__It’s getting brighter… one tech startup at a time!
One day not so long ago, the parents of a 12-year old boy decided it would be a good idea for him to go to a new school for his next term. He didn’t really want to go at first because the school seemed very formal, there were no girls, and he would have to wear a tie. He even thought of intentionally failing the entrance exam but finally decided to study, and managed to get accepted.
As the story goes, not long after this boy became a student, the teachers at the school happened to get some resources to purchase one bit of machinery: a computer terminal. But neither teachers nor students really knew exactly what to do with it! The new contraption was slow, expensive, and used a lot of electricity…
“The school could have shut down the terminal, or they could have tightly regulated who got to use it,” Bill Gates shared in a commencement speech to Lakeside School in Seattle, Washington.
“Instead, they opened it up. Instead of teaching us about computers in the conventional sense, Lakeside just unleashed us.” This was in the late 1960s, and also where Gates first became friends with Paul Allen, his future business partner and co-founder of Microsoft. The rest as they say, is history.
Now when we at Liquid Telecom first started laying high-speed fibre cable 14 years ago, with a vision to connect people from Cape to Cairo (and East to West, too), we didn’t yet know the full power it would have to help transform the lives of people, businesses and nations across the African continent.
Earlier this week, I asked one of my top Liquid Telecom execs what we have been doing recently in the innovation and tech education space across Africa. His Executive Report knocked my socks off.
The Liquid Telecom Innovation Partnership Initiative was set up in 2017 to find new ways to support the growth of digital technology innovation across Africa, leveraging all our Econet Group infrastructure and platforms. It’s always had both commercial and social objectives.
__We want to make money, of course, we are a business! But we also want to create digital jobs for youth across the continent in the new “Gig” economy.
# Innovation hubs
Through key partnerships with AfriLabs and Network of Incubators and Innovators Nigeria, I learned that we now reach about 200 innovation hubs (50 in Nigeria alone) connecting 250k+ people and 10k+ startups in 36 countries.
Last month, one of our partner hubs in Zambia, Bongohive, made world headlines after it showcased its innovations to Prince Harry. It also received a presidential award for Best Entrepreneurship & Innovation Company of 2018!
Through our partnerships, we reach out to over 750k students across the continent, and are focusing on developing a number of student initiatives such as game development, eSports, entrepreneurship, and digital skills development (data science, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, etc.).
# Startups acceleration
Through Liquid GoCloud we are working with 200 startups (early and middle stage with a few mature startups) to develop their products and business through our partners (and also create companies that utilize our infrastructure and platforms!) We are looking at how to assist them to scale up their businesses across Africa.
# 21st century skills development
By 21st century skills I mean data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, Internet of Things, cloud and game development. These skills will enable Africa to compete in the 4th Industrial Revolution. Last month we launched a digital skills platform and already have a pipeline of 2,000+ students keen to be trained through our corporate and NGO partners. We are just getting started, but currently have 326 data science students from about 10 countries across Africa studying in the Microsoft Masters in Data Science program.
# Competitions (which Liquid Telecom is supporting or partnering with)
–The DataHack4FI. We have partnered with a startup competition called DataHack4FI that looks to the power of data science to improve financial inclusion and development of data-driven products. Utilizing our network and cloud-based services, entrants in the competition use data and analytics to solve problems, faced by both individuals and communities.
–Zindi is a platform that aims to build a network of over 20k data scientists to solve challenges across the continent. One of the competitions, co-sponsored by Uber, challenges data scientists to imagine a public transport solution to the traffic in Nairobi! You can Google and find out more.
# Synergies with all our Econet Group
Business is business! As we deliver such initiatives, we always prioritize our group companies such as Cassava SmarTech, DPA and Cumii. Cassava helps the startups introduce payment gateway platforms for their products and services and providing them with greater reach across Africa. Cumii helps through the Technites who also deliver services for some of the startups.
All of this work is possible because we have built a number of partnerships focused on supporting startups and youth. These include AfriLabs, AfDB, GIZ, IFC Venture Fund, Microsoft for Africa, Naspers, Network of Incubators and Innovators Nigeria, Sigfox Foundation, Strathmore University, UNDP, and UNICEF, as well as CSIR, DTI and SEDA from the South Africa government, among others. I will write more on this later.
But now… back to the question I asked you right at the beginning of this post:
__What does the future look like?
I want you to tell me.
What you choose to see and do — or not — will make all the difference.