PARIS, FRANCE – MAY 15: Chief executive officer of Twitter Inc. and Square Inc. Jack Dorsey arrives … [+] to attend the “Tech for Good” Summit at Hotel de Marigny on May 15, 2019 in Paris, France. The second edition of the “Tech for Good Summit ” launched by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2018 brings together more than 80 leaders of large companies, startups and players in the global digital ecosystem to discuss the contribution of technology to the common good and the collective fight against digital threats. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
It was the tweet heard round the world…or perhaps across a continent. Whatsapp groups dedicated to entrepreneurship and technology in Africa buzzed with excitement. Jack was coming back. “Sad to be leaving the continent…for now. Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!). Not sure where yet, but I’ll be living here for 3-6 months mid 2020. Grateful I was able to experience a small part,” he tweeted from Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. The Twitter and Square founder was wrapping up a month-long trip visiting entrepreneurs in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and Ethiopia.
It makes sense that Dorsey would both be more interested in and take more action seizing business opportunities on the continent than the typical American CEO. Twitter played a critical role in North Africa’s Arab spring. Square supports small businesses which, according to the IFC, make up 90% of Africa’s GDP. Dorsey cannot avoid the power of these technologies on the continent that will hold half the world’s population by 2050.
So the question isn’t, “Why he would move to Africa?” The question is, “Which country will he choose?” With 54 countries on the continent, he has a lot of choices. These entrepreneurs make the case for their home markets.
Let’s start with what many might call the obvious choice. For Damilola Anwo-Ade it’s a simple one to make.
“The African spirit is full of energy but the Nigerian spirit is unmatched. The spirit and passion we have to create sustainable tech solutions despite the numerous challenges can’t be found anywhere else in the world. People always seem to wonder how we do it. Unreliable connectivity and electricity and even poor infrastructure hasn’t been able to stop the flow of our creative juices but actually fuels it,” she said.
Anwo-Ade is one of those creators. She is the Managing Partner at Sprout, a digital company that provides ICT for development solutions across Africa.
An unconventional choice, Wiatta Thomas believes that Guinea should be Dorsey’s temporary home because less is more. While less has been done in Guinea, that means that there is more opportunity.
“Guinea is one of the least developed countries in West Africa and in Africa, yet with an incredible amount of resources. They have a hungry youth population that is at 71% unemployment and are at the beginning of a boom in development of resources and policies to support entrepreneurship. There is around half a billion dollars being invested in youth entrepreneurship in Guinea over the next 5 years. In other countries, though they are growing and there are still many opportunities, there is much that has already been done. Guinea is a candy store for an entrepreneur,” she said.
Thomas is the co-founder of Dare to Innovate, a Guinea-based youth-led movement to end entrepreneurship in West Africa through investments in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Running a carpooling business, Karen Gyan-Davies knows Ghana. Her company, Raba Rides, has introduced new mode of ride-sharing in Ghana through carpooling and bus services with the aim of cleaning up the public transport system, curbing traffic and battling air pollution.
“Ghana is fast becoming the go-to place for all things fun, business and lifestyle. We have a growing economy full of innovative solutions especially in tech, and they’re springing up everywhere. Ghana is not only all about business, though. We’re the birthplace of pan-Africanism and leading the wave of Afrocentrism that’s slowly sweeping across the globe in music, dance, clothing, and food (especially that famous Jollof you’ve heard so much about),” she said.
In Sierra Leone, Dorsey can have a hand in building a nascent eco-system.
“When Innovate Salone launched its Innovation Lab in Freetown for secondary school students to create solutions that tackled challenges in Sierra Leone, it was the first of its kind. Now, what makes Sierra Leone one of the best for innovation are the many opportunities there are in each sector to be innovative; from spaces like Sensi Hub and Innovation Axis, creating accelerators and incubators for entrepreneurs focused on agriculture to fashion, there is an ecosystem being built,” shared Freetown based social-innovator Janice Williams.
She is the Founder & Executive Director of Sudu, a one-of-a-kind organization that finds homes for displaced and orphan children using new methods such as active community outreach and in-person background checks.
It was quite surprising that Kenya wasn’t a stop on Dorsey’s November tour. As the Founder & CEO of Tulaa, Hillary Miller-Wise knows the many benefits to innovating in the Silicon Savannah.
“There are a few places across the continent where innovation and entrepreneurship are exploding. Nairobi is one of them. Kenya is the founder of mobile money and the innovations that have continued to be birthed here are solving for challenges not only on the continent, but globally.”
Tulaa is a digital marketplace for smallholder farmers in Africa to buy what they need to grow food and to sell their crops at harvest time.
Zeenith Ibrahim (bottom left) is working with women from Delft trying to make a difference in their … [+] communities. Delft is of the areas on the outskirts of Cape Town most affected by high crime rates and unemployment.
Zeenith Ibrahim makes an unexpected, but true case for South Africa, Africa’s most industrialized nation.
“Things are getting worse in South Africa. In some areas – like Cape Town city centre – its easy to be filled with a sense of possibility. But this is not the reality of millions of South Africans trapped in intergenerational poverty and a mindset that we are not good enough. The intergenerational phycological impact and systematic lack of access to basic services make our path to economic prosperity more challenging. So, I’d argue that we need, now more than ever, help and support to define our future.”
She is the founder of Jamii Life which provides affordable health diagnostics in homes and care for people who can’t care for themselves in low-income communities by training unemployed community members to provide the service in their own communities.
It the midst of an economic crisis, Zimbabwe might not be the first country that comes to mind, but Thulisile Mthethwa-Skapman wants Dorsey to know,
“Zimbabwe is open for business. We appreciate the use of technology in the betterment of society and have a legal system that’s open to innovators. Our STEM initiatives seeks to promote applied learning through favoring and sponsoring hard sciences students.”
She is the Project Manager at Phenomenon Technologies which makes learning fun and interactive through gamified e-learning platforms as well as taking students on low-cost alternative educational field excursions through the use of virtual reality.
Some of these women work in countries, such as Kenya, which have built a brand on innovation. Others, such as Sierra Leone, are still trying to carve out a new identity (though they are off to a good start having appointed a MIT PhD in his 30s as the country’s Chief Innovation Officer). The attention that comes with hosting one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs can help with this identity, no matter what stage a country is in its tech-development. But will these women win?
The answer is unknown. If Dorsey’s time in Africa becomes about amplifying his brand, he could come and go and none of the women quoted would notice any difference. If he does not buck current trends, most of the angel investments he could make would go to men and many of them to men born or educated outside of Africa.
So how can we make sure these women win from Dorsey’s big move? First, he should use his platform to amplify their stories. As of this writing, he has 4.3M Twitter followers and his tweets obviously carry extra weight. Second, he should invest in women. Not only would this inject capital into a group that does not get its fair share, it will be strong signaling to other investors. And when his investments thrive, he can also use his megaphone to shift the narrative around female entrepreneurship. Third, Twitter and Square should take advantage of their boots on the ground to scout for local suppliers and partners to plug into their companies using a gender-smart procurement policy. Especially Square should work with local female innovators to develop solutions for Africa’s massive SME sector.
Where will Jack move? Who will benefit? These questions are still up in the air, but one thing is for certain. It’s an exciting time to be in African tech.