Monday, December 28, 2015

Of a Chamber of Commerce that Works.....

I honest to God did not until very recently know of the existence of a chamber of commerce in Uganda. You might claim I'm an ignorant little person hiding under a rock and thus the lack of this knowledge but I'm not. I own a business. I've owned a business for the last 4 years. This business has been formally registered for 3 of those years. I pay tax. I pay council fees. I interact heavily with multiple government trade agencies. But I just found out about the national chamber of commerce this year. If this in itself doesn't illustrate how big of a problem we have as a nation strongly pushing youth into entrepreneurship then I don't know what is.

Andrew Rugasira, who I admire greatly, wrote a poignant article in daily monitor yesterday on how a strong chamber of commerce leads to a strong economy. So far there are no comments on the article and it's been barely discussed on social media (Have nudes leaked? Is it the holiday season? What are Ugandans so focused on that they've missed this highly insightful piece of information). Allow me to make a wide sweeping accusation here, I bet most people don't even know what a chamber of commerce is and how it's supposed to help you. Andrew's article does a good job of giving you a preamble as to how a Chamber's supposed to function.

I want to share my lessons from a chamber I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon at early this year; The Metro Atlanta Chamber. Based in Metro Atlanta that accounts for two-thirds of Georgia's GDP, 60 percent of the state's jobs and 55 percent of it's population.

The goals of the chamber are;

1. Start, Grow, Recruit Companies
2.Promote innovation and Entrepreneurship
3.Advocate for a competitive Business Climate and Quality of Place
4.Tell Atlanta's story.

Almost similar to the goals of our own UNCCI. But unlike us and our lofty dreams which are just economic pychobabble (read bullshit), theirs are broken down to a policy agenda that is SMART. It's a long read but bear with me, a lot to learn (my comments in italics);
1. Transportation Policy;
-Increase transportation Funding: Create innovative, sustainable ways to fund their transportation infrastructure, operations and maintenance through 2065. (Even our own African Union plans end at 2063,this is why we can't prosper shortsightedness)
-Expand transit operations: Support expansion of all of our public transit operators and encourage effective coordination among them. Strive for seamless, efficient service for riders, whether the long-term future is a single system or multiple interconnected systems.
-Upgrade existing freight networks: Increase freight capacity and safety on existing interstates and rail networks. maximize operational and regulatory efficiencies for movement of freight.
-Add diverse travel modes; support initiatives that encourage transit, managed lane options, telecommuting, bike/pedestrian facilities and public/private solutions.

2.Business Climate Policy
-The Chamber strategically focuses on growing innovation and knowledge- based industries, fostering entreprenuership, boosting small and midsized business growth and creating more partnerships with metro Atlanta colleges, universities and technical colleges. (Why is our private sector so removed from the tertiary institutes of learning yet these are the people who will staff our companies. You can't complain about lack of skills if you have not tried to be part of the solution. )

-Support additional funding for Invest Georgia: Secure $2 million appropriation in FY16 for the Invest Georgia Venture Capital Fund.
-Protect Georgia's Reputation as a Leading State for Business: Defend against legislative measures that would negatively impact our business climate and harm our ability to create, attract, retain and expand jobs.
-Support Incentives that encourage economic investment: Renew the Angel Investor tax credit (certain Uganda doesn't have this) and support continuation of the Film, Televison, Digital and Entertainment tax credit. Advance a new funding mechanism to help certified Georgia sports commissions secure and finance sports events in their communities.
-Support Global Commerce: Advance Georgia's standing as a global hub for international commerce by ensuring implementation of temporary driver's licence legislation that was passed in 2014.

3.Economic Development Policy
-Global Commerce: Developing metro Atlanta into an international business center and attracting FDI, companies and jobs while also assisting metro Atlanta companies to do business abroad.
-Supply Chain and Advanced Manufacturing: Positioning metro Atlanta as the world's premier center for supply chain management, operations, talent and innovation.
-Technology: Shaping Atlanta as a center for technology and innovation by attracting and growing companies in the IT, Software, financial processing,internet security, mobility and other industry sectors.
-Bioscience-Health IT: Growing metro Atlanta's bioscience industry by focusing on marketing, workforce development, venture capital and clinical trials. (I bet you $100 our chamber has no clue what this is!In-spite of the fact that there are 4 startups currently focusing on bioscience in the country)
-Mobility: Establishing the metro Atlanta region as the recognized global hub for mobile and wireless technology.

