As I’m writing this, I’ve a bottle of Prosecco Doc Luxury opened and multitasking as a writer and an impassioned drinker of Italian sparkling wine with my flute champagne glass. And due to COVID-19 (well, to some extent), I’m at home in my bed going through how I’ve documented 2020 across my social media platforms and my somewhat illegible printed journal. It’s been a year that has qualified in many books as forgettable and unforgettable, and in its wholesome character has been one that has summoned courage and resilience.
This year started with the embrace of calling me out of familiar environments, and into new territories that knew my capabilities and added capacity along the way. When I left the firm that I was with in late February, I was sure of a few things which included a moderator engagement in Kigali, Rwanda as well as a deserved vacation to a few emirates in the United Arab of Emirates – the trajectory of my career and life was from this point onwards was what I could not have mapped out happening in a space of a few months.
After taking about three months to wallow in the reality that showcased itself through the violence of a pandemic, these months were filled with the relentless job applications acceptances and rejections (that returned with over or under qualified response, or non-culture fit), refining the messaging and positioning of my personal brand, upskilling and consulting businesses and startups in business innovation and strategy. Garnering the momentum in these months, through the work of consulting and continuous effort in Vuyolwethu As A Service was an opportunity to work in the wait, as well as prepare for what the months of stupendous grace that August and the months that followed would present.
It’s often joked about that in 2020, you should at least come out with one skill and I suppose I took that joke a little too seriously. I’ve always been one to outsource the work of skills that I don’t have, which includes the building of this particular website, but through Innovtel, I had a bit too much time on my hands and tons of insomnia to challenge myself to build a website. Through this engagement came an opportunity to work with Lufthansa by being a keynote speaker at their inaugural Impact Week for South Africa and produce a guide of the talk available exclusively to my newsletter community; and a few weeks later, InnovTel (Pty) Ltd was born. Innovtel is an impact design studio that facilitates impact innovation and shared value through Marketing and MIL (monitoring, impact and learning and development). To date, we’ve worked with companies like the University of Cape Town and the Mastercard Foundation, and ShEquity and Bright Insights Global to mention a few, spanning our work across three continents and operating as a five figure business. I stubbornly had to let go of the idea of becoming an entrepreneur by 30, and honour the space in which I was and am being placed in at present.
The experience of shedding through loss of family and friendships, habitual lifestyles and an old self, commanded the fierce submission of the a new way of doing and being. Personally, one of the ways in which I did was through sitting and being at home instead of on a plane and sleeping in a newly made white sheet-fitted hotel room. It felt as if I had lost a sense of mobility and the perceived value that I had attached to it. At home, I had to buy a desk and set aside a space to operate as if I was in a hotel suite or an office, and it’s become a continued way of operating in awareness.
Words and paragraphs are not enough to encapsulate the year of the pivot that was, and the learnings and losses that it carried with it to benefit or throw us completely off. What new ways of being and doing have you had to adopt and adapt to?
I had a brief chat with Viresh Harduth who is the Vice President of Small Business, Sage Africa & Middle East about the vision and mission for Sage for small businesses across the region, and how your business can ready itself for the digital transformation and risk beyond COVID-19
1. Viresh, as Vice President of Small Business, Sage Africa & Middle East, what exactly does your role entail and how does it, and Sage support small businesses?
My job is to lead sales and renewals, channel development and customer engagement for our start-up and small business solutions portfolio. In practical terms, that means building awareness of our solutions in the marketplace, working with our business partners to help customers meet their business goals, and providing education and information to the market.
Sage’s vision in small business is to help our customers thrive by automating accounting and compliance and by coaching them to success. The way we do this is by reducing administration for our customers, helping customers to comply with tax regulations, and enabling businesses and their accountants to collaborate better.
2. In the established distinction of an SME and a Start-up, do Sage products apply to both? And at what stage should a business consider bringing in the skillset of accountancy and financing in their business, digitized or human capital?
Our goal at Sage is to build relationships with customers for life, so our Sage Business Cloud encompasses offerings for small businesses and start-ups through to sizeable medium businesses. Our solutions, designed for smaller businesses, are tailored to their specific needs, so they can subscribe and get up-and-running at an affordable cost.
Clients can start with a simple solution that makes it easy to invoice customers and track expenses, then move up the ladder to online and accounting solutions with richer functionality for budgeting, forecasting, multi-currency management, inventory tracking, employee self-service, debtors management and more.
Formal businesses – that is, limited companies – will need an accountant to prepare their annual financial statements. They will usually start by outsourcing to an accounting practice. Generally, it is only when the business grows into a larger and more complex operation that they will consider a permanent accountant. We are seeing accountants in practice become real advisors to small business clients, helping them with strategic advice around optimising costs and finding growth opportunities.
3. Before your current role, you were the Director of Optimisation and Operations at Sage International and I’d like to think that you, more than anyone else recognises the importance of embedding business optimization tools to contribute to your business’ success. How does and can Sage do this for small to medium businesses?
