a company is like having a baby. By far the most enjoyable part is the idea conception phase.”
  3. I followed my passion for writing and started the next book. This post is the beginning of book #2. My plan–one 5 page blog post per week that by the end of 2010 will be a ready to become a book. The title–”Dare Mighty Things: How Entrepreneurs & Social Entrepreneurs Are Changing the World.”

I have had two wristbands on my wrist since November. The first one says “Make Poverty History.” The second, “$100M in 2012.”

Thank you to everyone who has supported me through this endeavor and to all who are with us in this journey.

Here we go…


Thoughts, comments, suggestions??? Feedback is the breakfast of champions!

What Jess, Bob, and I Did in Africa

July 10, 2009

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July 5th, 12pm – I’m looking out the Virgin Atlantic airplane window at Mt. Kenya as we end our twelve day trip to Kenya and Uganda. We’ve begun the twenty-eight hour journey home. East Africa is a beautiful region with substantial economic opportunity, and very worthy of a visit. This was my second trip to Uganda, but first to Kenya.

What Drew Us In

We went to learn. We went to visit some of the non-profits The Humanity Campaign has worked with in the past and those we are considering supporting in the future. We came back changed permanently having seen the juxtaposition of the beautiful rising Africa against the constant suffering of unlistened to and forgotten millions of people just like you and I. In the developing world, 2.6 billion people live under $2 per day (PPP adjusted) according to the World Bank and 49,300 people die each and every day needlessly from preventable disease and starvation according to the WHO.

Some of The Stories That Sear Themselves Into Your Memory

For just a second, imagine 139 girls from your local elementary school have been kidnapped by an armed rebel group and taken to a jungle 400 miles away. One hundred and nine of them are negotiated to be returned but 30 of them stay and are raped, abused, and are forced to be sex slaves for as long as thirteen years. Six of these thirty girls are killed attempting to escape. Imagine hiding in a snake-infested ceiling drop at your high school to avoid being kidnapped by the LRA. Imagine being 17 and living in a slum in Africa with over 1 million residents. Both your parents died of AIDS, then your grandfather was killed, then your pastor who took you in abused you. Now you’re on your own, struggling everyday to survive. These are just some of the life altering stories I’ve heard over the last twelve days.

Day By Day, What We Did

Bob Phoenix, Jess Shorland, and I left the iContact parking lot at 4:30pm on Wednesday June 24. We drove over to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for our flight to London. We arrived in Heathrow Airport on Thursday morning, took the Heathrow Express to Paddington, took the Underground to Waterloo, and were on the London Eye by 10:30am in good tourist form. In our twelve hour layover in London we rode the Eye, took photos on the lions at Trafalgar Square, ate Bangers and Mash at The Clarence, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham, and visited the London office of Credit Suisse in Canary Wharf to visit some of Bob’s co-workers.

We departed from Heathrow that Thursday night and arrived the next morning in Nairobi. After filling out our Kenya arrival cards and swine flu papers, we made it through immigration in about an hour. Three $25 Kenyan Visas later, we picked up our luggage at baggage claim and excitedly met Mary Muhara from Africa Rising at international arrivals. We had checked into the Bush House and Camp in the South C district, which had a reasonable rate of 4600 Kenyan Shillings for a double room with an en suite bathroom (and hot showers). We left our bags and proceeded with Mary to begin what we we really there for–to visit the non-profits we were working with and learn as much as we could about extreme poverty, hunger, basic healthcare, and conflict resolution.

We visited Nairobi, Kampala, Lira, Gulu, and Mityana over the twelve days. We were there to visit the organizations that The Humanity Campaign has contributed to in the past and to scope out new organizations to invest in the the future. We were also there to learn–to venture another foot into the water of exploring what it will actually take to end extreme poverty and hunger in our lifetime. Jess’ focus was to learn about conflict resolution.

During the trip we visited nineteen social entrepreneurial organizations all told (some non-profit, some for-profit) in Kenya and Uganda. We visited seven schools, four community non-profits, three local businesses who had received microloans, two microlending institutions, one hospital, one clinic, and one technology incubator.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Day One – Fly from Raleigh to London
Day Two – In London, Fly from London to Nairobi
Day Three, Nairobi – Africa Rising, TULIP
Day Four, Nairobi – Carolina for Kibera, Trash Clean Up, Soccer Tournament Fun Day
Day Five, Nairobi – Fly to Entebbe Uganda, Car ride to Kampala to home of Louis Ntale
Day Six, Kampala, Lira, Gulu- Concerned Parents Association, Community Microlending to Young Mothers Program
Day Seven, Gulu – Invisible Children Uganda / St. Joseph’s High School, Gulu High School, MEND
Day Eight, Kampala – Bus from Gulu to Kampala, Appfrica meeting in Kampala
Day Nine, Mityana – Mityana Hospital, Mityana Secondary School, Affinet, Naama Millennium Primary School, Santa Maria Medical Clinic
Day Ten, Kampala – Faula Uganda / Opportunity International
Day Eleven, Entebbe – Bob and Ryan Flight from Entebbe to Nairobi, Jess gets picked up by Juma to go to WOMEDA in Karagwe, Tanzania
Day Twelve – Fly from Nairobi to London to New York to Raleigh

Where We Spent Our Time

Here is a report on each of the organizations we visited with while in Uganda and Kenya the past twelve days.


Africa Rising is a non-profit organization based in Durham, North Carolina that currently supports organizations in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda. The organization retains a representative in East Africa named Mary Muhara, a Kenyan residing in Nairobi. Mary’s job is to vet potential non-profit organizations for the group to contribute to and to follow-up with those currently in the Africa Rising network. Mary was very kind to take us around Nairobi on our first day to show us TULIP and a Beacon of Hope store.


The first organization we visited with Mary was TULIP Girls Centre. TULIP is an organization that Africa Rising supports today. TULIP was founded by Mary Munyi. Mary started by taking in five disadvantaged girls from the community around here. Today, TULIP is a private school for sixty disadvantaged girls aged 13 to 16 (form 2, 3, and 4) located just outside of the Korogocho slum, the second largest slum in Nairobi after Kibera and the most dangerous.