4.Education Policy
(The chamber recognizes that a highly-educated and skilled workforce is essential to attracting and retaining quality jobs. As the global workforce evolves, they are striving to improve the alignment between employee skills and the jobs employers need to fill)
-Support Georgia Common Core Standards: Implement rigorous college and career readiness standards and support students and teachers to achieve best possible academic outcomes.
-Build an educated workforce: Support initiatives such as complete college Georgia, Go Build Georgia and other efforts that prepare graduates for college and careers in strategic high growth and high wage industries.
-Prepare teachers and school leaders: Advocate for policies and legislation that appropriately prepare teachers and school leaders to be effective and strengthen the teacher and school leader workforce.
-Promote STEM initiatives:Support the promotion of STEM in k-12 and post secondary education that prepares students to become innovators and problem solvers.
-Support Early learning: Engage in early childhood development and learning efforts with a special emphasis on initiatives that ensure students are reading on grade level by third grade.

There's a water ,energy and environment policy but I assume you are now too depressed to continue. At-least I am, extolling the excellence of others.And in the 10 years of the MAC's existence, they have assisted  more than 600 companies with relocation and expansions , creating more than 58,000 jobs.

I know that the comparison is unfair and that America is not without it's own faults but we need to wake up and smell the coffee, see how backward we are. We are operating like we are still in the 90's yet the world has (is) rapidly moving on. We need to be jolted awake from the deep slumber we are currently in. Squabbling over oil in a world where data is now more valuable.
At the end of that afternoon, I was asked if I'd like to move my company to Atlanta. I said no. Out of nothing but deep seated illogical love for this continent.

This is a presentation from an economy that is developed. Yet,they are still striving for excellence. Going above and beyond to attract investment and making the environment suitable for any upcoming entrepreneurs. This is what we are failing to understand as a nation and as a continent. Expecting the business community to be resilient or innovative in the light of all that it is faced with bare minimum to no support is like milking a cow that you have not fed. The results are showing in our struggling economies. I used to be so mad at all the capital flight that our economies faced from multinationals repatriating their funds but it serves us right. We cannot reap where we have not sown. Our addiction to mediocrity is slowly but surely killing us.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Why We Desperately Need Women In Stem

Many think pieces have been written on this and I’m sure many of you are tired of the topic but I feel it needs to be rehashed until dramatic change occurs. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a briefing for a hackathon that is going to be held by Marie Stopes Uganda(MSU) for a reproductive health solution. During the three-day hackathon, developers will be expected to create mobile and web-based solutions to address real healthcare challenges in sexual and reproductive health. The organization’s core services include family planning; safe abortion and post-abortion care; maternal and child health care, including safe delivery and obstetrics; diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections; and HIV/AIDS prevention.  MSU are doing a lot for their mission : ”children by choice not by chance” and are looking to technology to further the impact of their efforts. Technology, always the universal enabler.

During the briefing, though there was a good showing of women, 99% of the techies present were men. I guess you are thinking gender shouldn’t matter because reproductive health is universal. And it is. But in Sub Saharan Africa, the brunt of the challenges with reproductive health lie with women. A man can sire a child and have his life continue as it was, uninterrupted. A woman simply cannot. She’s left to grapple with a myriad of issues, made even more if the pregnancy was by “chance” not choice. Whether to keep the baby? Finances? Childcare?  Nature and poor governance have deemed it so. 

I digress, back to developing solutions for family planning. See, most interventions for family planning are for women; pills, injections, IUDs and Diaphragms. Only one (thus far) is for men; condoms. Ha! Though one would think that it makes more sense to unload a gun than to wear a bullet proof vest.The biggest challenge that Marie Stopes faces with disseminating its interventions is awareness. Now, go back to the interventions and think, how many condom ads have you seen?  
How many IUD adverts have you seen? (Dear man, an IUD is an Intra-Uterine Device. Read here) Now, as a developer, it is not prerequisite to be a sufferer of the problem that I’m solving but  I should at the very least be able to understand and empathize with this problem. And men have. Their problems with their interventions for family planning are; awareness and access. Solutions have been devised. Respectively, heavy aggressive marketing on all media (heck, I follow the Durex account on twitter) and instant delivery (see this ingenious startup that delivers condoms to your doorstep)  