Our business solutions help our clients to optimise their business in two ways. Firstly, we streamline and automate many tasks for them, from financial recordkeeping, invoicing to filing tax submissions, saving them hours of human time each month. That time can then be directed to sales, strategy, billable work or other activities that add value. Automating red-tape and paperwork is a significant cost-saver.
Secondly, we understand that making the most of business opportunities must be balanced with managing cash flow and keeping costs under control. Companies need a clear, real-time view of how the business is performing to achieve that goal. Our solutions empower them with the business performance information they need to make good financial choices that translate into higher revenues and profits.
Making an investment in your business’ digital transformation is an investment that takes more than one purchase and optimising one process, it is an evolving strategy that takes time, skills and the right technology.
4. As small businesses are moving from being digitally resistant to the aspirational observers and challengers, and ultimately digital natives, what would be your advice to founders of things to consider as they map out their digital strategy?
Digital technology doesn’t need to be as complex as some small businesses outside the tech industry might imagine. A good place to start is by identifying areas where manual processes are slowing you down, costing you money, restricting your flexibility or hampering your customer experience. From there, you can look for cloud-based solutions that address your pain points through automation. Many of these tools can be trialed for a month or two for free.
To sum up: digital technology is at its most powerful when you’re starting with the goal of solving a business problem. As a small business owner, you might have limited budget and time to rapidly incorporate new technologies and skills into your business, so look for the quick wins. And remember that the cloud can adapt as your business changes and grows, remaining a valuable business tool that evolves with you.
5. Your message to founders as they are coming out of Global Entrepreneurship Month, and into a 2021 that will definitely still require us to do business differently?.
At Sage, we know the pandemic has compounded the effects of the recession, and that many small businesses are struggling just to pay the rent and keep the lights on. Their grit and resilience are inspiring, as is the role they are playing in maintaining jobs and economic activity throughout this time. But if you are running a small business, you’ll know that platitudes are not going to be enough.
There are no quick fixes for the damage that the pandemic may have dealt to your cash reserves and your cash flow. Nonetheless, there are also opportunities to get closer to your customers and find new purpose in a crisis. Stay focused on your vision, watch your cashflow, and look out for how customer behaviour is changing. Aiming for small wins makes you flexible, adaptable, and able to make faster decisions.
It’s the year that no futurist or economist could have predicted, one inhabited by a virus that would (and still) impact livelihoods, businesses, economies and our way of living. The negative socio-economic rippling effect of COVID-19 has been felt across all vectors, and in a similar light, has inspired entrepreneurial and innovative activity that’s yielded products and partnerships that have impacted and pivoted the world as we know it. On the 14th of October, I announced such a partnership, a SAGE Partnership to benefit small businesses across South Africa.
In the midst of the pandemic, and after weeks of anxiously contemplating whether to take the plunge and spending a week of building a facilitated learning platform, I launched www.innovtel.org which houses courses, e-books and InnovTel and Teach webinars on impact innovation. Birthed through our first partnership with a global leading aviation company in providing advisory and mentorship on impact innovation, InnovTel (Pty) Ltd (an impact design studio that facilitates impact innovation and shared value through design, advisory and project management) was registered a company was born.
You’re probably thinking, what a crazy time to launch! Me too, at first. I also thought, what a relevant time to engage on impact and tools that can innovatively impact the way in which we practice and understand impact. A necessary opportunity to map out what impact means for your business, and what tools to use when listening to the potential impact and growth that can be achieved.
Recently, through InnovTel and Teach, which is one of the products of www.innovtel.org , we engaged with an entrepreneur on how she is building her multi-million venture, and one of the core principles of this impact was finances. She simply said to build your business as though you are building a legacy baby and it was her accountant who gave her this sage advice.
Being a small business owner, I knew that I could waste no time in tracking the finances of my business, and in my relationship with data and intelligence, Excel was my chosen tool of choice for my business, coupled with my relationship with my banker in understanding the trajectory that I wanted to take my business in. However, I knew I needed more to optimise my operations, and my partnership with SAGE could not have been more timeous, especially since I didn’t have an accountant on my business speed dial.
SAGE, a multinational enterprise software company, and I, will be engaging in #SAGEAdvice harnessing insights and expertise, and sharing how #SageForSmallBiz tools and capabilities for SMEs can optimize business operations through digitization. Over the next few months, we’ll be unpacking what this exactly means, and how things like automated processes, getting the right tools for your business finances, choosing the right business program partners, what impact is and how getting these process right and much more can contribute to the growth and success of your business.
For now, here’s a little gift from SAGE, an e-book guide with 10 tips to transform your productivity and how changing something as simple and important as your accounting admin can have a huge impact on your business.
