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
Entrepreneurship, it’s far beyond meetings at coffee shops, sleek silver grey PCs and colourful socks, it’s a design that’s a function of human-centred solutions and banking on the market in the gap. And, in most emerging markets like Africa and Asia, small and medium businesses contribute a large portion to not only a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also in alleviating social ills like unemployment and limited access to affordable healthcare. And no business can operate as an island; access to markets, capital investment and capabilities are just some of the tools needed to operate and scale a business, something that the Entrepreneur of the Year® (EOY) Awards offers and enables.
What is Entrepreneur of Year Awards?
Proudly sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, the Entrepreneur of the Year® Awards is an annual competition that recognises and honours small and medium enterprises in South Africa who are innovative in their businesses, and create not only profitable businesses, but enterprises of social and economic impact. The competition invites esteemed entrepreneurs, investors and veterans in business like Matsi Modise and David Morobe to judge this notable competition, and uses various filtering processes to mitigate bias and error.
So, what’s in it for Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS in investing in such a platform? “We’ve been in business for over 38 years and understand that entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. As such, we created the competition as a platform to acknowledge the efforts made by business owners to assure them that they are on the right track and to link them with other entrepreneurs for networking and business opportunities,” says Gugu Mjadu, Spokesperson for the Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS.
Gugu adds that the awards were also introduced with the aim to contribute towards stimulating entrepreneurial activity in the country. “We want aspiring entrepreneurs to look at the EOY award winners and believe that it is possible to achieve success and wealth via entrepreneurship,” she adds.
What Access to Market?
With so many competitions, events and awards in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, it can be difficult to track the impact and progress of the capital that the entrepreneurs receive from these organisations. According to the SME Landscape Report An Assessment of South Africa’s SME Landscape: Challenges, Opportunities, Risks & Next Steps’ 2018/2019, it was revealed that almost 52% of entrepreneurs care and prioritize about access to market than anything else for their businesses and also need assistance in access, especially small and medium business, using this is a springboard to enabling their companies to scale.
But what is Access to Market? And how does it enable small and medium businesses to thrive? Market access is the conditions and measures set by countries to enable or to restrict transactions and trade of their products. These conditions for small and medium enterprises are also upheld by the bureaucracy that exists in both public and private sectors, at times making it difficult for the smaller players to get a piece of the market share. This is why, more than ever, it’s important for big players like Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS to enable market access, through either their own market or with the financial capital that is up for grabs in this year’s awards.
EOY's Strategy for Entrepreneurship Access in South Africa
“Take 2017 Innovator of the Year® winner and owner of Pimp my Book, Mpodumo Doubada – he says the direct spin-off from the EOY awards was a far more positive reception from various universities and corporates – who had heard about their company through the media and became a little more open to trying their innovative approach. Post winning, he also opened a new store in Pretoria, signed on more than 1000 new bursary students to their bursary division. The best part is that their revenue has grown by 40% since winning the award. ” says Gugu.
Through the awards and its objective to get the entrepreneurs to build and grow a successful business, the entrepreneurs get an opportunity to leverage social networking and capital, this, with fellow entrepreneurs and credible business experts who carry insights in industries of interest. Winners also have the added advantage of receiving formal mentorship or technical assistance as one of their prizes which they can use to develop tactics for accessing markets.
Adoption Strategy for your Business
So, whether it’s the prizes to the total value of R2 million which include cash prizes of R500 000, expanding networks, receiving media and mentorship exposure, it’s important that not only you just enter the EOY Awards, but to also enter it with clarity of why and how it can benefit the scaling of the development of your business.
Entries close on 31st of May, so don’t forget to submit your applications by visiting www.eoy.co.za
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.
On LinkedIn, I recently uploaded a post that had a graphic recording themed on the discussion of mobile banking unpacking challenges, opportunities, the pillars of the ecosystems and the key stakeholders in the markets. It was a piece of art and knowledge that was created about 4- 5 years ago, and however powerful the discussions in the room, the micro-themes still echo the non-silver bullet industry that’s catapulted Africa’s invitation to the global seat of innovation, and particularly financially inclusion. Although the hotbed of the financial inclusion conversation is mobile money in Africa, in this article we’ll explore and propose ways to continue enhancing the distribution mechanism of mobile to employ an economically inclusive society.
Exploring Mobile Money Mission
It was not so long ago when MPESA launched in Kenya, and successfully so that not only did it grant Africa the opportunity to drive the mobile money conversation and allow the unbanked to access financial products but, for some, create and enhance digital footprint, and a chance to be economically active.