We met with Nicera Muriithi the Program Manager. Nicera explained that their operating budget was $30,000 per year. We learned that their teachers were paid approximately $125 per month.

When we asked why we should support a private school in the area Nicera explained that the government had not built a primary school in the area because it was a poor area and that there was no public school nearby. Nicera explained that her biggest need was to get more land so she could expand the school. She indicated it would cost $25,000 to purchase the one acre of land. She also requested textbooks and a computer so she can train the students in typing.

We had a chance to speak with the students. When we asked what they wanted to be in the future, they named lawyer, doctor, preacher, and politician. The reality was however that all these professions required a college degree and that these girls would not be able to afford to attend university.


On Sunday June 28 at 8am we showed up at the office of Carolina for Kibera (CFK). CFK has a girls center, clinic, waster management program, and youth soccer program.CFK was founded in 2001 by Rye Barcott, a friend of mine and fellow Tar Heel. Rye was a U.S. Marine Officer for five years who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rye just finished a MBA at Harvard Business School and a MPA at the Kennedy School of Government.

Kibera is in Nairobi and with 1 million residents, it is the largest slum in Africa. That day in Kibera, Jess, Bob and I walked about 30 minutes to the soccer field with a couple interns from Duke and UNC and some visiting Muzungus (white people) from Vancouver. We grabbed rakes and helped remove trash from the street and sewers in Kibera as part of CFK’s ‘fun day’ in which kids did a couple hours of community service cleaning up the area and then participated in a soccer tournament.

It was an eye opening and life altering experience walking through the dirt paths of Kibera and raking clothes, water bottles, shoes, fruit, corn, and litter out of open drainage ditches filled with brown water and human excrement as part of a team of perhaps 200 that went out in the community to clean up. I had seen rural poverty in Africa before, but this urban poverty was different. The community seemed vibrant, entrepreneurial, alive, musical. Dozens of stray dogs and chickens roamed. The small one-room houses in which 6-8 slept were made of mud with a tin roof. Yet we knew we wouldn’t be safe by ourselves, especially after dark. The lack of sanitation was very visible.

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia on Kibera, “Kibera is heavily polluted by soot, dust, and other wastes. Open sewage routes, in addition to the common use of Flying toilets, also contribute to contamination of the slum with human and animal feces. The combination of poor nutrition and lack of sanitation accounts for many illnesses. Not only are death by disease and conflict common inside this slum, but it is estimated that 1/5 of the 2.2 million Kenyans living with HIV live in Kibera.”

Kibera was the center of many of the riots and killing that occurred following the contested Kenyan election in December 2007.

At 11:30 that morning we had to leave the soccer field and walk the 30 minutes back to the CFK office. We couldn’t find anyone who was willing to walk with us and were told we should not walk alone due to safety (and we didn’t remember the route). We finally found a wonderful 17 year old young lady to show us the way back. She was the 17 I spoke of earlier in this post whose parents had died of AIDS. She moved in with her grandfather but he shortly passed. She then moved in with her pastor, but he abused her. She was effectively alone struggling to survive and all she wanted was a small place of her own. Stories like this were all too commonly heard.

It was a life changing experience to spend four hours in Kibera, and I know I’ll return. I have a very high level of respect for everyone at Carolina for Kibera. I’d love to work to start a similar program in Korogocho, a slightly smaller but more dangerous slum in Nairobi.

Here’s a video of me dancing with the children in Kibera before a Carolina for Kibera soccer match:


After taking the Post Uganda bus to the Kamdini depot, we were picked up by Richard from Concerned Parents Association, another organization that Africa Rising currently contributes to. We met with Anthony, the Interim Executive Director of CPA. CPA started in 1996 after 139 girls aged six and seven were abducted from a local school by the LRA. Of the 139 that were taken, 109 were returned quickly in negotiations, but 30 remained. Since 1996, 24 of the 30 remaining abductee girls have returns. The other six were killed while attempting to escape. The girls today are all 19 or 20 years old. In March 2009, the last surviving girl returned. To give some perspective, in order to escape successfully each girl had to walk for one month, often alone, in the jungle of Northwest Uganda or the Garamba Forest.CPA helps these returnee abductees with counseling. Almost all of the 24 returnees girls brought with them babies. They had been made wives or sex slaves of the LRA while the bush (forest). These babies were called ‘Bush Babies’ by the local community, and often discriminated against. Today, the LRA still has over 3,000 women and child that they have abducted. July 2006 was the last abduction in Uganda. However, today the LRA is abducting children in the Congo and most recently massacred 600 over the Christmas 2008 holiday in the DRC. The people in Lira still fear the LRA returning to Acholiland (Northern Uganda) according to Anthony.

Today the Concerned Parents Association is focused on improving children’s rights and fighting/reporting rape and domestic violence in their tribe of Lango around Lira, a city of 62,000 people. They have sixty employees and work with over sixty parent groups at schools in the area. They amazingly operate on an annual budget of $350,000 per year. They currently receive funding from Save The Children Uganda, The Mennonite Central Church, the Christian Aid, UNICEF, and the European Union, –although the EU funding is likely to run out in October. They do and can give out condoms in their area as part of their reproductive health and family planning efforts even though they are funded by some Christian organizations. They have four offices including the main headquarters in Lira and branches in Gulu, Kitgum, and Oyam.

Anthony noted that while most of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps have dissipated in Lira and Gulu, there are still people in IDP camps in Kitgum, due to concern about the return of the LRA and an especially ruthless Ugandan tribe of cattle-raiders, the Karamajong.

We asked why Anthony chose to be involved in CPA. Anthony himself was almost abducted by the LRA. He told us that the LRA once attacked his school in 1995 when he was 17. In order to avoid being abducted, he hid in a snake infested ceiling drop.

Anthony indicated that CPA’s needed include additional assistance with report writing and documenting in English and funding.