A few days ago, I did an Instagram Live session with Annette Oppong, a Senior Associate at KPMG, podcaster for Diaspora Talks and Partnerships for Foundervine, an inclusive startup community supporting and building businesses. The session engaged the impact of the pandemic in South Africa on business, technology and the relationship with xenophobia; and inspired this article. In observing some of other conversations and articles that have been happening around the topic of the healthcare crisis, I wanted to introduce a five series of articles that will provide thought leadership into, what I call, The Business of COVID-19. Every month, I’ll focus on an aspect of business that has had to react or be proactive to how we do business, this May, we focus on the theme of Pivoting.
Whether you’re in Italy, Singapore, Canada or South Africa like me, you’ve experienced or seen from large to small businesses having to pivot their businesses and doing so through different models. We will unpack THREE ways to model, how this adaptation will influence your business decisions and the current and (potentially) long term impact of your enterprise?
“Adapt – make something suitable for a new use or purpose, modify; become adjusted to new conditions.”
Per this Oxford dictionary explanation, to adapt is employed in business studies to explain how a business’ product, market, or the way it operates can be modified to a new use or purpose, per the economic conditions. But Vuyo, you may ask, is this not pivoting? Or rather, what’s the difference between these two terms? Let’s dig in.
Pivoting addresses the HOW of adapting. When a business pivots, they are taking an informed business decision to do so based on the measured evidence because the market has changed, and in this case, the market has been affected by the pandemic of SARS COV-19.
“Pivot – to pivot is to turn or rotate, like a hinge. When you’re not talking about a type of swivelling movement, you can use pivot to mean the one central thing that something is depending on.”
The Business of COVID-19 has meant that enterprises have had to pivot to adapt. To pivot, means to change the core of the product when it is not meeting the needs of the market. This Cambridge Dictionary definition stood out for me because it speaks on centricity and dependency. The mechanism of pivot innovation and its dependency of the affected market is what can make or break the business.
New Product PPI
Before this pandemic infected now, over 5 million people, and impacted millions more, the saying used to be “How the mighty have fallen”, but now, it’s “How the redundant have fallen” and you could fill in many other adjectives with this term too. Aside from the hospitality and travel industry which has been affected because of global travel bans, many other industries have been affected because of the product’s reliance of people moving from the comfort of their own home. This has enforced companies to develop new products completely out of what they’re usually capable of doing to stay open. In Canada, INKSmith, which is an edtech startup specialising in making design thinking and technology tools for kids, has now had to move to manufacturing face shields and has, as a result, ended up hiring up to 100 new employees to meet demand.
In a study by the Erwing Marion Kauffman Foundation, two of the findings expressed that “over half of the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list, and just under half of the 2008 Inc. list, began during a recession or bear market.”; and “Job creation from startups is much less volatile and sensitive to downturns than job creation in the entire economy”. Companies like Airbnb, Microsoft and General Electric were created during an economic downtown, such as the one we’re currently living through. Will yours be one of them?
Innovation is not limited to new product development, it’s about finding new processes to improve a company’s efficiency and effectiveness, as well as gain momentum on its competitive advantage. Startups have been pivoting incrementally through either product expansion or new products via their core models. A prime example of what has been happening across delivery services businesses like Netflorist which moved from only delivering gifts to now exclusively groceries or Exclusive Books who is now delivering its books on UberEats. Bottles, an alcohol delivery service, also adapted to this, and are now grocery providers.
This century presents the age of the weaponizaton of data through its licensing, yet COVID-19 has given us an ultimatum to either digitize or go home, stay at home and not be an economic participant. Due to the advisory of physical distancing, this has meant that some PPI has had to be digitized to adapt to the new market. Online classes have become (sometimes to a parent’s nightmare) the norm for schooling, gyms and fitness instructors are moving their classes to zoom rooms and more conferences and summits are being moved online. Keeping with this trajectory, products that were already online like Zoom has seen a surge in daily users to 300 million, and influencers have had a much more captive and larger audience than ever before and securing more deals.
So, what does this Pivot Product Innovation (PPI) mean for your business going forward?
The long-term stain that COVID-19 has imprinted is Pivot Product Innovation (PPI), the mechanisation of market capitalisation and continued democratisation of economic participation. Millions of new challenges have emerged, and old ones worsened, and millions of opportunities are inserting themselves through new and incremental product development as well as digitization. You have been disrupted; with what PPI will you respond with for your business? Make your move!
In February, I had honoured the invitation of moderating the Investor Forum at the annual Timeless Women’s Conference in Kigali, Rwanda which is one of the leading women empowerment conferences in Africa, and truly a Pan-African experience. Garnished with high-level speakers such as former First Ladies, Members of Parliament, Executives and Impact -driven Entrepreneurs, it was a convening that invited an opportunity to measure and see how Africans and those in the diaspora can do so in engaging discussions, and through that, create shared value.