Women’s problems?! *crickets*
Bu then awareness is not of just family planning interventions, even just a better understanding of one’s cycle would go a long way in helping a woman gain some semblance of control of their reproductive health. Like me, most women's period is a travelling salesman, never to occur on the same day.  But imagine, even the great big Apple doesn’t have a period calculator. HealthKit, Apple's health-tracking app, apparently thinks that its female users don't menstruate. The app, which includes dozens of metrics like blood type, body temperature and exercise, does not have a single way to track one's period. This is befuddling because the IOS operating system is preferred to Android by women. How can they ignore something so essential for women?
And this is not just about reproductive health. Every sector is lacking in technological interventions that can make a lot of women’s lives easier just because women are not at the table. Watch here as Chris Sacca, a famous VC talks about how he almost passed up an opportunity to invest in a hair services startup because he didn’t see value in it. He only appreciated it’s value after his wife told him how much she spent on her hair in a month. Then he saw the hugely untapped market opportunity sitting right in front of him. So, from healthcare, beauty, retail, manufacturing in fact all sectors, there are pain points (I like to call them opportunities) that only women can see.  And for these to get the attention they require, we need women to sit on development teams for these solutions. Unlike the saying that goes that you can only know an experience unless you have walked a mile in the other person's shoes, there are some experiences you simply cannot know by proxy. For example, I can never know or even understand the discomfort of an erection. I can try but I cannot even imagine it.
Like my mother likes to say, if men had to go through child birth, they would have found a way, a long time ago to deal with the trauma of it. Technology can and should solve many of women’s problems but we need women at the forefront to get anywhere with these endeavors. Women need to have easier lives because then we can be happier and inadvertently, everyone else will be happier. Happy women, happy homes, happy earth. We need more women in STEM. Desperately.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

On Mark Zuckerberg And His 'Gift'.....

Did you know that Facebook enabled $227bn of economic impact and 4.5m jobs globally in 2014. Just 2014. Just Facebook. Please note this company has been in existence since 2004 so try and imagine the astronomical impact it has had in it's little over a decade on this planet.

Recently, it's founder announced that he was going to 'give' away 99% of his ownership in this phenomenal company to "charity" in a beautiful letter to his newborn child. To my shock, dismay and later horror, this was met with such incredulity. "He's giving away all of 99%?"  "The "charity" is an LLC, so it's not really charity!" He's evading tax! He's actually not giving anything away since he owns the damn LLC! 1% priviledge!  Eliticism! He's actually just "helping" himself!  These voices were loud enough to elicit an explanation from the man. *bangs head on table*

Go back up to the start of this rant and read Facebook's impact to the global economy. Mark in essence is doing enough. He unlike so many humans wasting precious oxygen is doing alot just by the mere existence of his company yet he wants to give more and he's met with criticism. Has humanity sank so low that we no longer recognize good?  For each naysayer, I wanted to ask; what have you done for this earth lately?! Are our ape brains just programmed to take, take, take that giving rouses suspicion. Have we not evolved as a species?

To Mark, I say. This species is basically a lost cause, take your hard earned cash and invest it in making Mars habitable. Maybe you can start a colony of evolved human beings there. Don't worry about neighbors or friends. I volunteer as tribute.

"God loves a cheerful giver!"

*Stats from Deloitte UK

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On Being Each Other's Keepers...

I’ve been writing this for weeks on end and I’m sure it will still not be as coherent as I’d like it to be.  I’m sharing now because ;

 I receive those quite often but these days I just buckle up and wait for the next opportunity to apply. But a dear friend of mine can’t even go so far as applying. Why? Simple. Fear. This might seem like a flippant reason but it’s not. See, I was her just a few months ago.  Self-doubt plagued (still does) me till it crippled me. I was my own worst enemy. The only reason I got (still getting) over it is that I have an amazing support network. God created the most passionate cheerleaders a girl could ever need and placed them in my yard. From my co-founders, my friends to my family (in its own interesting way). 

I got possibly the biggest rejection of my life recently (professionally). I was thousands of miles away from my troupe, my army. I couldn’t leave my bed. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I had failed myself, my daughter, the company, everyone. Somehow, one of them (my awesome cheer-leading troupe) managed to get through to me and what followed was a whirlwind of crying on Skype together, pep talks and lectures for the entire duration I was huddled in my bed. Slowly as the day went on, it didn’t feel so terrible. My jar of hope started to be refilled. I managed to get out of my room at the end of the day and face the world again.