After visiting with Anthony at the Concerned Parents Association, we were taken to visit one of the programs that CPA supports, the Lira Girl Mothers Microfinance Program (LGMMP). We met with two advisers and eleven young single mothers, who seemed to range in age from about 15 to about 24. We met with them sitting in blue plastic chairs under a tree outside of a primary school about 2km away from the center of Lira.One of the things that struck me immediately was how softly these women spoke. One could literally not hear them from eight feet away. Even their advisers and our female guide from CPA spoke extremely softly. I found it challenging to decide whether to ask them to speak louder and risk offending them. Eventually I did. The women mostly spoke Luo and not English, so our guide translated for us.

The LGMMP had twenty-eight girl mothers involved in its programming and eight advisors. They sang a song for us at the beginning with the lyrics, ‘we will never forget you, please don’t forget us.’ They were involved in five different types of microbusinesses that they had been trained to start. Initially they were given $75 each to start their businesses (as a grant not a loan). They used $17 of this to purchase ‘trading licenses’ so they could start their business legally, so they were left with $58 to begin.

They had started a grinding business, a distillery, a sewing company, a charcoal company, and a bakery. They indicated their biggest challenges were:

  1. Transporting of their goods to the market
  2. The expense of trading licenses ($17)
  3. The fluctuating price of food
  4. Finding space for their businesses and paying rent
  5. Inability to sell their whole product before it goes stale

As an example of their issue with transport costs, the mother running the charcoal business would pay 10,000 UGX ( ~$5) for her charcoal bushels at wholesale, then pay 4500 UGX (~$2.25) and then be able to sell her charcoal 15,000 to 20,000 UGX ($$7.50 to $10). On a bad day she would work all day to make $0.25. On a good day she might make $2.50, depending on the retail price she could negotiate.

When they had the opportunity to ask us questions, their first question was whether we would be able to help financially support them so they could expand the program to other young mothers in the area. They indicated their morale was low as they had held meetings with potential donors before but hadn’t yet received any outside support. They also requested assistance in finishing their formal education.

Their biggest business needs was capital–particularly a grinding machine ($35) and a sewing machine ($75). In the four months the program had been operational, the twenty-eight women had successfully been able to save 800,000 UGX ($200).

I found myself struggling whether to attempt to give the ladies helpful business advice based on my experience (group supplies together in one shipment to reduce transport costs, use savings to reinvest in capital now rather than later, etc.). With Bob as an investment banker from Credit Suisse and me an entrepreneur we naturally wanted to. Yet at the same time we recognized we knew so little about their businesses and environment.

We ended up choosing to use questions to inquire why they were or weren’t doing certain things. They had good answers. We asked why they didn’t use these savings to invest in the capital necessary to reduce their renting costs and earn a higher profit. They responded that they had committed to saving for one year or until they got to 5,000,000 UGX ($2,500), whichever was first. Once they reached this mark they would consider whether to use their savings to allow other mothers into the program and/or invest in necessary machinery.

Overall the ninety minute meeting gave us a fairly good understanding of the business and personal challenges these women faced and left with an appreciation of the work that CPA was doing and an even greater respect for organizations like Opportunity International and FAULA who follow a slightly different model of providing small loans instead of small grants. It is truly amazing what $75 can do, whether as a loan or grant. It can give a woman her freedom.


I first heard about Invisible Children in the summer of 2008 while visiting Uganda. I learned much more about IC while meeting their co-founder Bobby Bailey and CEO Ben Keesey at The Summit Series event in Aspen in April. Invisible Children began in 2003 as a documentary after three young filmmakers from Southern California visited Gulu. They rather courageously filmed and released a documentary about what was happening in Gulu in 2003 (children being abducted, attacks by the LRA, children being forced to walk miles every night to find a safe place to sleep).Today, the Gulu region and the Acholiland region of Northern Uganda is peaceful and relatively safe (and very worth visiting!). However, Joseph Kony and the LRA have moved on to the Garamba Forest in Northeast Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and continue their abductions and raids into Sudan, East Congo, and the Central African Republic. Since 2003, Invisible Children has produced six additional short videos telling the challenging stories of individuals there around Gulu. In 2005 IC registered as a U.S. non-profit organization and in 2007 they registered as an NGO in Uganda. They work primarily in Gulu, Pader, Amulu, and a bit in Kitgum.

In the United States, Invisible Children raises money, mostly through high school and college students, to fund both their on the ground efforts in Uganda and to fund legislative lobbying events and rallies (to encourage the U.S. Congress and State Department to work with Uganda, the DRC, and the ICC to pursue and capture Kony and stop his abductions and mass killings.

In 2008, Invisible Children had an overall annual budget of $7M, of which approximately $2M went to fund projects on the ground in Northern Uganda around Gulu.

Jess, Bob, and I arrived at the Gulu office of Invisible Children Uganda at 9am on June 30th. We met first with Erika who worked in communications. Erika was extremely nice and helpful and share a lot with us about IC Uganda.

In Uganda, Invisible Children has three on the ground programs. These are

1. Economic Development Iniatives (EDIs) including:

  1. Bracelet Making – IC started out their EDI programs by hiring 182 bracelet makers to produce bracelets that would be included in the Invisible Children DVD packs. They now have a surplus of bracelets, so have transitioned this individuals to a training program on income generation.
  2. Savings & Investment Program – These 182 individuals are now part of a savings and investment program which provides a six to eight month curriculum on income generation
  3. MEND – A new for-profit arm of Invisible Children that produces messenger bags and purses with the brand MEND from a nice factory near Gulu that we visited under the director of a talented and energetic designer named Marie. MEND started with 10 women and now has 13. Almost all of them are former abductees.
  4. Cotton – A program to provide organic cotton to Bono’s wife’s organization Eden, to help assist people in moving out of the IDP camps and back to their ancestral homelands.

2. Visible Child Scholarship Program (VCSP)

  1. Secondary Scholarship Program – Provides scholarships to 650 secondary school students in and around Gulu and Pader
  2. University Scholarship Program – Provides scholarships to 59 university students in Uganda and 1 who earned a full-ride to Boise State University in Idaho
  3. Mentorship Program – Providing 24 mentors to local students

3. Schools for Schools (S4S) –

  • A program through which schools in the United States support a school in Northern Uganda. IC provides assistance to ten schools in the area.
  • They work to rehabilitate structures and classrooms, install running water and water tanks, add toilets, and put in computer labs.
  • We visited St. Jospeh’s College (A High School), Gulu High Schools, and another primary school which I cannot recall the name of to see the work that Schools for Schools had accomplished.