Traveling to Rwanda for the first time, it certainly lived up to the expectation of it being one of the technology capitals of Africa. The moment I landed at Kigali International Airport, I was met with the warmest of service at the counters and my visa processed on arrival without any hassles. Before I knew it, it was time to get on stage at the two-day event, and moderate the investor forum which highlighted about Investing in Africa through themes including and not limited to Policy and Regulation, FDI and DFI, SMMEs, Digitization and Inclusive Capital Deployment. If anything to come out of the session, it’s that capital and innovation can’t solely be reliant on the private sector, government has to not only be visible in and during elections, but throughout the year, and so its work.
“Intra-Africa trade has been historically low. Intra-African exports were 16.6%
of total exports in 2017, compared with 68% in Europe and 59% in Asia,
pointing to untapped potential.” – World Economic Forum
“According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), under the African
Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), intra-African trade is likely to
increase by 52.3% by 2020.”– United Nations
Taking the above statistics into considerations, the engaged conference and traveling to one of Africa’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Hotspots and one of the five fastest-growing economies on the continent, inspired me to analyse and share the concept of CSV through the diaspore lens, and through the channel of lessons learnt through my few days in Rwanda.
An academic concept coined by Harvard Business School Professors Michael Porter and Mark R. Kramer and was introduced in 2011 in the Harvard Business Review article ‘Creating Shared Value.’, this concepts looks at the core of wealth creation through shared value. CSV asks the question of how do you capitalise the very capitalism to trade, scale and share in profits and social impact by not trading off the one for the other?
CSV has been proposed to be achieved in THREE ways, and that is by Reconceiving products and markets, Redefining productivity in the value chain and Enabling local cluster development. Let’s take a look at how we can enable. Nurture and catalyse the principle of CSV and dive into examples and proposals of such an effort:
- Reconceiving Products and Markets
The first of the three keys of CSV in unlocked in creating new products and services or markets that will serve the socio-economic needs identified. This is the opportunity for intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs to activate value through the channel of new product innovation, and/or integrate them in products and markets that already exist.
Market-creating innovation (innovation that doesn’t rely on post infrastructure society and the financial markets it’ll create) that will help close the infrastructure financing gap in the range of US$68-US$108 billion. We need to propel further access into education for this opportunity and retain young people as per Whitney Houston (I believe the children are our future) – we need to let them lead the way. We need to center the youth in these dialogues, we encourage that.
Examples of such innovations are crowdfunding platforms as open innovation tools for co-creation, startups changing the course of African innovation and a COVID-19 investor matchup tool for startups (piloting). These examples continue to call upon the power of collaboration, creating new products (new or incremental) and a desire for a new market.
- Redefining Productivity in the Value Chain
Creating new products is great, but how do we ensure that efficiency is created, monitored and evaluated on par with the excellence that the product is created with? The value chain in Africa disrupted by one of few mechanisms, that of which includes the role of government in actualising the full potential of its nations. Looking at channels to access, use and manage resources, energy, suppliers, logistics innovatively and to full potential, and more productively is a unique opportunity as it is a challenge. African leadership is more than unfortunately regarded for the moral decay in leadership. Africa needs to become deliberate about the type of leadership that the continent requires to continue to open the runway for investment. Transformational leaders who are thinking generationally.
The difference in policy and regulations is that sometimes the policy frameworks doesn’t gel as well as with the outcome of the policy. We need to ensure that the AfCFTA and its compliance will bear the fruit that the projections of impact are highlighting. Government must lead prioritize in creating an enabling environment where better policies and regulations can be established for not only the multinationals but the SMMEs – creating Startup Acts and executing AfCFTA (now delayed due to COVID-19).
- Enabling Local Network and Development
Over the course of the years, we’ve witnessed and some participated in the FDI and particularly the investment in education, youth and technology as we’ve seen with Andela, Africa Netpreneur Prize (with Alibaba and Jack Ma), the expansion of Facebook Developer Circles across African cities and Mark Zuckerburg’s visit to Nigeria – this trend is one of clear opportunity that has potential to alleviate many social ills of our society. Improving the local operating environment through skills development and development training will invite coding academies like GirlCode, startup competitions like Seedstars World, incubating organisations like Foundervine and government-led innovations like Kigali Innovation City and its collaborators to pave the way. This is nothing new for Africa, and the through the interconnectedness and shared passion across the diaspora, CSV can be leveraged for its economic benefits to serve.
Ready to Create and Impact Value?
When we refer to the industrial revolutions and mention the empires that changed the course of history, that of the African Renaissance is often eclipsed. In his book Tech Adjacent, engages on the pioneering continent that Africa was and still is when it comes to technology, research and development and innovation. This leads us to the statistics provided earlier on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, and the need to develop mechanisms that something like 4IR can bring to radicalize economic value and growth.
So what will it take to tap into this value and create it? The secret sauce is Africa is in the continent’s true diversity, resources, youth, (cross sector) collaboration, intra-African trade, community and innovation.
