June 24, 2011
Hello from Boston. I’m here today for year three of the EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program.
I am excited to be heading to Egypt tomorrow as part of a U.S. State Department and USAID funded program in alliance with the Egyptian and Danish governments. I’ll be headed there with American entrepreneurs Shama Kabani, Alexis Ohanian, and Scott Gerber of the Young Entrepreneurs Council.
We’ll be mentoring 48 young Egyptian tech entrepreneurs ages 18-30 in Cairo with the NextGen IT Entrepreneurs Bootcamp and judging a business plan competition. Four of the winners will be coming to the US in October to intern at iContact for three weeks. I’m passionate about using business, technology, and entrepreneurship as tools to make a positive impact in the world, so this will be a great opportunity to see Egypt and work with great tech entrepreneurs in an exciting part of the world.
This will be my fourth trip to Africa, but first in North Africa. In about 5% of my spare time, I invest in tech entrepreneurs in the US and Africa via the Humanity Fund, so when I was asked to go by Scott Gerber I knew it would be right up my alley.
Egypt is passing through a very significant time in it’s history and it will be fascinating to be there. Quoting one of the participants in the program, “Egypt holds an important place in human history as one of the birthplaces of commerce, and the knowledge and experience of Egyptian business people will lead to many exciting and valuable products, services, and innovations for years to come. This is a great time for Egypt to truly shine.”
Here’s some additional info on the program. More blogging to come as I’m there…
NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp
The NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp, is a collaborative effort by the Government of Denmark, the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, the United States Agency for International Development’s Egypt Competitiveness Project, and the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre, affiliated with the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. The NexGen IT Boot Camp is a series of training events that includes a Business Plan Awareness Class and an IT Master Class. The later will be taught by US and Danish Delegates in which prizes will be awarded to four winning teams. Two of the winning teams will travel to the US in October to intern at iContact, a very rapidly growing American tech company.
More on the US internship @ iContact
The US internship will be with iContact in October. iContact is based in Raleigh, NC and is working to make email marketing and social marketing easy so that small and midsized companies and causes can grow and succeed. Founded in 2003, iContact has more than 300 employees and more than 700,000 users of its leading email marketing software.
As a B Corporation, iContact utilizes the 4-1s Corporate Social Responsibility Model, donating 1% of payroll, 1% of employee time to community volunteering, 1% of equity, and 1% of product to its local and global community as part of its social mission. iContact works hard to maintain a fun, creative, energetic, challenging and caring company culture. The Triangle Business Journal has named iContact one of the best places to work. The company has been listed on Inc. 500 3 years in a row and its founders Ryan Allis and Aaron Houghton were selected by Inc. Magazine 30 under 30 in 2009.
Two of the winning winning teams, composed of two individuals, will win the opportunity to gain critical knowledge of how to grow a business during a three weeks internship at iContact in Raleigh North Carolina. The iContact internship will be an entrepreneurial rotation in which the interns will learn about the critical parts of the business including marketing/sales, IT, customer service and finance. The internship is paid for by USAID through the Egyptian Competitiveness Project (ECP).
January 8, 2011
Muraho from Kigali, Rwanda!
I’m on my way back to the USA today after eight days in Rwanda.
Below are some photos from Kigali, Rwanda taken this week. While here I had a chance to explore Kigali, meet with entrepreneurs, trek with the gorillas in the Virunga National Park, hike on the mountains overlooking Lake Kivu in Gisenyi, and see the future campus of the Akilah Institute for Women in Bugesera District. Kigali is probably the cleanest city in East Africa with lots and lots of paved streets and sidewalks.
The World Bank in its 2011 Doing Business Report named Rwanda as the most improved country in Africa and 2nd most improved globally for ease of conducting business. The Rwanda Development Board (RBD) is working hard to streamline business and investment regulations to make doing business in Rwanda attractive. Take a look at this Powerpoint slide deck from the RBD detailing business reforms and this news article “Rwanda is Now Open for Business.”