Meeting with Jolly, Country Director for Invisible Children Uganda

After meeting with Erika outside under a thatched reception area, we went inside to speak with Jolly Okot, the Country Director for Invisible Children Uganda. Jolly indicated that the LRA was abducting children as a human shield. She indicated many in the LRA had been brainwashed to believe that Kony had spiritual powers. Today, she said, the LRA was abducting many more children in the DRC, Central African Republic, and Sudan. Jolly spoke of the political discussions between the DRC and Uganda about allowing Ugandan forces into the Congo to go after Kony. She indicated that Kony was being supported by President Bashir of Sudan, who also has an ICC warrant out for his arrest.

The other major NGOs I saw represented in Gulu were World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, African Revival, UN, UNICEF, and UNHCR.


Appfrica (on Twitter at @appfrica) is an technology entrepreneurship incubator and custom software development firm run by Jonathan Gosier, an American living permanently in Kampala with clients including Google and the Grammeen Bank. Jonathan currently has 8 programmers. He pays $900 per month for an internet connection of 192 kpbs, equivalent to DSL and about 1/10th the speed of cable broadband we get in the U.S. for $40/month. He spoke to us about the EACOSS, EASSY, SEACOM, and O3B (by Google) initiatives to bring faster broadband access to Africa. Jonathan was a big believer in making change through business. He felt there was a wealth of programming talent (especially with Python, Ruby, Symbian, Java, and C+) but a lack of opportunity in Kampala.

On Thursday July 2 we had the chance to visit Mityana, a town about an hour to the West of Kampala. We visited five organizations that day, the first being the Mityana Hospital.The hospital was built in 1947 and serves the 288,000 people who live in the district and many from surrounding areas. It has 6 doctors, 100 beds and 4 wards: maternity, male, female, and children. It has an HIV/AIDS clinic that serves 4,000 regular patients with the help of Population Services Internatational. It also has an x-ray lab and a dental office.

Funding from the hospital comes from the government, with some additional funds coming from NGOs. According to their Director, their biggest needs are surgical and diagnostic equipment and an ambulance. They have an operating budget of 23,000,000 UGX per month ($11,500).


Mityana Secondary School is one of two high schools that iContact and The Humanity Campaign have started a scholarship program for. I visited the school for the second time on this trip and had a chance to speak to their entrepreneurship class. Their principal indicated their biggest challenges are parents paying school fees, orphan students, and transportation.They indicated building additional dorms for some of the students would be very helpful to the children without parents and those for whom the school is a many miles away. One of their biggest needs is getting internet access to their computer lab, which is currently outside of their budget.

The school has 1,350 students and 70 staff members. The government pays the teacher’s salaries and parents pay school fees, which are 468,000 UGX ($234) per year normally and 900,000 UGX ($450) per year for students who live at the school.


AFFINET stands for the African Friends in Need Network. It is the second school that the iContact/Humanity Campaign scholarship program will be benefiting. It is a vocational school in Mityana, Uganda. It was started in 2000. It has a strong social justice mission. It provides classes on sewing, fashion design, carpentry, and home economics. It has 111 students and focuses its efforts on girls who have been left behind. It has had 195 graduates so far since the first class graduated in 2004.Over lunch with the Bishop, we learned that AFFINET would like to start classes in bricklaying, IT, and livestock. They need computers, sewing machines, and funds to complete their bathroom and ceiling in the girls dorms.

Namma Millennium Primary School was founded in 2000 by Dr. Christopher Kigongo, a Ugandan who now works at Duke University. I’ve worked with Christopher over the past year to set up a scholarship program for students at the school that is providing funds for students who attend Naama Millennium Primary School in Mityana, Uganda to continue on to secondary school at either AFFINET or Mityana Secondary School.I first visited Naama in 2008 and fell in love with the children. Last year, they danced and drummed. This year, students from Duke had developed a play on nutrition and hygiene that the students performed for us, followed by the amazing popping and locking hip hop dancing of a five year old boy (followed by Bob, Jess, and I doing a dance for them).

In 2008, a number of students from Nourish International worked at the school to put in cement floors, windows, doors, and a rainwater harvesting system. The improvements were very visible this year.


Our final stop in Mityana was the Santa Maria Medical Clinic. The Clinic is a for-profit private business, started and run by Dr. Paul Mugambe. The clinic today sees 60 patients per day. They provide more available and better care than Mityana Hospital according to Dr. Mugambe. They most commonly treat malaria, respiratory issues, diarrheah, and HIV/AIDS. They have 30 beds today.The clinic’s biggest challenges are people who need care but cannot afford it and thus do not pay their bills, high taxes, and a lack of surgical room. The clinic charges 60,000 UGX ($30) for a normal baby delivery and 300,000 UGX ($150) for a c-section delivery. Dr. Mugambe would like to expand the clinic but is currently renting so cannot make additions to the property. He is looking to get a loan of 75,000,000 UGX ($37,500) to purchase the property, but loan interest rates are currently too high at 20%.


On our final day in Kampala on July 3 we visited with FAULA and Opportunity International in Kampala. Both are microfinance organizations that are working together in Uganda. Jess, Bob, and I had the chance to meet with the CEO of Opportunity International Uganda.They have 200 staff members in the country, nine branches, and a $6 million microloan portfolio. Their average client takes out a loan of $150 and makes repayments weekly. They have a 2.4% default rate. They work through a group system in which a group of at least ten takes out a loan together (the peer pressure and accountability provides higher repayment rates). Once an individual pays back their group loan they can obtain a larger individual loan.

Opportunity prices their loans at 3% per month interest (compounding to be equivalent to 43.5% per year). While this is high, they indicated that the return from the use of their capital that is otherwise unavailable is much higher. They’ve developed an impressive, sustainable model.