Investing in Africa and the diaspora is a paradigmatic moment for the continent and is inviting various stakeholders including DFIs and independent investors from across the globe. AFCTA is the heart of investment confidence at present in interstate trade and development talks. Partnerships and collaboration are prime in executing the policy frameworks and projects, and conferences like these hotbeds for creating such opportunities.
Although the science of CSV is that it pays for itself and is Daviding the Goliath of capitalism, capital resource allocation is the root of why the scales are not balanced, and how Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has come to pass. Also, in areas and communities where capital and its resources are needed for economic activity, a priority needs to place beyond championing the gift of food parcels. Africa and the diaspora can, are and will maximise the profit of nations and their organisations and continue to connect the thread and networks to inclusively innovate and develop for economic and development purposes.
The narrative of innovation, Africa’s future and role in previous, present and forthcoming revolutions, and the function of exponential principles as it relates to growth within your business and daily life applications is what captured my special attention when the author, Mushambi Mutuma first broke the news about his book. The additional and relevant Africa case studies then sold me even more. What this book turned out to be was not a guideline on how to build a tech startup in 100 days, but rather a preparation toolbox on how leverage technology and think exponentially about the trajectory of growth for your business and what that means for the future.
Consisting of nine chapters divided into four main parts, the book journeys defining technology, to understanding innovation and disruption and going through a rigorously layered “Buzzword Boot Camp” that weaponises even the non-technically savvy yet visionary leaders wanting to intergrate into a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technology like Internet of Things (IoT) or 5G into their solution. Tech Adjacent invites those with what the author, serial entrepreneur and technology leader, describes as a “billion impact mindset”, to participate in their business’ future success.
“Once we are adjacent to the accelerating pace of technology, we can better plan for what’s coming. Our minds can be far better prepared not to run away from change but instead to see the new opportunities ahead. The grandfather of exponential thinking and futurism, Ray Kurzweil, stated, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century, it will be more like 20 000 years of progress.” How prepared are you for that kind of pace?”
Two strategies that the book engages and employs you to investigate is being rooted on “ … having a game plan rooted in the basics.”; i.e, the return on investment (ROI) per knowledge of your customer and the digitisation (technologies) of your business in the way in which technology rapidly grows in your business. This is so vital. It can be so easy to get carried away and lose focus with the fear of the coming of the singularity and of Ray Kurzweills’s predictions, the loss of jobs with the systematic integration of Robotic Process Automation (RPAs) and other forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and indeed would be amiss if the author dismissed or didn’t highlight the causes, effects and opportunities, and he does so in Chapter 5 entitled “Hearing the Footsteps - Where Future Tech is Going Next” , coupled with an exercise that speaks to the data, economics and the science in preparation of being tech adjacent.
“Today, tomorrow and 20 years from now, your survival will not depend upon how much technology you fully grasp, or can build immediately, but merely on your ability to be in its close proximity. Digital transformation is about casting your mind a generation ahead with enough resources and information until reality comes to life. What digital transformation is not, is just taking existing information and your current methods and converting them into digital form. ”
Even with the robots that are coming, and some, already here, Mushambi assures us that “you are going to be just fine:”. The final chapter has marching orders, not to go start a technology startup, but broaden the scope of what you think is achievable and become an opportunity seeker. To invest in a new way to create and shape change in the current way of thinking, so as to break the ceilings in how we define and implement (digital) transformation and plant the seeds of an exponential tomorrow.
Tech Adjacent is a wonderful, practical read that chronicles the excellence that the human mind is, showcases the futuristic brilliance that is currently taking place in Africa with true pioneers across all sectors of industry like energy and biochemistry and not just financial services, and invites you to question the current status quo in the processes and operations of your life and business, and doing it so in an agile and adaptable way to accommodate the exponential character that is technology for your business success!
A few Sunday afternoons ago, a friend shared an article written by a thought leader and known angel investor on the continent on the momentum that angel investing has been gathering on the African continent, and his hopes for the ecosystem in the near and far future. Once we’d both had time time to unpack the read, the conversation then triggered into the origin of this kind of investing and one of the major underlying themes of financial inclusion – collaboration, and in essence group economics. In Africa, the idea of group economics may be unfamiliar by English terminology, but the practice of accruing investments to enable financial inclusion is no foreign concept.
What is Group Economics?
Group Economics is a concept that explains how individuals engaging in economic and financial activities yield better value for their money at the expense of lesser resources in savings by sharing the cost. An example of this would be through carpooling or a lift club and what Somali informal shop traders in South Africa do to grow their consumer base (and more businesses) in townships by buying their stock in bulk for other shop owners in the network. In true Africa-is-not-a-country style, different African countries practice similar components of group economics but under different names and models. In Ethiopia it is known as Iqub, while in Kenya it’s denoted as Chamas and Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in Ghana. In this article, we’re going to explore what is called Vicobas in Tanzania and Stokvels in South Africa, informal savings clubs and how they are modelling financial inclusion respectively.
