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.
January 4, 2011
Muraho from Kigali!
Today I’m working from The Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda.
Akilah is a non-profit school that teaches hospitality, leadership, and entrepreneurship to women 18-25 here in Rwanda. Akilah was started in 2009 by Elizabeth Davis and Dave Hughes and now has fifteen full-time staff including twelve here in Rwanda and three in Tampa, Florida.
The school opened its doors in January 2010 with 50 students and will be expanding to 120 students at the end of this month in January 2011. Through the two-year program, the girls learn skills that enable them to get jobs in Rwanda’s burgeoning hotel and tourism industry that pay on average 10x more than the girls earned previously. Akilah graduates can expect to earn about $6,000 per year at an entry-level hotel position. Akilah received over 1500 applications for just 70 available spots for the class of 2012. It costs Akilah about $3,000 per student per year of education.
The Marriott, Hilton, and Radisson are currently constructing hotels here in Kigali that will open in 2012. These will be welcome additions to the current options in the city of the Hotel Milles des Collines (aka Hotel Rwanda), Manor Hotel, Serena, Top Tower, and Novotel.
More and more travelers are coming to Rwanda every year to conduct business, make investments, see the mountain gorillas in the Virungas in the Northwest, learn about the country’s extraordinary history, climb Mount Karisimbi, visit the Akagera National Park, or relax on Lake Kivu.
I met Elizabeth in October at the Opportunity Collaboration conference in Ixtapa, Mexico. In November I hosted a fundraiser for Akilah called “A Metropolitan Safari” at the iContact Offices in Raleigh at which Elizabeth and Akilah students Anita and Gisele gave a moving presentation. During the eight-city tour that included Tampa, New York, Providence, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., and Raleigh, Elizabeth, Anita, and Gisele raised $185,000 for the organization, all going to girls scholarships.
Expansion Plans for Akilah
Akilah is currently raising funds for girls scholarships to enable them to get through 2011. You can learn more on their web site about donation options.
Akilah plans to expand from 120 students to 800 in the coming years. They have recently received rights to 40 acres of land from the Rwandan government to build their new campus thirty minutes south of Kigali in Bugesera at the site of an old Italian School that shut down in the 1990s.
Here is how the Akilah model works. Central to the model is the expectation and obligation that each young women who attends Akilah will eventually pay for another to go to school in the future, using a portion of the increase in income they now have.
What is Happening in Rwanda Today
It’s truly amazing what is happening here in Rwanda in 2011 after such a tumultuous history. Kagame has chosen to focus on building Rwanda into the tourism and IT hub of Africa and growing the country through private sector development. He says if Singapore and South Korea did it, why can’t Rwanda. The country is stable, developing rapidly, and extremely welcoming. Akilah is just one example of many of the wonderful things happening here!
More to come from Rwanda in the days ahead…
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.
- 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