But that is not all that this troupe provides, emotional support is great but man cannot eat hope. I don’t know how many emails I receive in a week with opportunities, people to meet, and customer referrals. Frankly, it overwhelms me sometimes. (I’m not complaining ooh. Don’t stop!) But yes, people out there really have my back. And that is why I fiercely (sometimes too much) support the entrepreneurs around me. Because I know what I have, not many people do. In fact, I’m the exception. 

Entrepreneurship is a lonely lonely journey.So it befuddles me to see entrepreneurs tear each other down, knowing this first hand. There’s been a lot of talk lately about African startups not sharing, first it was being whispered in hushed tones but now we are out and proud (See Tech Cabal article here). I’ve ranted several times on twitter about this. My tipping point; I just got invited to a B2B event with investors/business owners from the UAE. The RSVP had strict instructions; COME ALONE. DO NOT SHARE! What the hell! This mind you is a not a private function. It is organized by an agency that is run by tax payer shillings. So I wonder at the secrecy. Why are we hoarding investors (and other resources) from each other? To what end?  What is this poverty mentality?! Why are we so bent as a society on holding each other back?  

But then I guess misery revels in company and we are a miserable lot. I thought I’d tell this story when I’m old and grey and when it has seized to be relevant but apparently not. It seems, it needs to be told and told urgently. Just months into launching Zimba, someone I highly respect(ed) in the Tech Community dared to try and bad mouth the company to one of our partners, luckily for us, our partners saw through their lies and petty and paid them no mind. But this baffled me, why would someone go out of their way to try and sabotage a company that wasn’t even 6 months old. We already have so much working against us (lack of funding, novelty hard to understand product), there is no need for vindictiveness to get to us. Thankfully, this just spurred us on. But I will wonder to my grave.(No, being me, there will be a confrontation. I’m just bidding my time) The target market for our companies is very different and even if it were the same, I’m sure as Zimba we are never going to reach even 40% of the people we would like to reach, and here is someone squabbling over virgin territory. What shall happen when the market is saturated, shall we turn to physical violence then?

Anyway, I digress. I truly believe that the only way we will get to be competitive as the rest of the world is when we start to work together as opposed to silos. We have to so much to learn and gain from each other, different strengths that if brought together would be formidable. Across startups, across ecosystems even. There are components of Zimba and The Baby Store that I’m happily handing over to other startups, business for them and time for me to focus on my core strengths. Imagine if instead of duplicating each other’s ideas, we just complimented each other. Even across borders, I’d be happier to help another African startup scale to Uganda than set up local competition for them.

The gist of this long incoherent tirade; we need each other. Urgently. Desperately. We need to be our brother’s keepers.


“Once on a yellow piece of paper with green lines
he wrote a poem
And he called it "Chops"
because that was the name of his dog

And that's what it was all about
And his teacher gave him an A
and a gold star
And his mother hung it on the kitchen door
and read it to his aunts
That was the year Father Tracy
took all the kids to the zoo

And he let them sing on the bus
And his little sister was born
with tiny toenails and no hair
And his mother and father kissed a lot
And the girl around the corner sent him a
Valentine signed with a row of X's

and he had to ask his father what the X's meant
And his father always tucked him in bed at night
And was always there to do it

Once on a piece of white paper with blue lines
he wrote a poem
And he called it "Autumn"

because that was the name of the season
And that's what it was all about
And his teacher gave him an A
and asked him to write more clearly
And his mother never hung it on the kitchen door
because of its new paint

And the kids told him
that Father Tracy smoked cigars
And left butts on the pews
And sometimes they would burn holes
That was the year his sister got glasses
with thick lenses and black frames
And the girl around the corner laughed

when he asked her to go see Santa Claus
And the kids told him why
his mother and father kissed a lot
And his father never tucked him in bed at night
And his father got mad
when he cried for him to do it.