Banking on Stokvels in South Africa
According to the National Stokvel Association of South Africa (NASASA) there are more than 11 million stokvel members and the market is worth close to R50 billion (US$ 3.57 million) with over 820,000 stokvels currently in the country. In a recent study conducted by Nedbank, the most popular types of stokvels are savings, grocery and burial societies, with only 5% of stokvels focused on investment savings and 41% having bank accounts. While the profile of stokvels has always been middle-aged black women from low-income earning backgrounds convening and saving to buy groceries in December, the landscape is gradually introducing younger and middle class audiences who are using the model to generate wealth through means of property, investment and travel stokvels.
It’s not only banks that are wanting a piece of this inclusion pie, but so are financial startups like Stokfella who are bringing in a data and financial management piece to the puzzle. The platform is a management tool that enables members to facilitate their payments and claims, and grow their savings through investment channels, also enabling safety and transparency with all the members of the society. With over 9000 registered users who personally registered or were registered by stokvel executives, this application is an example of how the sector is unhurriedly being optimized both in revenue and the level of sophistication in formalising it.
Venture Capital with Impact through Vicobas in Tanzania
With a much more elevated and flexible approach from stokvels, vicobas carry out the mandate of empowerment through a model of micro-financing with economic, socio-economic and environment impact at the backend of it. Coined and conceptualised in September of 2002 by major organizations Social and Economic Development Initiatives of Tanzania (SEDIT), CARE International and World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), VICOBA is an acronym for Village Community Banks.
So, how does the model work and how is it different from stokvels? And, how are the societies sustainable investment opportunities for the vicoba members and the wider communities at large?
It begins with members forming five unit groups and each of these groups and then joining each other to make a vicoba group of 30 members. Once the rules and regulations of the group have been set and amount of resources to subscribe is agreed upon, the members contribute their savings (shares) and social protection and then begin what can be a year long training and follow up cycle with financial institutions. After the financial education from a field trainer is completed, the vicoba members can start to support their own startup enterprises with each loan is then returned to the group basket account with added value.
The premise of the vicoba model is to stimulate low-income earning citizens by equipping them with the tools and finances to develop and manage income generating activities and catalyze developmental initiatives much like the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) through their economic empowerment programmes.
Investments Accrue when Sustainability is Optimized
Much like PWC, the heart of the group savings model was aimed at women enabling themselves to participate in the economy actively due to the systematic (and still very nimble) patriarchal society. Group economics has licensed gender and socio-economic empowerment to greater access to education and general participation from citizens otherwise not permitted because of their economic standings. And, don’t get me wrong, not all vicobas or Stokvels work out or are rosy, in fact, most of these savings groups fail at the stage of infancy due to lack of accountability, late payments, theft and lack of transparency within the members. However, the optimist and intrapreneur in me believes in these financial models of inclusion and their opportunity at optimization of exponential empowerment to accrue more investment, and to create more impact.
I truly believe that the future of financing businesses and impacting communities lies in the power of group economics, and next month, I’ll be unpacking this ideology in “Group Economics in Africa: Part 2, Impact Investing is no foreign African Concept”. Whether you’re a startup, a technology or financial expert or a citizen with money and an idea or a dream, this is definitely an idea worth betting on.
Do you belong to any savings and/or investment groups? If so, what do you and your members save up for? Let me know in the comments section, I’d love to hear from you!
So it’s been quite a first six months of 2019, which meant closing a couple of chapters, stepping up into a few and the start of new blossoming ones. As my journey with the global intelligence and media firm, Thomson Reuters came to a close in March of 2019, a new one began in June of 2019 with a pan-African investment and advisory firm Impact Amplifier. The career change has been an overwhelming and energizing experience so far that allows one’s creativity and expertise to be stretched at the opportunity to turn industry upside down through the business of ideas and impact acceleration.
I'm in a new industry, which is quite an interesting, exciting and intimidating to say the least - that of the behind the scenes outlook at creation in private equity and venture capital investments. The firm looks at Social Enterprise Acceleration, Impact Ecosystem Strengthening, Impact Investment Services and Entrepreneur, Investment and Ecosystem Research which all have their particular sub-categories that respectively look at elements like investment readiness, new funding mechanisms, deal sourcing, advisory and so much more. The essence of these capabilities are all rooted in the working with enterprises who are committed to actively and intentionally do business that is impactful through the socio-economic and environmental lenses.
My role as an Associate in Impact Acceleration includes unpacking impact assessment coordination and management, coordination and participating in primary and secondary market research activities, driving internal and external investment/grant readiness and capital raising acceleration process for investment readiness programmes, building a new pipeline for business development and supporting the partners in investment readiness deals. Now I should warn you, no day is the same, and that’s what’s not also rewarding but allows for practices like deep mind when you’re focused on research on one day and being in the field with the customer and unpacking their theory of change. Now, in any workplace setting, one cannot mostly achieve anything on their own without the collaboration with an incredible team and colleagues. What’s really cool about the space that I’m in is that everyone comes from different backgrounds with a diversity of ideas, which when challenges arise, continue to push creativity and solutions envelope.