We visited three of Opportunity International’s clients in Kampala, the owners of a banana stand, a metalworking shop, and a small conveyance store.

Opportunity International also has a partnership with Compassion International in Uganda.

After Bob and I left to go back home, Jess was picked up by Juma Masisi who runs WOMEDA in Karagwe, Tanzania. Jess has been at WOMEDA for a few days now. She is studying conflict resolution and women’s rights there.WOMEDA stands for WOMen Emancipation and Development Agency. According to their web site, WOMEDA “promotes the status of marginalized groups by creating and strengthening equal opportunities for women, men, and children through the provision of socioeconomic, legal, and human rights activities in order to attain sustainable development.”

We are hoping that Mary Muhara from Africa Rising will have a chance to visit WOMEDA in the coming days and consider supporting the organization.

Overall we very much enjoyed our time in Kenya and Uganda. I wanted to especially thank Louis Ntale and Rebbecca Ntale who allowed us to stay at their house for three nights and their son Kenneth Ntale for driving us in Uganda. Thanks to all for reading. Comments are very welcome!

What We’ll Be Doing in Kenya and Uganda June 25

June 23, 2009

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/From June 25th through July 5th I’ll be in Kenya and Uganda with Jess Shorland and Bob Phoenix. The purpose of our trip is to:

  1. Visit the non-profits that The Humanity Campaign and iContact have provided funds to in order to see and document how they are using the funds and to learn about their operations and needs;
  2. Find additional qualified non-profits for The Humanity Campaign to invest in;
  3. Find companies with unique innovative appropriate technologies that address local social needs and for-profit companies with a social mission to invest in;
  4. Learn as much as we can about conflict resolution, IDP camps, food and water distribution, rural health care provision, and rural primary and secondary education; and
  5. Dance, dance, and dance some more like Matt from Where The Hell is Matt!

On our first day in Nairobi we’ll be meeting with Amon Anderson from the Acumen Fund and Mary Muhara from Africa Rising. Amon is a friend of mine from back when we went to UNC together and from when he was in charge of the entrepreneurship minor at UNC. Mary is the in-country local representative for Africa Rising who vets the non-profits that Africa Rising contributes to. Mary will be taking us to visit TULIP Nairobi a program supported by AR. TULIP “strives to deliver hope for girls subjected to poverty and its vices: teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, drugs, crime, and prostitution.”

/On day two in Nairobi we’ll be visiting with Carolina for Kibera. CFK works in Kibera, a slum in North Nairobi to “promote youth leadership and ethnic and gender cooperation in Kibera through sports, young women’s empowerment, and community development.” CFK was started in 2001 by a UNC students Kim Chapman and Rye Barcott. Rye has since completed five years of service as an officer in the Marines and completed a MBA/MPA joint degree from HBS and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, which is what I’d love to be doing in a few years. They operate a soccer league, medical clinic (Tabitha Clinic), and a reproductive health and women’s rights center (Binti Pamoja). I’m so excited to be seeing their operation first hand.

On day three, we’ll be flying from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport to Entebbe, Uganda. We’ll stay the night in Kampala with our friend Louis Ntale, the brother-in-law of Duke’s Christopher Kigongo, and then wake up early to catch the five or six hour Posta Uganda bus from Kampala to Gulu and traverse once again the adventurous roads of rural Uganda.

/Upon arriving in Gulu we’ll be meeting up with Andrew Morgan of Invisible Children. Over the past year I have been studying the conflict between the LRA, led by Joseph Kony, and the Ugandan army known as the Ugandan People’s Defence Force and formerly known as the National Resistance Army.

Invisible Children (IC) is working to put an end to the conflict, which has died down considerably in Northern Uganda but spread to the Central African Republic and the Northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, near the Garamba Forest. IC also working to re-integrate and educate former LRA child soldiers in the surrounding region’s Internally Displaced Person’s camps and to lobby the U.S. government to put State Department resources into ending the conflict. I had the chance to spend a couple days with their CEO Ben Keesey and co-founder Bobby Bailey while at The Summit Series trip in Aspen in April. They’ve put out a series of very well done DVD documentaries explaining the conflict and highlighting the stories of particular child soldiers. I’m very excited to see the IC operation while in Gulu.

After a day with IC, we’ll be visiting the Concerned Parents Association, another organization supported by Africa Rising, which mobilises parents of abducted children toward the objectives of:

  1. Immediate and unconditional release of all abducted children
  2. Peaceful resolution of the conflicts
  3. Creation of an awareness of the plight of children in conflict

After three days in Gulu, we’ll head back down to Kampala on July 1st, visit with Opportunity International Kampala and then Jonathan Gozier of Appfrica, and stay the night again with Louis. On Thursday, July 2nd we’ll have one free day and either head to the Kampala Hospital, do a follow-up visit with the the Kyetume health clinic an hour away in Nkokonjeru, or head over to Jinja to see the source of the Nile.

/On Friday we’ll head over to Mityana, Uganda to visit the Naama Millennium School and get an update on the scholarship program that iContact and The Humanity Campaign have funded that will be helping students at Naama attend secondary school. We’ll also be visiting a team from Duke and Nourish International. Naama serves 321 students, 113 of which have lost one or both parents. It was a true joy last year visiting Naama and seeing the school children dance!

After visiting Naama we’ll visit the Mityana Secondary School. One of my favorite memories from the visit last June was sitting in on an entrepreneurship class and seeing first hand the drive in the students to excel.


On our final day, Bob and I will head back to Kampala to fly to Nairobi and then back to RDU through Heathrow and JFK to be back in time for work on Monday morning July 6. Jess will continue on and head down to Karagwe, Tanzania to work with Juma Masisi at WOMEDA, a women’s rights organization.

I look forward to blogging about our experiences! Stay tuned.

Malaria Kills – Send a Net, Save a Life, Go to Africa

April 10, 2009

Dare Mighty Things Blog Readers–

I am in a Social Media Giving Contest to see who can generate the most unique contributions by this Sunday April 12 at 8pm ET to Nothing But Nets, a campaign to eliminate malaria in developing countries. So far I have 7 unique contributors and if I can get it above 50 I’d be in the lead. I think I might have a good chance with this blog post and announcing it at The Public Policy Forum Meetup tomorrow night at our house to get in the front.