The Kagame Administration is halfway into executing on their “Vision 2020″ to build Rwanda into a middle-income country by focusing on economic development from the IT and tourism industries. You must read this Vision 2020 PDF if you are at all interested in economic development or solutions to ending poverty.
Interestingly, President Paul Kagame is perhaps the most active Twitter user among African Heads of State, connecting globally with the IT-savvy world.
Carnegie Mellon will be setting up a computer science school in Kigali in 2011 to train the next generation of East African programmers. And the Marriott, Hilton, and Radisson are all building hotels here to open in 2012 along with the new Kigali Convention Center.
There is so much activity going on here!
Rwanda is not only ready for entrepreneurs, it’s ready for tourists too.
If you have a chance, you must come to Rwanda at some point in your life. It’s a beautiful, dynamic, and friendly country full of “a thousand hills and a million smiles.”
I’m about to board flight one for the trek home from Kigali –> Entebbe –> Istanbul –> New York –> Raleigh. I love long flights as I can read, focus, and plan! I’m back to iContact on Monday morning.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Did you know this was happening in Africa? Why do you think the media so rarely tells this side of the story about what is happening in Africa?
Tell me your thoughts in the comments.
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),Â 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.
- InReturn Capital
- BusinessPartners Kenya
- TBL Mirror Fund
- eVA Fund
- Flow Equity
- FirstLight Ventures
- Humanity Fund
- Grassroots Business Fund (non-profit fund)
- Acumen Fund (non-profit fund)
- 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.
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
November 2, 2010
April 15, 2010
Why I’m At Skoll…
I’m in Oxford, England today for the first full day of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. I’m making great connections with investors who care about social impact equally to financial returns and learning how iContact can be a more socially responsible enterprise.
Our vision for iContact is to “Build a great global company based in North Carolina for our customers, employees, and community.”
So I’m here to ‘go to school’ for three days on how to truly maximize return for customers, employees, and community so that we can in turn maximize financial results for our shareholders. Fiduciary duty can go along with human social duty!
To me, having a formal CSR program and caring about impact for the customers, employees, and community is just good business sense that in fact maximizes financial return.
Increasing Financial Results By Focusing On Social & Environmental Impact
Personally, I strongly believe, in today’s new world, ensuring your business provides a positive social and environmental impact (or at least not a negative one!) will increase your financial return, not decrease it. I’ve seen this happen with numerous for-profit socially responsible companies like Ben & Jerry’s, The Body Shop, Whole Foods, Burt’s Bees, and Salesforce.com.
How can focusing on social impact improve financial results?
How can focusing on social return improve financial results? In three simple ways.
- The type of employees who want to work at companies that care–companies that put equal emphasis on profits and purpose–are the most productive and often most aware and intelligent team members.
- There is a growing movement toward consumers who care. Consumers will have much more brand loyalty to a company that they know cares and makes a positive social impact.
- When customers become passionate about a brand they talk about it more and more people will write about it.
The Tipping Point
After 30 years of so many in the social enterprise field working towards this, the tipping point has been passed wonderfully and thankfully. As the Dean of the Oxford Said Business School Colin Mayer said last night, the financial crisis has shown that short-term focus on only financial results does not lead to long term success.
Organizations like B-Labs have succeeded in changing public policy toward the benefit of companies who care. Self-interested (”greedy”) business owners who want to make money will now wonderfully benefit financially from implementing a formalized Corporate Social Responsibility program and ensuring they track and social impact and environmental impact.
The invisible hand is now starting to work toward social good with economic growth now that incentives are being realigned properly toward sustainable economic growth. While there is much more path to tread toward truly aligning policy incentives and consumer purchasing behavior toward companies who care–it is happening and the tipping point has passed! Eureka!!
Social Good With Market Returns?
Right now a panel called ‘Social Good With Market Returns’ is about to begin. I’ve been tweeting a lot about the conference via @ryanallis.
The moderator is Herta von Stiegel of Ariya Capital.
The speakers are:
Nick from JP Morgan is talking about the Social Finance group at JP Morgan. Nick is not a “normal banker.” They invest in social enterprises that have a double-bottom line (financial and social). This social investing field is also being called “Impact Investing.”