Traditional banks notoriously have, for a long time created financial products that were only accessible to the middle class and above, those who were already economically empowered. In the exclusivity of these financial products, the role of startups, data (open or big) and technology became important in leapfrogging the traditional banking industry and getting credit right. The rise of the living standard in emerging markets also created an opportunity for the mobile economy to continue to thrive, whether with an Android phone or if you’re living in the townships.
Who Gets to Participate?
According to research by the PEW Research Center, in emerging economies, the population in some of the poorest communities do have access to a mobile phone, even though the ownership is not of a smartphone. What this does, is that it gives rise to Opening Demand so that the non-digitally savvy citizens may participate, and Supply Inclusion for manufactures, such as now, the new smartphone manufacturer in Africa with the Mara Phone Project.
Mobile money products bank on the vision of a society where the individuals are economically active and visible, from women owned businesses who in some economies didn’t have access to credit to spaza shop owners and the super paranoid cashless user. And in doing this, it is also giving them a digital footprint, and an identity that is tailored for edifying their lifestyles as well as their businesses and financial products.
However, the cost of this inclusion also comes with its own price for the service providers, which includes finding ways to enhance the user and experience centric for the customer.
The Cost of Digitisation, for the Supplier
The high level of customisation to operate in data-lite countries, where data is not enriched and infrastructure is needed to augment results is quite costly. At this moment, this is where the call to government to participate in the market is quite loud in knowledge sharing spaces like conferences and roundtable discussions – an opportunity to serve its citizens better, create more competitive markets and empower lessening the digital divide.
Looking at creating cheaper solutions will cost spend of engineering and predictions analytics, investing in more talent, having the processes to refine the data in order to have more value, the urgency to transform through infrastructure and the list goes on to be an enabler. The return on investment in this cost is not in just the adoption of more products, but also in customers being better informed and better buying customers.
What’s In It For Me, the Consumer?
For a customer like myself, I’m constantly looking for ways to continue leaving my credit and debit cards at home and having my own money market on my phone. The question of “What’s In It For Me?” is what’s constantly at the back of a consumer’s head, whether one has a mobile phone that’s a smart or feature phone – all phones matter.
For the smartphone user, products like Whatsapp, Google Suite, UBER, Booking.Com and BiNu or Facebook which states that 94% of its 170 million African users access the platform via mobile, and with even 100% of the Nigeria population accessing it through mobile. And for feature phone users, products like Mobile Banking, Bwenzi Lathu, JUMO, Kopah Doh or Telecommunications Services are also what make this particular phone a market of the present and future.
While we wait on the digital divide to close and for an all inclusive society, let’s be mobile and invite stakeholders to continue creating enabling ecosystems and environments to innovate for a thriving present and future mobile market.
The trip to Malaysia was unplanned, it is actually fault to Airbnb that it kept directing me to Johor Bahru when I was looking for accommodation in Singapore that wasn’t a hostel or any sharing type of accommodation, but still wouldn’t break my bank balance. The location pin kept moving further away from Singapore to a place that’s about 30 – 40 minutes away from the country, and this further curbed my curiosity and enthusiasm about this city, and it turns out that it was in Malaysia.
Getting to Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Relatively cheaper than Singapore, Johor Bahru proved that although not hot on the Asia travel list, can be quite a city for one to visit. After my arrival at Changi International Airport, immigration was swift and it came with a fair warning of watching my back as a solo female traveller, because the city tends to be rough around the edges. From the airport, I took a shuttle to Johor Bahru, Malaysia which cost S$10 which would take me to Woodlands CIQ (Customs, Immigration and Quarantine) which would then need me to take a bus to Johor Bahru CIQ which was another S$1 to get my last passport stamp. I then left the Johor Bahru CIQ for my apartment at Suasanna Residences with a cab where I paid double the market cab rate, of course, I didn’t know any better and I was the gullible jet-lagged tourist who just wanted to get to her apartment.
As you may have figured out already, I ended up with Airbnb’s advice and booked an apartment in Malaysia. This decision was also motivated with being budget friendly, and Suasanna Apartments being really central to the city and about five minutes away from Johor Bahur Sentral and closer to the location of the activities that I’d planned to do.