Would you contribute ten bucks at https://www.causes.com/fb/donations/new?cause_id=183&fundraiser_id=1604&m=38d81d22?

If I get the most unique contributions by Sunday night at 8pm ET I will win a trip to Africa with Nothing But Nets and the UN Foundation to distribute the nets. Wouldn’t that be awesome!

You can win a trip to Africa too. One contributor will be selected at random to receive an all-expense paid trip to Africa to distribute the malaria nets later in 2009 with the UN Foundation. A $10 donation will provide an insecticide treated malaria net that lasts five years that two children can sleep under.

It’s not about how much we raise, but how many unique individuals I can convince to give. Malaria infects more than 500 million people a year and kills more than a million. One person dies about every 30 seconds from malaria.

This contest is part of The Summit Series, an event I was at last weekend in Aspen. All proceeds of the contest benefit the Nothing But Nets Campaign of the UN Foundation.

Nothing But Nets is a global, grassroots campaign to save lives by preventing malaria, a leading killer of children in Africa. Inspired by sports columnist Rick Reilly, tens of thousands of people have joined the campaign that was created by the United Nations Foundation in 2006. Founding campaign partners include the National Basketball Association’s NBA Cares, the people of The United Methodist Church, and Sports Illustrated. It costs just $10 to provide a long-lasting insecticide-treated bed net to prevent this deadly disease. To date, Nothing But Nets has raised more than $25 million and distributed over 2.5 million nets to children and families in Africa.

All contributions are secure and tax deductible and are run through the Nothing But Nets Cause on Facebook. Thank you so much for your help!

The link to make a contribution is https://www.causes.com/fb/donations/new?cause_id=183&fundraiser_id=1604&m=38d81d22

Thank you so much for your help!

Ryan Allis

Sustainable Capitalism and The Role of Aid vs. Trade in Prosperity Creation

October 23, 2008


I picked up a glossy investment prospectus from a firm called Legatum Group at up at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference today. A statement inside caught my eye. It stated:

“While aid can play an important role in alleviating immediate needs, its impact is naturally limited since it is neither sustainable nor scalable.” Separately, it states, “Quite distinct from the limited scope of charitable initiatives, businesses are both self-sustaining and scalable. Legatum directs its attention towards promoting entrepreneurship and business for all its social benefits within developing communities.”

I wanted to to take a chance to think more about the nuance of the right type of aid vs. the right type of trade and investment.

I feel presently that the answer to reducing poverty and increasing access to opportunity and prosperity in developing nations is three fold. The answer is A) for-profit private capital investment into sustainable companies that are socially responsible (or at least not socially irresponsible) AND B) direct “aid with standards” to community-based non-profit organizations run by local social entrepreneurs that are efficiently serving the needs of their communities AND C) efficiently run transparent government that creates and protects a system of law and property rights.

The question that should be asked cannot be as black and white of aid vs. trade. It’s not aid OR trade. It’s accountable aid AND sustainable trade AND efficient goverment. It’s a public/private/community partnership that does not succeed without participation from each sector. The questions that we as a society should be asking is how to make direct aid measurable and accountable AND how to make trade and investment sustainable AND how to make government efficient and transparent.

These methods of human and capital investment are on the spectrum of socially responsible venture philanthropy that builds human capital, infrastructure, and standards of living through education, medicine, nutrition, and technology that enables us to do more with less resources. At the end of the day–all private sector and public sector investment should come back to efficiently serving the needs and desires of the local population in a sustainable manner.

What the answer to prosperity creation seems not to be is the traditional bi-lateral government to government aid (read: loans that local populations will have to pay back to buy our stuff from our companies) nor traditional private capital investment in companies that are not socially responsible and end up hurting local environments. This of course is the very common and very key “aid vs. trade” question that so many like Sachs, Easterly, Collier, Stiglitz, Pralahad, and Gates have debated.

So what is the import of this debate and why is a tech CEO talking about it? The great war of ideas of the 19th and 20th Century between pure communism (total state control of the economic sector) and pure capitalism (total market control of of the economic sector) is giving way to an “end of history” state that could be simply called “Sustainable Capitalism.”

Sustainable Capitalism could be defined as a state in which competitive market economies that are based on environmental sustainability, democracy, transparency, communication technology, an educated populace, and a government with a limited but very important role in setting the rule of law, thrive while efficient social entrepreneurs with services that produce a public good are invested in with capital with measured returns and public servants integrate the same communication and ERP systems of the best-run companies in the world.

In this new Zakarian model of economic system, companies that destroy the environment, provide a negative net benefit through off-balance sheet externalities, or exploit their populations are video blogged and written about and pressured through market forces to reform or wither. This is perhaps somewhat idealist today–but it is the path I believe we are on. The fact that all companies must be sustainable soon enough for the system to scale and prosperity to be possible for all humans is clear. This trend will accelerate as we enter into the coming age of ubiquitous broadband and improved technology of the citizen blogger and as resources become less available. Governments, non-profits, and businesses will have a much higher level of accountability. This assumes of course people have incentives to work toward shared prosperity that can continue beyond the short-term, and I think that is a fair assumption and a vision shared by the global connected youth of today that I know.

What’s the common denominator for human invesment in either the public or private sector? Return on invested capital, as long as the definition of return is broadened to include social returns and the definition of cost is broadened to include environmental degradation. This is the Net Domestic Product (NDP) approach versus the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) approach.

So am I criticizing the Legatum brochure statement? No, not really–I just hope they share the belief–and I am sure they do–that prosperity in the developing world and continued sustainable improvement can only be possible if we find methods to enable entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and public service entrepreneurs to transparently, efficiently, and sustainably make investments that maximize individual utility, return on investment, and the public good.

The effort toward sustainable capitalism and efficient government requires an improved ability to communicate, collaborate, and measure results. There’s a digital generation of entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs that gets this who will be the global leaders sooner than you might imagine.