The impact investment and advisory ecosystem is an industry quite in its infancy globally, and moreso due to the costs associated with the processes and metrics in measuring impact. Stakeholders see the value in impact assessment - investees for their investors, investors for their boards, businesses for growth and organisational strategy etc. I'm really excited to deep dive more into the space, there is a lot of intelligence that exists, and moreso the value added to profits greater than economical. Here's to measurable and accelerated inclusive development, and learning and doing work that matters.
Would you be interested in a Day of the Life of An Associate later in the year? Let me know in the comments section and we’ll make it happen J
What is Innovation Capital?
In a few weeks I’ll be delivering an address at one of South Africa’s universities upon the invitation of the Director of Technology, Innovation and Commercialisation on some key innovation practices in the country, this will be to the regional campus’ staff and students. Last week, I addressed an audience of over 225 women on leveraging their capital (in trusting themselves) through innovation tools. Apart from the innovation addresses in common that these two invitations carried, it’s how I was contacted and made visible to these two entities that will touch on what we’ll be unpacking in this article. Through amplifying my work and thought leadership engagement, and many other properties that I’ll get into in in the coming paragraphs, my Innovation Capital banked on these opportunities.
A concept coined by Marc Benioff who is Salesforce’s Founder and CEO, Innovation Capital is (to paraphrase) the accrued capital and impact to influence and fund an idea and the resources needed to actualise it. Have you ever wondered how Elizabeth Holmes successfully raised millions of dollars for Theranos, despite its failure? Or how Elon Musk continues to build and bankrupt ideas that are bankable, yet seem incredibly ludicrous? Innovation Capital is not only exclusive to individuals, but to brands like Apple who continue to incrementally innovate and elevate their standard to a point where their customers become their brand advocates? Or how recently listed UBER continued being funded by investors even though it was a blood-sucking investment? Some have it, and some can still raise it; so how do you ensure that you have it? You build it, and you do so patiently, because Innovation Capital cannot be wired into your account, you have to earn it. Let’s unpack this a bit.
The Characteristics of an Innovation Capitalist?
As with any capital, no matter who or what brand you are, it accrues in volume over time before it can be of value, innovation capital is no different. To be an inspired gamechanger like an Oprah Winfrey and building a school for girls in South Africa, not only do you need to be the self-made billionaire with multiple businesses and have a direct line to a Nelson Mandela who can make political calls to get your idea into a proof of concept. Are you getting my drift? The characteristics of an innovation capitalist are dependent on who you are, the strong ties that you have with the right network, the work that you’ve done and the stages and platforms that you employ to amplify your work. Now, even with all these characteristics in mind, as is the process of innovation, there is no guarantee that it’ll work out, proof of concepts aren’t always proven. This, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs will tell you, but that’s the beauty of innovation, there’s no guarantee but through the research and development, there’s always a lesson or few to be learnt. Having worked in corporate innovation for the past two years and being at the nucleus of product management and development, I cannot tell you how many ideas were killed (in their respective stages) in as much as that we launched. But in this, the true value became not in how many times we failed, but how quickly we did so and did it so with an accrued value for my manager (with incredible visionary leadership – another key component) to continue getting these ideas funded.
How do you Build Innovation Capital?
So, whether your ideas take off or not. How do you begin to build Innovation Capital? If you’re not an Oprah, a Mandela or even a Hitler (dark, I know, but his capital funded Nazi Germany) and you’re a student, entrepreneur or working professional who wants to create or accrue their innovation capital, where do you begin? First things first, you acquire the knowledge of where you’re wanting to be an innovation capitalist in – in order to play the game, you need to know it. The skills that you’ll acquire from this will enable you to not only set yourself apart, but then have the expertise and confidence to be able to find the platform to share these ideas. These are the makings of a leader. Becoming a leader in your industry is a key component in building trust in your shared ideas, as this garners visibility, which catapults the effectiveness of a personal brand that people trust with their capital.
An amalgamation of many accrued capital, innovation capital requires human, social, intellectual and other forms of capital in order to yield momentum and/or return on investment, nothing is guaranteed. Now that you have the knowledge and the tools of the term, how will you put it to practice and ensure that it get funded? May the best idea win, and the capital odds always be in your favour!
Images Supplied: The Corporate Canvas
There is no better time in developing markets and the current industrial revolution than right now to contribute to the discussion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the alarming PR messaging that it has, some well-intentioned misdirection and the other half split with an overflow of information of which skillset to prioritise and which technology to employ. The job losses, the new technology and the illiteracy to name a few of this incoming era can indeed create a barrier of intimidation on entry, and what adds to the complexity of the situation is that the data lies.