Ensuring Off-Balance Sheet Externalities Are Positive
There is a engaging discussion going on now at the panel around off-balance sheet externalities (positive and negative) of impact (positive or negative). Nick says “every time we make an investment we are creating externalities.” He says these externalities can be positive (jobs) or negative (pollution). He says “for the first time the investment community is measuring the social impact of what they are doing and only investing in companies that create net positive externalities.”
This discussion is at the core of global history of the past 200 years as the ideological battle between communism, socialism, and capitalism has been waged. The new consensus that is emerging here is that what has won (and in fact what must win for the sake of humanity’s ability to continue) is socially responsible capitalism. As John Perkins points out in Hoodwinked, there is nothing inherent in the model of Capitalism and the competitive market economy that require off-balance sheet externalities that destroy the world.
Taking Into Account the Full Cost of Environmental Damage
Now the discussion is revolving around how to adjust public policy to enable the true cost of negative externalities to be accounted for in the financial accounting results. Some are saying the Holy Grail for improving the world through business is to make all investing ‘impact investing’ by taking into account the true cost of environmental resources that are not renewed into Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).
“Better accounting for negative externalities is really important” said John McCall MacBain of the McCall MacBain foundation just now on the panel. The discussion is revolving around environmental costs being forced on any organization that destroys a natural resource (public good) that does not replace it sustainably and the impact this would make on ensuring warped incentives are not provided to global financially-focused Boards of Directors.
The discussion has shifted to bringing the silos of philanthropy, impact investing, running non-profits and socially responsible for-profit entrepreneurship.
Borrowing a meme from my friend Judith Cone who worked at the Kauffman Foundation and now works at UNC as a Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, perhaps it is all about where goodness lies. Goodness can be in the heart of the public sector official, for-profit socially responsible entrepreneur, non-profit executive, global multinational Board member, activist, or investor.
Nick O’Donohoe from JPMorgan is speaking about how JP Morgan can access capital high net worth individuals and institutions they work with which want to tap into investment funds specifically set up for investing in companies who put an equal emphasis on social impact as financial results.
Questions & Comments?
What questions are there on this topic of public policy changes and investing in companies that create social good while achieving market returns or above market returns? I’d love to discuss this more!
You can follow tweets from the Forum here.
July 1, 2009
A Post by Guest Writer Jess Shorland
I have just returned from visiting Tanzania. I was there from July 5th through July 12th. On this, my second trip to Karagwe, Tanzania, I had only one week to learn as much as I possibly could about local conflict – the reasons behind it, who was often involved, and possible solutions.
Thanks mostly to Juma Masisi, Director of WOMEDA (the Womenâ€™s Emancipation and Development Agency), I managed to talk with over thirty women, all of whom shared their amazing stories with me. The womenâ€™s experiences all demonstrated the seemingly archaic gender gap that remains not only in the town of Karagwe, but in many villages across the globe.
So I began my work to speak with these women connected to WOMEDA in this small rural village in Tanzania.
In front of a clay brick house, kneeling on mats woven by the calloused hands of the women sitting opposite me, I began with my own story of how my rights had been violated when I was 17 years old.
I had hopes that being open and candid with the women would bridge some of the cultural gaps and language barriers that I thought could prevent the comfort that fosters honesty. With repetitive â€śPolesâ€ť (which means sorry in Swahili) as Juma translated, the women grew more serious. After I explained my experiences and how they influenced my interest in gender inequality, I asked them if they would share their stories with me. One by one, the women elaborated on their struggles.
The Womenâ€™s Stories
Zainabu, 28, has a family of eight children, three wives and one husband. When she married her husband, she had no idea that he would eventually take two other wives, and that one of those wives would live with them in the house that she built. â€śI thought he would at least ask me, or even tell me, but it was very abrupt,â€ť she said. She explained expressionlessly that she still loves him, but would have never married him had she known that this was his intention.