Once on a paper torn from his notebook
he wrote a poem
And he called it "Innocence: A Question"
because that was the question about his girl
And that's what it was all about
And his professor gave him an A

and a strange steady look
And his mother never hung it on the kitchen door
because he never showed her
That was the year that Father Tracy died
And he forgot how the end
of the Apostle's Creed went

And he caught his sister
making out on the back porch
And his mother and father never kissed
or even talked
And the girl around the corner
wore too much makeup
That made him cough when he kissed her

but he kissed her anyway
because that was the thing to do
And at three a.m. he tucked himself into bed
his father snoring soundly

That's why on the back of a brown paper bag
he tried another poem

And he called it "Absolutely Nothing"
Because that's what it was really all about
And he gave himself an A
and a slash on each damned wrist
And he hung it on the bathroom door
because this time he didn't think

he could reach the kitchen.”

― Stephen ChboskyThe Perks of Being a Wallflower

Monday, November 2, 2015

On Women, Business and the Society

Compared to other regions of the world, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female entrepreneurs. These women are mostly owners of small businesses and local community shops serving the unmet needs of their homes and consumers. This reshapes the incorrect perception that African women have marginal input in overall economic output.

But for all this input, women are still getting the short end of the stick, Women do 66% of the world's work but earn 10% of the world's income yet they reinvest 90% of their income into family & community. There’s a famous meme that say that if wealth was created by working hard, all African women would be millionaires. When women have access to opportunities and resources, we all benefit. So then if business is about creating wealth and opportunity, why then are we shortchanging women?  Even though legal gender parity has improved around the world, major differences persist. Many laws continue to prevent women from improving their own well-being and that of their families by working or running a business. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2014, inequality in economic participation and opportunity “lags stubbornly behind” areas like education. Women’s work is undervalued and women face barriers to owning property or getting into business.

As President Obama famously said during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit earlier this year, “If half of your team is not playing, you have a problem. In many countries, half of the team is women and youth.” So how do we get the other half of the team to play? Because empowering women should not be charity. It is an investment with returns for any business and the society at large. Equal opportunities for women in business and the workplace depend on a miasma of economic, social and cultural factors. For example, there is evidence that women lag behind men in technology adoption owing to the high costs of acquiring and maintaining new technologies, as well as the lack of information and training. If they are unable to adopt new technologies, women are prevented from expanding their businesses because, for example, existing distribution systems may be unable to handle higher turnover.  Women also cannot migrate as easily as men to towns and cities where training in new technologies is more available. They then have the added responsibilities of caring for children and the elderly as the primary caregivers.

With this in mind, Zimba Women was founded to pursue inclusive market systems initiatives that can empower women and create more benefits for women and men, their families, and the whole of society. Our mission is to enable empowerment and development for women entrepreneurs in Africa by providing access to digital platforms that provide affordable market accessibility and capacity building. In this way we achieve our goal of adding value to women owned businesses using technology and thus making them more sustainable. And when women win, we all win!

“Women are powerhouse entrepreneurs. When women succeed, they invest more in their families and communities.” – President Obama. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

On Time

Time. Our most important resource.
The best thing that has happened for me this year is to realize the value of my time and therefore how to apportion it better. I've scaled back dramatically on social gatherings preferring one on one time with those that I care about. I don't carry work home and if I do, I only attend to it when everyone else is asleep. When I get into the house, I put my phone away. I have conversations with my people and I read to my child.  
I respect the time of others. I show up to meetings on time. I look at my phone less in presence of others. I want my time spent with them to be fully engaging and meaningful. I don't watch TV. I only watch the series that I follow and movies that I think will be exceptionally good. 
No idle chats. I hate these the most. A cousin is mad at me cause I straight up asked him what he wants when he hit me up on whats app. Either I'm genuinely concerned or delivering a message, otherwise we shall not speak. I answer my phone less. I read a lot. Way more. 
I spend time alone. I spend time with God. I have experienced an amazing amount of peace since I took the decision to deliberately watch my time.
Someone told me early this year, "Let people waste your money but never ever let them waste your time. Cause it's the one thing you can never get back."
How are you spending your time?

Monday, October 5, 2015

One Year of Miss Boss

So I made 1 year of official hustling 5 days ago. I thought I'd have some profound message to share, a long ass blog post regaling you with tales of this incredible year but no, nothing. Just a simple sentence, say yes to yourself. And this beautiful quote from one of my favorite movies;

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

On Entrepreneurship being Oversold in Africa

Ory Okolloh is raising dust, kicking ass and taking no prisoners with her. Firstly, on twitter and more recently at the Quartz Africa Innovators Summit. Essentially, she's saying that Africa cannot entrepreneur itself out of its basic problems. There has been an uproar in some circles because she's throwing cold water onto the fire that has been set ablaze all over the continent.