Thoughts on Uganda

July 10, 2008

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I was in Uganda from June 29-July 6. I was there to visit two non-profit organizations I have been involved with and contributed funds to in the past. It was my first visit to Africa, and definitely will not be my last.

Uganda really is a beautiful country. It has lots of challenges, yet lots of real opportunities. Seeing the extreme poverty that exists there first hand was difficult, yet instructive and very helpful to my understanding of the issue. 89% of Ugandans are currently subsistence farmers, so a great majority of the population lives in rural villages. It was very common to see families of 6 to 8 living in mud and stick one-room shacks with tin or grass roofs with dried dung floors with no running water, toilet, or electricity. The primary school we visited in Mityana in the West had neither windows nor doors and had dirt floors.

Even more difficult is the realization that the difficulty of the living conditions I saw in the rural areas pale in comparison to those in the refugee camps 300 miles to the north in Northern Uganda, centered around Gulu which was the center for the LRA activity, which has significantly calmed since the 90s. I was amazed at the extent to which the children and most adults living in these most difficult conditions maintain such a level of happiness and non-complaint.

It was a bit unnerving to see out front of every bank and gas station an armed security guard with a rifle or shotgun. The traffic is absolutely insane, enhanced by the pavement ending at times. At one point we were passing a car that was passing another truck, and got driven into the shoulder on the other side of the road. That type of experience was common. There are no medians and the highways are all two lanes. There are just three stop lights in Kampala and none elsewhere in the country.

The thousands of Boda Bodas (motorcycles) and Matatus (bus taxis) all over and the pedestrians crossing allover add to the confusion. And not to mention the cows, which are often in the road calmly walking across. Cows and goats tend to be tied up to the side of the roads so they can be used for mowing. Babies run around naked or just wearing shirts, often with no parents in sight, and kids from 3 to 12 wearing bright purple, yellow, green, or blue school uniforms can be seen walking along the side of the roads for miles around 8am and 5pm each day. The kids would often smile and yell out “Muzungu” which means white person when we drove by.

The current Museveni administration has been in power since 1986 and while it seems to be succeeding in providing some basic services, the roads are still very spotty and the electrical grids shut off a few hours per day outside Kampala. Many are calling for him to leave, not because he’s doing a horrible job but because he’s been in power 22 years. They seem to have a good freedom of speech there and an opposition newspaper. People we spoke to were not shy to offer their criticisms. Many people were speaking about Mugabe and his visit to the African Union last week and hoping for his ouster.

The economy is growing. The competition between CelTel, Warid, Uganda Telecom, and MTN for cell phone was intense. All the services sell Airtime Credits rather than monthly subscriptions since most Ugandans do not have a fixed postal address nor a credit card. These four companies advertise literally everywhere, including painting in exchange for compensation thousands and thousands of buildings and homes along the side of all the roads.

Uganda now has GPRS service which allowed me to access my Blackberry email without a problem most of the time even in very rural areas.

They also are deploying 3G service in the major cities. I saw a number of iPhones there among lawyers and professionals. The biggest employer in Uganda is interestingly Coca Cola. There are tremendous opportunities to invest in alternative energy production, especially in regards to biomass. Roey and I had a chance to visit Torero Cement, the largest cement factory in Uganda on Friday as he’s working with them to supply biomass so they can reduce their coal usage. The economy remains a cash economy. I did not find a single store or company that accepted credit cards outside of the airport.

We stayed with an investment banker who runs Daro Capital on Friday night in Kampala. He help a get together of a group of technology execs and professionals on Tuesday night, including a gentleman who is starting an SMS marketing service. I spoke to a number of people to get a sense of the ripeness for email marketing. Rough statistics, but it seems right now about 25pc of Ugandans have email addresses, though most check them via Internet Cafes. Broadband access is only available via Satellite at a cost of USD$1000 per month, so even the professional class and wealthy have only dial up or GPRS access. A T1 is being installed in Uganda in 2009 after which access will go substantially up.

We visited Entebbe and Kampala on Day 1, Mityana on Day 2, Mbale on Day 3 and 4, and Torrero on Day 5, and Mukono on Day 6. We also drove though Jinja and saw the source of the Nile river.

In Mityana, we visited Nourish International Students working at Naama Millennium School, a school funded by Dr. Christopher Kigongo, who now lives in Durham most of the year and was the former Director of Health Education for Uganda. In Mbale, we visited the Foundation for the Development of Needy Communities (FDNC) which has a vocational school and special needs school founded by Samuel Watulatsu, who presented at a Entrepreneur & Social Entrepreneur Meetup at our house in Chapel Hill last October.

On the way there I spent a day layover in Dubai. Dubai is one of the 7 emirates in the United Arab Emirates, so it’s the size of a county and has 6-7 cities in it, that have names like “Internet City, Media City, and Sports City.” The amount of construction and cranes there was immense. The Emirate boasts an indoor skiing area, and man-made islands in the shape of a palm tree and one in the share of the world. They have built the largest building in the world, the Burj Dubai, shown in picture 4. It is still being finished. When it is done next year it will be 166 floors and 2100 feet tall.

Bottom line, the experience has caused me to be even more dedicated toward spending the rest of my life working to increase access to education, healthcare, food, and technology and working toward ending warfare and ensuring sustainability. I look forward to going back again soon.


Project Polaroid: Giving A Child Their First Picture | Dare Mighty Things

May 23, 2008

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How do you get the attention of a large global company (Polaroid) and convince them to reverse a key strategic decision? Hopefully, like this…

The Birth of Project Polaroid

Nine months ago, in early January, I was hanging out in Charlotte with a friend of mine named Carly. Carly is just 20 and a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is an entrepreneur and a social entrepreneur who runs a photography business, Carly Brantmeyer Photography. We were brainstorming. She wanted to do more than be a student and photographer. She wanted to use her talents and abilities to give back.

Carly had just returned from a Christmas family trip to Costa Rica. There, she took lots of beautiful digital photos. The children were eager to see the picture she just took of them on the back LCD display. She wanted to be able to give the children a copy of their photo, but couldn’t. There was no easy way.

She thought, “If I had a Polaroid camera with me I could give them a copy of the picture right now.”