Exploring Data Bias
You should be familiar with the notion of data being the new currency, at least in comparison to oil as an infinite resource that can empower economies. And data, having been undocumented, raw and undigitized has always been around, it is rather the scramble for the science and technology of it, and who gets access to it first that impacts the narrative and gets an opportunity to score some points for their industry, economy or group of privilege that they belong to. It’s the data scramble, it’s the data rush. This is what’s caused, I believe, the insurmountable backlash and inaccuracies, the product bias towards chatbots or products otherwise, whether its towards gender, race or access. The question that then follows up to this statement would be where the data is, and exploring the intentional bias and opportunities for solutions to the bias, and what stakeholders can do create inclusive economies.
The Impact of Bias Practices …
Machine Learning which is an application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that studies the sciences of how machines can automatically learn and improve from experience by learning from themselves, is learning from the bias of the producers of the algorithms, and these makers of algorithms are largely white males as can be seen in an example of this through facial recognition products created by IBM, Microsoft and Face Plus Plus. That means that, so is the (informed) data, which breeds much room for prejudice.
A recent example of a sector that informed this bias is financial services, mostly with credit, and is now building the intelligence tools to either enforce or break away from this. In South Africa, usury expert Emerald van Zyl, claims that Standard Bank (including banks like First National Bank), which is Africa’s oldest bank is currently under hot fire for billing its black customers at a higher interest rate in financing. This is not the first time this occurred with Standard Bank, as in 2012 they were also charged with violating the National Credit Act where eventually customers were refunded by 2013. Now, if the machine learns these algorithms and continues to grant the same product bias, the discriminatory practices are more than likely continue.
This is kind of problem is also consistent in the health sector. In a New England Journal of Medicine article published on 15 March 2019, researchers of the Framington Heart Study showed the risk and capability of AI algorithms to demonstrate bias. The research used AI to predict the risk of cardiovascular occurrences in non-white populations and the results demonstrated bias in both over- and underestimations of risk.
People's lives are at stake through the products of 4IR. And, beyond the glitter of Sophia The Robot and the New Generation Kiosks at companies like McDonalds, there is a community that is not being intentional about being inclusive and rather duplicating structural socio inequalities that implicates another.
Data bias does only one thing, it mirrors what is socially ingrained, which means that it lies and tells a partial truth, of which is not meant for consumption by those who produce it.
Dismantling the Structural Bias
The call for inclusive economies goes beyond teaching young, black girls how to code and having strictly women only data science clubs. Practices like hiring more diverse teams leads to impactful and informed product creation and is a good contribution to mitigate prejudice algorithms and encourage more accurate data on a model. A sub-division of AI, Natural Language Programming (NLP) is a study that is concerned with the processing of computers and human natural languages, and can be used as a great example and opportunity for the necessity of the inclusive call in the sector. Translating open source of data sets in different parts of the world requires an understanding of the language being translated so that we can not only have Siri being able to understand my instructions in English but also the opportunity to preserve and digitise languages like the Khoi which are diminishing, mostly because, especially with African languages, the impartation of language happens orally. A great example of this opportunity is Ajala Studios, which a Nigerian startup that builds natural language and speech processing applications for African languages, which means that they can too synthesize speech from African languages presented as digitized text, a gap that’s mostly recognises Western accents, voices and names.
The responsibility of creating these opportunities is also a shared responsibility, especially with the public sector. Governments in both developed and developing markets need to invest more in Research and Development (R&D) and in the social concept of open innovation (engaging the public with the data) especially as the impact of this investment is quite telling. And although it is a long term investment, the return on this investment is worthwhile. Researchers from the United Kingdom (UK) and Saudi Arabia looked at 40 Asian counties and how their spend on R&D lead to the production of quality research publications across sciences and social sciences; and with more research in the UK showing the positive impact that public investment has in the increment of private sector investment and in attracting foreign direct investment. Through this R&D investment and its impact in the knowledge economy, it also presents an opportunity to lead to more computational intelligence and feeding it the missing data, and the greater economic impact through the indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The next solution is not only costly but risky, but if there is one thing that I’ve learnt about being in the innovation space, whether the product is out to market or still in the proof of concept phase, no matter how good it looks on paper, it’s that it is never too late to take the product off market if it doesn’t serve its purpose. A great example of this is Vodacom South Africa’s failure, thrice to launch its sister Kenyan network SafariCom’s M-Pesa to the South African market. Factors like an onerous regulatory environment, the competitive advantage that the larger and established banks have with their products to low-income consumers, and some have also argued due to the mixed messaging upon launching, from introducing it as a mobile money wallet to a platform that is linked to your VISA card. This case study is also an example of the danger of wanting to copy and paste a one-size fits all product into an Africa that is not a country.
At the end of the day, it's about investing in the visibility of the communities so as to include better, impactful and innovative products and profitability for all ecosystem stakeholders a part of the operation chain.
The data samples ARE there. And unfortunately (or an opportunity), so is the bias. But all is not lost, not with the desire of visionary stakeholders to operate in a transformative world that uses the enabler of technology for sustainable good business.