Ory should be one to speak. She's but one of Africa's foremost entrepreneurs. The platform she founded (Ushahidi) has been deployed up to 90,0000 times in over 159 countries. Her company makes over $750k in consulting fees! But I think Ory is right albeit speaking harshly. It is time someone said it and there's no one better placed than her.

This entrepreneurship song is largely being pushed by many African governments because they want to shelve the responsibility of developing their economies back to their citizens. Yes, I agree that the Rockefellers , Fords and ilk largely drove the economy of America but this was in an environment fostered by good governance.  Our governments don't want to be held accountable. Simple. For example, many countries in Africa grapple with a problem of counterfeit drugs and there's plenty of apps coming up to deal with this. This is not an "innovation" you would find in the developed world because their drug authorities work and work well. Something as delicate as the integrity of health care should lie with a public office not an ingenious 20 year old. This is equivalent to your parent failing to pay your school fees and telling you to go find a way to get your tuition. It's the parent's responsibility to have their children educated.

Uganda was recently lauded to be the most entrepreneurial country. This statistic did not bring me much joy. We are entrepreneurs not by choice, with an unemployment rate of up to almost 80%, there is simply nothing else to do. We are not enterprising. We are surviving! This is why none of these endeavors last longer than a year, because they are born out of desperation.

Another thing that this entrepreneurial song and dance forgets is that not all of us are built to be entrepreneurs, Just like any other profession, it is not for everybody. So what will the ones who cannot be entrepreneurs do. We have to make demands of our leadership. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand. We pay taxes. We vote. We are owed. There's a proverb in my language that states that a child who fails causes the mother to be shamed. Our enterprises are not doing as well as they should and this is because our governments are failing us. We must shame them. We cannot let them abscond from their duty. For these entrepreneurial activities to make any sort of sense, we need infrastructural support, security, stable economies and favorable policies. For entrepreneurship to prosper, it needs good governance.

"A good system shortens the road to the goal."- Orison Marden

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

On Airports and Expansion Projects

During the briefing we got before we left for the Mandela Washington fellowship, we were told we would return and get horribly frustrated with “how things work in our home countries”. I thought they were bluffing. I’d traveled before, I was yet to meet something that would push me over the edge. Well, since I’ve been back, I’m not only frustrated. I’m getting angry. I’m becoming an angry young Ugandan woman. There is nothing like the realization that you’ve been fed bullshit for so long that you had even stopped recognizing it as bullshit. You had started to happily eat, not minding the smell or taste.

 A few evenings back, I watched a news bulletin with increasing alarm as the president launched the expansion project for the Entebbe International Airport. This is an event that should be filling me with joy but alas it did not. Firstly, said project is going to be handled by a Chinese firm called China Communications Construction Company Ltd. A simple Google search led me to find that said firm has been blacklisted by the world bank  and is ineligible to engage in any road and bridge projects financed by the World Bank Group until January 12, 2017 because of corruption. (Read more here) I have no qualms with the great people of China but have we not learnt enough already. What is wrong with us? China and Uganda signed a concessional loan agreement of 200 million dollars to fund this particular expansion project. *weeps*

What was most mind boggling though was the President’s speech. He asked the Chinese to use materials and labour from here? Huh! I had to rewatch that bit online. Ask for who, do you not run the country?! Isn’t this something he should have demanded be added to the terms of the contracts he signed before he signed. Shouldn’t this ask have been an addendum of sorts to the contract. Legal people help me out here.  Then he went on to say how he was happy that we would now have a world standard airport to enjoy. What! Airport to enjoy. You mean to tell me you are spending $200m that my grandchildren will suffer to pay back on God who knows terms just so they can enjoy an airport. No sir, no more. I want figures. I don’t want half assed speeches anymore, I want to know how much that airport earns now and how much more it will earn once said upgrade is done. I want to know how this airport intends to pay back that loan.What is the strategy for this airport? Who is leading it?
More internet research led me to this ; I need someone to make sense of this to my economially lay brain. Why is there profit yet more than half of the revenue looks like it comes from the government? Also, where are the figures for 2013, 2014 and the years before 2011? Was the authority not in operation then?