She returned and while brainstorming at her house in January she came up with Project Polaroid. She would bring hundreds of Polaroid instant film with her to developing countries and give children a picture of themselves–something most of them would never seen before, yet alone owned.

Project Polaroid in Colombia

Carly had the opportunity to visit Colombia over the summer to try out Project Polaroid for the first time. She borrowed my Polaroid camera that was given to me as a gift in 2007 and bought some film. Here are some of the inspiring pictures she took. Take a look especially of the one of the mother, holding a picture of her beautiful young daughter for likely the first time:







Project Polaroid in Uganda

In July, I went to Uganda for a week. Carly had returned from Colombia so I got my camera back the night before. Here are some of the pictures I took.





I was able to take about 60 pictures there while in Uganda while in 4 different locations. Each time I noticed an interesting phenomenon. In one of the locations, I found myself in a small village near the Mirembe Kawomera Peace Coffee Cooperative. This place was about 30 minutes down a dirt road from Mbale, Uganda. I took my first photo of a child and gave it to her. She was very confused as to what it was. I told her to shake the picture. She then ran away, nervous it seemed.

Exactly, on the dot, 3 minutes later, a group of at least eight kids came running around the corner jumping up and down with excitement. The picture had developed! Each time I began taking photos with just one or two children. They would go away, wondering what I had gave them (most Ugandan children in villages speak little English), then come back with their whole crew just 2-3 minutes later when they realized what had been given to them. This run away, see the photo develop, and bring back more children would happen every time. Sometimes, as Carly has experienced, you get surrounded by as many as 40 or 50 children within minutes.

In the village outside of Mbale I also gave away some of the soccer jerseys and shorts that had been donated by Sports Endeavors of Hillsborough, NC, the owners of Soccer.com and Eurosport, through the U.S. Soccer Foundation Passback Program. The children created such a commotion that the villages lone police office came over hurriedly, thinking the children were stealing from the van.

Project Polaroid in Ghana

This fall semester, Carly is living and studying in Legon, Ghana at the University of Ghana, with a study abroad program from UNC. She has received a number of donations to help expand the program and has brought dozens of packs of film. Here are some of the photos she’s taken so far in Ghana:




Polaroid Will Stop Selling Polaroids in Early 2009

For background information, back in 2001, Polaroid Corporation, the makers of the famous Polaroid Cameras and instant film filed for bankruptcy. It’s assets ended up being purchased by a private investment firm, Petters Group Worldwide, in 2005.

Very unfortunately for Project Polaroid, Polaroid announced back on February 8 that it will be phasing out production of its instant film and that it will be completely off the shelves by early 2009. We were of course a bit saddened by this announcement. Polaroid will no longer sell Polaroids. It’s a travesty of sorts and will certainly make the project difficult to scale. Polaroid has said that it will be willing to license its instant film technology to another firm should another firm be interested. Here’s hoping Polaroid somehow comes across this story and they realize the immense value that Polaroid film has to their brand.

Carly writes on her detailed travel blog.

“The idea is simple. $1=1 Polaroid photo, for 1 kid, that will last a lifetime. So many children around the world have never even owned a single photo of themselves. What could be more precious of a memory than a photo of you/your family?”

How You Can Help

When she left, Carly raised money from her family and community. She was able to take a few dozen packs of film with her. A month into the trip, Carly is now running out of film. If you would like to contribute, the best way would be to mail her a pack of two of Polaroid 600 film. She would very much appreciate any help. She will be at the following address until December:

Carly Brantmeyer
University of Ghana
c/o International Programs Office
International Student Housing II
Room #127
Legon, Accra, Ghana

Update: If you’d prefer you can send them to Charlotte where Carly’s mom Lisa has offered to collect them and mail them in one package to Ghana. The address is: 14803 Davis Trace Drive, Charlotte, NC, 28227.

Overall, I am excited to see Project Polaroid in Ghana and look forward to her getting back in January and brainstorming how to scale the project to many more developing countries. Being in Uganda myself in July and seeing the impact owning a simple picture can have in the life of a child and the parents of that child has made a lasting impact on me. One of the children was 3 and didn’t have pants–just a long shirt. He lived in a thatch hut near a school Roey and I were speaking at with his brother, sister, and mother. He didn’t have pants but he was overjoyed with happiness to have the picture. Hopefully we can convince Polaroid to sponsor the project in the future and keep producing instant film.

$1M Prize for Best Developing Country Technology Innovation

March 23, 2008

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width=125Legatum Group, founded by Chris Chandler and based in Dubai, has announced today at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Half Moon Bay, California a $1 million prize for the best technology innovation from a for-profit company in the developing world. I will update this blog when they post details on how to enter.

I wanted to write this post as from all appearances, Legatum seems to be making a concerted effort to invest in long-term sustainable development in developing countries and putting their money where their mouth is. They are a sponsor to the Fortune conference here, and are mostly unheard of. Even their original company Sovereign Global, is nearly unheard of. Yet they manage over $4B in capital invested in India alone.

Legatum is the donor to the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT. They invested $50M in the Center to obtain naming rights. Here is a short video I took this afternoon of Iqbal Quadir who is the founder and Director of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT.

Although Dubai-based, the group is made up strictly of Westerners, mainy of whom previously worked at Chris Chandler’s Sovereign Global. They claim a 40% CAGR over the lifetime of thier original fund started in 1986. The President of Legatum, Mark Stoleson, attended Occidental College and Duke. The other chief team members attended Wharton, London Business School, Babdon, Oxford, and University of Brisbane and has worked at law firms, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and PWC.

I do wonder if most of these individuals are based at the head office in Dubai, which is slowly on its way toward challenging London and New York for the global capital headquarters. If you can find any statistics on capital under management for equity investment firms based in New York, London, Hong Kong, and Dubai please let me know.

Legatum Group is also the creators of the Africa Prize, which gave away $450,000 in 2007 to the most innovative businesses in Africa. Their philosophy is simply that for-profit businesses are more efficient at creating positive social improvement than bi-lateral foreign aid which in their Easterlyan-like view too often has created dependency.

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