New Experiences, New Travels
I arrived in the city around 11h45 and had some breakfast at one of the local restaurants and because I was in the city, finding an ATM to withdraw Malaysian Ringgit was no trouble at all. First mission was to go to Johor Zoo which is about about a 5 minute drive from where I lived, and cost RM2 entrance fee. Slightly underwhelmingly unkept, I did get to see the biggest lion and lioness that I’ve ever seen in my life (and this coming from an African lady, it should tell you), and for the first time, was able to see and feed a camel, and a tiger. This place also became my first experience of the Asian fascination with black skin, it became annoyingly heigtened when the pictures that were being taken were slyly taken with no consent, my tolerance and appreciation for my patience were practised severely here. From wives wanting this object of desire for their husbands to kids having a stare down with you, it comes in all shapes and manners.
The Culture of New Food
Because it was already mid-afternoon, I‘d been told that Danga Bay Country Gardens was the best lunch strip, and that I’d be doing myself a disservice if I went anywhere else. I delighted in a Wantan Soup and a Sweet and Sour Fish from a local, family eatery that tasted heavenly and was quite filling too. I paired that with a Heineken because it was the only beer that I recognised, but I swore to taste another one that I’d never had, and it was Tiger beer which was slightly sweet but enjoyable nonetheless. My driver then advised me to head over to Medan Selera Meldrum Walk which was about 5 minutes from my apartment, to grab a souvenir and although I didn’t get anything, it lived up to the buzz and craze of what a market is supposed to be.
For my last Johor Bahru adventure in a day, I really wanted to have an early dinner at Whisky House but unfortunately jetlag got the better of me and instead decided to order from the restaurant upstairs from the apartment building a Lamb Rendand Tok, which is a traditional sow cooked spicy Malay lamb dish that’s served with steamed rice, and while I waited, took a short dip at the rooftop of the apartment building, now THAT was a way to end off an evening.
Solo Traveler in a Day?
So, Malaysia in a day you wonder? This is how I did it, with unsettling jetlag!
I definitely wish that I had more time to explore the city and even see the many other treasures that I’m sure makes Johor Bahru a city worth the exploration.
Have you been to Johor Bahru? Or any parts of Malaysia? Id love hear from you about your Malaysian experience, solocation or not!
Have you ever delayed finishing a book because it’s so damn good? Then a fair warning, this may be the consequence for you if you decide to pick up this book by entrepreneur and expert on women’s leadership and well-being, Tara Mohr. Playing Big: A Practical Guide for Brilliant Women Like You is an empowering consultation of one’s fears, a practical guide in engaging with the danger of playing small and a kind friend in helping you shift gears into operating in the divinity of your greatness.
In a brief introduction, Tara defines that “Playing Big is about bridging the gap between what we see in you and what you know about yourself. It’s about you living with a sense of greater freedom to express your voice and pursue your aspirations. It’s about refocusing your attention on your longings and dreams, and playing big in going for them.”. Sounds easy, right? Well, if it was, I don’t believe this ten brilliantly chaptered book would have been written, coupled with a course.
In this review, I’ll unpack a few of the themes highlighted in the ten chapters in the hopes that my experience of the read will give an informed decision on whether to 1. Explore the concept of Playing Big and/or 2. Purchase the book and engage with the content and concepts influenced by the Playing Big Leadership Programme for Women and finally, 3. That if you’re already Playing Big, then pass this information along to someone who’s overstayed their position in playing small.
This book is for women, tailored exclusively for us who have those constant dress rehearsals of playing big but the imposter syndrome veils our efforts. For those of us who collide with the opportunity to shift from a place of purpose and calling, and then fall short because systematically we’ve been coddled to not have too much ambition or aspirations – you know, for a girl. It’s for the crazy woman who’s crazy enough to dream big and with every muscle wants to play big, but there’s always something holding you back. Mohr unpacks a couple of themes in the book, and mentioning them all would be giving the whole plot away, so I’ll discuss a few that resonated with me:
Deciding with Discerning Fear
In the book, Tara details the two different types of fear as per Hebrew teachings, and that is Yirah and Pachad. The one that I want to focus on is Yirah, which is a fear that we recognise when we are inhabiting a larger space than we are used to – you know, that one that you honour for a few seconds when you speak into your dreams and power, and then abandon because it becomes overwhelming? That is the one. What’s comforting about this type of fear, is that it’s a kind of fear that operates on the council of your inner mentor when worked with wisely. How common of a relationship do you have with this fear, and how often do you honour it?
Being Kind to Yourself
I’ve mentioned it briefly above, and so does the author many a times in the book, and that is the power of the inner mentor. We’ve heard of the inner critic and let it protect us so many a times, that we shun the brave ideas that keep us from playing big because the risk was too high. In this chapter of Inner Wisdom, not only does Mohr introduce the concept of the inner mentor but she also calls for the introspection of the character development and nurturing of one’s inner critic. You’re going to love it!