She finds it painful and difficult to share her husband and no longer wishes to have sex with him. But if she refuses, she faces a high risk of being beaten or kicked out of her house. And she fears leaving him because her husband will keep her children, who are a source of labor and potential income (especially female children because of the dowry system still in place). Looking down at her clasped hands, she said that she could never bear to leave her children.
What she did not know is that under Tanzanian law, children younger than seven are usually left in the motherâ€™s custody, and children older than seven are given the right to make the decision themselves. Because of the lack of information and awareness of these laws, Zainabu thought that she had no other options. For her, it was either deal with it or leave her children. She also has the right to legally object to the second wife staying in her house and could take action to secure her property rights. She made eye contact with Juma as he explained, and inquired further of how she could do this.
Zainabu is but one example of a woman who feels badly about her relationship and the way she is treated, but who does not know that there are legal institutions that can emancipate her from these human rights violations.
The cognitive dissonance created by the feeling that whatâ€™s happening to her is wrong and believing that she has no other options creates an internal conflict with which she continuously struggles.
But herein arises another obstacle: in order to take legal action, you have to first get to the court. And you have to have enough funds to carry on with the proceedings.
Take, for instance, the case of a young woman who was raped in the village of Kjungangoma, Tanzania. It is about 30 kilometers from the nearest court.
This woman moved to Bukoba (bordering Lake Victoria) for her own safety. An elder woman in the village decided to seek justice and attempted to continue with legal proceedings. Transportation to town and back by taxi costs about 5,000 Tanzanian shillings, or about $2.00 USD. So the elderhad to walk the 30 kilometers to the court.
The Tanzanian government is supposed to pay these transportation expenses, as well as lawyer fees and court costs. Unfortunately, by the time paperwork is shuffled around, reimbursement is often pushed aside. So, unless a Tanzanian can afford the upfront costs of taking a case to court, both in time and money, he or she is still left without the proper means to seek justice.
This issue now leads me to the story of Methodia, a woman who was born at the time of World War I (she is about 90 years old now). When her only son passed away, she took in his many children. Later, her grandsons soon chased her out of her own house to take over her farm. She went to the magistrate to file a legal complaint, but her grandchildren had already bribed him. He told her there was nothing he could do.
Methodia now lives with her granddaughter, although this is culturally considered shameful. She wants to continue fighting for what is rightfully hers, but fears that if she reclaims the house, her grandsons will kill her in just a matter of months. In broken Swahili while looking down at her feet, she quietly said, â€śI may be old, but I still matter.â€ť
This issue of corruption runs rampant in many developing countries, but especially in places where the legal system is not closely monitored. Marginalized women seeking their legal rights face an enormous risk of being stopped in their tracks by this very obstacle. The legal process cannot work in places wheremoney becomes more important than justice because basic human needs are not met
Abusing womenâ€™s property rights has been a major issue in many of the cases I heard. There is Gertrude, whose husband sold their profitable farm and house to be with another woman, leaving her with literally nothing. And there is Benidette, whose husband left her and took the doors, windows and tin roofing with him. Or how about Zamda, Pascazia and Zainabu who are forced to live with their husbandsâ€™ other wives in the homes that they built.
If property rights can be restored and protected, marginalized people will have a sense of ownership and space to better build their economic opportunities. The importance of property rights in terms of conflict resolution and development cannot be stressed enough.
I wanted to get to more sensitive topics with these women. I felt uneasy at first. I knew I had to just dive in and hope that they would share their very private lives with me.
One of the most powerful and insightful moments during my trip happened at the end of a discussion with 25 women. I asked them, â€śHow many of you have sex with your husband?â€ť As Juma translated, the women were obviously caught off guard. I asked again. This time, seven women raised their hands.
â€śHow many of you donâ€™t have sex?â€ť – Only three hands raised, with a little laughter in the background.
â€śHow many of you want and enjoy having sex?â€ť
Silence fell upon that room, the only sound coming from the tarp that covered it. All the women were quiet, and every hand was down.