Changing Your Language – Let it be Powerful!
With this particular theme, undermining speech habits used in networking environments and meetings or via email are analysed. Terms such as “Just”, “Kind of …” and disclaimers are a few of the ones that really hit home, and does no one any justice in delivering inarticulate messages. Are there any of these hedges or apologies sounding familiar? Then I’d recommend that you explore chapter 8, it’s the one for you.
One thing that this book is not, and upon the transparency of Tara, is a quick fix, so if you’re looking for one, then this book is not for you. It’s also not a motivational book (I honestly cannot stand those) that you put away once you’ve closed the last chapter. It’s a continuous and patient guide that only works unless you do, one day at a time and one powerful conversations with self at a time which then action into you playing big.
Wishing you all the best as you enter into your Yirah and collide with your destiny, and feel empowered to Play Big – you deserve it!
I believe Kofi Annan put it best when he delivered a speech to the World Summit on the Information Society in 2013 when he broke down how multi-layered the digital divide is. South Africa, as one of the most developing countries on the continent is quite the emerging player in the age of the digital, as industry honours the emergence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). However, to even compete on a global stage with other 4IR economies, we need to focus on how to continue to participate in a digital world with profound inequalities that impedes social equality. And, in order to do that, these are the issues that I believe the nation can, and should prioritise:
February 11 is the date that the United Nations and its key partners and stakeholders worldwide marked for International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This day is important as it highlights the matter in question that sees less women in Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) fields, and to promote and empower more young women to take a role in the industry, especially as we’re in both the Digital and Fourth Industrial Revolutions. In South, the numbers aren’t inspiring either, as United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that South Africa has approximately 40% of women scientists. Gender and cultural inequality has played a major role in the lack of adoption of women in this field as from a young age. The content that’s desired for young girls when it comes to aspirations (this from the toys played to gender specific assignments) is also culturally rooted. It’s no surprise that South Africa (and the rest of the world) is seeing a rise in programmes particularly tailored for young women who code like GirlHype and GirlCode to mention a few; it goes beyond the content of technology, but also what the community of other women coders can do to impact the psychological output inspired and having role models to look up to.
Tied to gender inequality is the cultural inequality that exists that enables the digital divide to thrive. South Africa is a country with much diversity, and in this diversity is many languages even though English is predominantly the teaching language of the country across all stages of learning across institutions. Can teaching in one’s native language impact the adoption and remove the intimation barrier of entering the market? Dr Mmaki Jantjies who is the Head of Information Systems and Lecturer at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and lecturer definitely believes so.
“I dedicate much of my research to seeing how can develop mobile learning software systems, accessible in South African languages in STEM subjects, that support teaching and learning in this area. In developing various adaptive mobile systems, I hope to address the existing contextual challenges in these sectors.” – Dr Mmaki Jantjies, who has worked with organisations like Mozilla and has, at present as a Google grant to develop curricula in native tongues and teach teachers how to navigate digital classrooms, and has had success.
Needing the language to decode the science is the argument. In a country where assessment is only majorly assessed in two languages (namely Afrikaans and English), and where Section 29(2) of the Constitution of South Africa is conditional on teaching in a learner’s language, more can be done to remove the veil of language intimidation. If leading economies like in Europe, North America, USSR and China have seen success with such and with it, seen students acquiring education and participating in the knowledge economy, then through political and societal will, it can be possible too for this nation.
South Africa has one of the most expensive data costs globally. According to research conducted by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), the country has the 3rd most expensive costs across BRICS countries. The country’s market is not a monopolistic one in telecommunications, there are a number of service providers including Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Cell C and newly launched Rain which is a mobile data-only service at 5c per meg (R50 per gig), of which was introduced to the market as a call to action and gap to the high data costs. As costs continue to rise, for both consumer and producer, the market requires more competition, which as a result will offer us as consumers an opportunity to participate in the digital economy. As briefly mentioned, the cost of operating in the digital age is costly not only the consumer but also the telecommunication companies due to lack of availability of spectrum because of the delay in the government-led process of digital migration. According to Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub, because South Africa has not had access to spectrum of data for nearly over 14 years, this has caused the continuous hikes in prices and this needs and can be reduced by almost half if its introduced. At the end of the day, in as much as projects like Project Isizwe and Broadband Game Changer are implemented, the quality and speed of data of these public wifi hotspots are limited and for a long term play, could impede the stride that the strategy’s goal has.