The explanations that followed told of husbands coming home drunk and abruptly climbing on top of their wives, forcing them to have sex. Another explained that she felt badly to share her husband with one, two and even three other wivesâ€“or any number of unidentified mistresses for that matter. Marital rape was obviously present. Women feared that if they tried to stop their husbands, they would be kicked out or beaten.
The Youthâ€™s Stories
I looked to the youth next, hoping for a new informed generation that could show a ray of hope for the future of human rights. I spoke with two groups of secondary school students, ranging in age from 15-22 years. At Ruminyika Secondary, about fifty students began talking with me, and after some time of asking clichĂ©d, obvious questions, they began to reveal their own curiosities. Their questions were inquisitive, touched with a brutal honesty that only increased my respect and appreciation for them.
The discussion was intense as we talked about everything from birth control pills to female genital mutilation to relationship advice. I turned the conversation toward gender roles and asked if the boys ever hit their girlfriends. The boys all laughed and gave each other high fives. A spokesman for the boys explained that it was a common practice to â€śshow her that you love her,â€ť especially if she shows interest in another man. â€śYou have to keep your girl, so you hit her,â€ť the boy said. The girls remained silent, which made understanding their emotions difficult. I could only sit in awe of what I was hearing from such young boys. It was a reminder that children imitate their surroundings, and that many of these teenagers were preparing to lead the same life as previous generations, breeding more of the same gender inequalities. At that moment, I felt helplessâ€“that there was nothing I could do.
Juma and I explained to the group that under Tanzanian law, it is illegal to physically harm someone. Then, a boy shared a disturbing story of rape. He told of his experience of â€śalmost rapeâ€ť – stopped only by an unexpected car horn that gave the girl time to get away. â€śI know it is illegal, but I wanted to do it for the sake of doing it. I wanted to accomplish my mission,â€ť he said, almost proudly. Laughter roared from the crowd of about 100 students accompanied by my complete and utter bewilderment. Can universal human rights actually exist in a world of such cycles of violence?
The Future Potential
In the midst of these horrifying abuses of human rights that taint the youth, I found cases that reaffirmed my hope for inherent justice for the equality of all human lives. Take the example of Julianna. After her husband died in 1989 she started her own business, put all four of her children through school and now has her own house and small farm. She has no doubt faced many hardships. She is still not able to access all the opportunities she deserves, but proudly she stated, â€śNo one can mess with my rights now.â€ť
And then there is Godsen, who after my discussion at a secondary school, stood up in front of his classmates and sang a poem he had written about eliminating HIV and AIDS. When his classmates stood up and threw their hands in the air filling the half-finished hall with praising cheer, I remembered that these inequalities in basic human rights are not inevitable. These inequalities have been created by man and can be eliminated by man. Progress is no doubt being made, but much more change is needed.
As Juma and I drove away from the secondary schools on my last day in Karagwe, I noticed a beautiful river at the bottom of a lush valley, overshadowed only by steep hills. I commented to Juma how breathtaking the scenery was, to which he replied, â€śThat is the river that borders Rwanda. In 1994, thousands of Rwandan bodies floated down that river.â€ť
And so, in a new age of globalization, a society teeters between vestiges of past ideals and practices and the crest of social and economic development. Karagwe is filled with amazing people doing amazing things and the amount of opportunity to innovate in the face of crisis seems unlimited. At the same time, the information and social gender gap in this region breeds local conflicts that can, if no action is taken, quickly escalate to a national and even international scale. We must bridge that bloody river, for it is much too easy and foreseeable to resort to violence if economic development, access to information and legal resources are not invested in. We cannot afford to forget that above all, we are one human race, and when working together toward a shared goal, our capabilities are immeasurable.
About The Author:
Jess is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, studying Peace, War & Defense. She is the founder and Executive Director of Uncharted Magazine and the creator of Poor Student No More, where she blogs about her journey to get out of student debt.
July 10, 2008
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 â€śMuzunguâ€ť 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 heâ€™s doing a horrible job but because heâ€™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 heâ€™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 itâ€™s the size of a county and has 6-7 cities in it, that have names like â€śInternet City, Media City, and Sports City.â€ť 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.