The president of South Africa, in his recent State of the Nation address highlighted 4IR and mentioned that “…over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.”. This is inspired, and through the pipelines of education and infrastructure, government has a major role to play as an enabler of attempting to close the gap of the digital divide that exists. The reliance on aided development from the private sector and creating development policies that are only inclusive and benefit certain players in the industry is not wise, engagement with other strategic and key ecosystem players like universities, startups, STEM-focused NPCs are going to play a major role in pivoting acceleration at the matter at hand. On infrastructure, while it has taken over a decade for the spectrum issue to be resolved between the Ministry of Telecommunications and Postal Services and ICASA for digital migration to take place, President Cyril Ramaphosa cemented confidence in that a new deadline for the completion of digital migration had been placed and that is was July 2020. As Ramaphosa mentioned, that this solution could provide “ …unlock significant value in the telecommunications sector, increase competition, promote investment and reduce data costs." , which in turn, will enable many more South Africans to access data, and access it cheaply, if only government plays its role in enabling.
Development comes in many perspectives and is no silver bullet, especially because its an answer framework that invites and honours practices from diverse disciplines like academia and culture and not just politics. What’s needed before access to tools and capital distribution by key stakeholders, is a policy that focuses on the strategy of ICTD and serves it as a precondition to the strategy, this is one of the key ways that we can continue our efforts in bridging the digital divide.
As I write this blog post, I’m looking at my vision board, with some spaces left to fill throughout the year and I’m affirmed of the great things that I can do if I avoid not the hard work that is required in order to make these visions a reality. It’s the second annual vision board that I’ve made, and the difference in this one I can tell is in the devilish details on intentionality. Facilitated by Selebogo Molefe who is an entrepreneur and social activist, and joined by some industry peers, the journeying into 2019 through a Vision Board Retreat took place in Bilene, Mozambique and it was an experience of a lifetime.
Missioning to Mozambique
From Johannesburg in South Africa, the drive to Bilene was a 13 - 15 hours (with stops in between), and the moment you enter the Lebombo Border, you collide with the true realities of an emerging country, one that can’t be veiled by the islands and palm trees that the tourism industry promotes. Once you get to the border, the hustle for the best sim card and cash exchanges is sold to the best negotiator and if your Shona or Portuguese is great, you may even get a local price. The road stretches for a couple of hours to Bilene from the border, and as a result we arrived in the evening, having left quite mid-afternoon. Informal trade, the hypervisibility of Vodacom and Mpesa and versatile coconuts palm trees were some of the sights seen around Bilene that were hard to miss.
Vision Boarding ...
The initial trip for Mozambique came about through a post on Facebook that asked for the audience to do something with a difference, and do so in the company of like-minded individuals with the picturesque Bilene and its blue waters to serve as the ultimate inspiration – who’d say no to this work and play vacation? The vision board facilitation concluded personal business model canvases, skillset inventory and an instant personal board of advisors as sound boards and accountability sponsors to your visions to mention a few. Over the course of the days, one got an opportunity to refine and add, fill the board up as the days or weeks go by that followed as you ushered into the new year.
Beautiful Bilene ...
In as much as we worked hard, we played as hard across the city. Having spent the few days in Mozambique in December, the weather was quite favourable and saw temperatures rising to as much as 34 degrees Celsius, which saw the perfect opportunity to rent a speed boat and delight in the beauty of the lagoon of Lake San Martinho with some gin and champagne. With some of the best seafood I’ve tasted, the group and I visited local restaurants which served the most amazing seafood. It’s not only the beach and seafood that Praia Do Bilene can boast about, it’s the various marketplaces that I couldn’t resist shopping at, I must admit that the strong South African Rand to the Mozambique Metical did help acquire a couple of headwraps and materials, and a most gorgeous red beach bag. On the last night of the trip, we took a sunset drive to Lake Uembje while sipping on some cocktails, to take in the last nightly view of this experience, and later hosted a house party with some of the friends that we’d made along our stay.
Bilene was a vision, one that allowed me to see the beauty of the picturesque islands that its commonly known for and what the tourism and trade industry doesn’t want us to see, what at the end of the day doesn’t appear on the retreats pages of blogs. Most importantly, this trip was a retreat that was invested in recharging in personal growth strategies and networking to what will be an incredible year of actualising visions.
Contact the Organiser
To find out more information about the next Vison Board trip to Mozambique, together with all inclusive costs (excluding flights to Johannesburg), please email firstname.lastname@example.org . The November/December retreat amounted to R6890 ($499) .