Just as all these painful thoughts were busy ravaging my mind. I remembered that I spent a day at what is considered the world busiest airport recently, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. 

Impressive, no?!  Image from
Not travelling as you might think but for an experiential learning session. Coincidentally, this airport just had an upgrade as well. The addition of an international terminal.This upgrade has raised the profile of the city of Atlanta which is just 11 minutes away from the airport to an international destination for business and tourism.  Something the city’s mayor, Kasim Reed is very proud of and made mention of  often when he met the YALI fellows hosted in Atlanta. Oh and he did mention a concession he insisted on having; that 20% of the work goes to minority owned businesses i.e black/women owned businesses. Dear Mr. President, hint hint.

The Hartsfield-Jackson Airport staff take their business very VERY seriously and this was expressed through the way the sessions were conducted and the people that they had speak to us. Please note that we had the profiles (what they do and their professional backgrounds) of each person speaking to us beforehand. This was professionalism on another level.  We were welcomed by the director of international business and then sessions from; the Aviation Senior Deputy General Manager, the Chairman,Fulton County Board of Commissioners, Dean of the Georgia Consular Corps, the Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, the Art Program Managers (Yes, the airport has an art program, currently focusing of African Art), the Director of Strategic Planning and the General Manager.

Three sessions stood out for me, firstly the art program session. The art program’s unique offering is help humanize the airport’s vast scale by providing travelers with museum quality artifacts to engage them between flights and to enliven the airport’s public spaces with permanent art. The current art installation features works of contemporary stone sculpture from Zimbabwe. Walking through the hallway with this gigantic sculpture was truly a beautiful experience. Here was Africa, being celebrated in a big way, a million miles away. The expressions on the faces of the Zimbabwean fellows were a sight to behold as they saw names of artist that are revered back home. We were told that the artists were paid between $20,000 and $50,000 for each piece. A pittance for a professional sculptor in the west but a win for these artists. We were proud but tremendously sad that this was not an airport back home in Africa doing this.

Such beauty. Heh!
Second prominent session was the Director of Strategic Planning. Hearing the ambitious , far sighted plans he has for the airport was nothing short of amazing. He is leading a master planning process that will set the stage for future projects by identifying areas for improvement and growth and determining how best to adapt existing facilities or plan new ones to meet the demands of travelers and to provide them with cutting-edge, top-notch customer service. This master plan is meant to plot the airport’s course for the next 20 years.

The last and best session for me was from Miguel Southwell, the general manager of the airport. This man is truly passionate about his job and wants to leave behind a legacy of excellence. He managed the expansion of the airport and is now charting the course of the development of the airport for the next 20 years. His priorities include enhancing the guest experience at Hartsfield-Jackson, expanding air cargo capacity, building a robust, job-creating international air service development program and several other initiatives- all aimed at strengthening the airport’s impact on the economy and making it an even larger force in the global aviation market. This man means business. 

This airport serves 260,000 people daily on average, employs 58,000 and generates up to $33.6 billion. And yet that is still not enough. The airport runs an incentive program to further stimulate international air cargo and passenger growth. Landing fees are waived for one year for airlines starting new international routes not already served from Atlanta, promotional costs (capped at $25,000) are matched for new passenger services and aircraft parking fees are waived at the airport’s cargo areas for qualified carriers. That is not all. I could go on about the cargo facilities, the perishables complex and the foreign trade zone but I’m sure you get the picture. The airport is not just infrastructure to be used. It is a revenue generating beast.

So I have questions. Serious questions. I have been to 10 international airports so far in my brief stay on this planet and I have been dismally depressed by the experience at only one; Entebbe. Power blackouts have occurred twice whilst I was there. Imagine my confidence getting on a plane thereafter. All I was thinking was; what if in the middle of takeoff, electricity goes off and the captain can’t see the runway. (THE HORROR!). What is the purpose of this airport as per the Civil Aviation Authority? What is their strategy? What is the airport's turnover?  Who has these numbers? Where does this money go? We are a tourist destination but little of that can be gleaned from the airport? (Putting up pictures of gorillas can only do so much). This upgrade: What’s the agenda? What are the long term plans and how do they fit in with those of the economy? And finally, how do they intend to pay back that $200m using the airport itself cause I’ll be damned if that bit is not part of the plan?

Entebbe evidently has  a long long way to get to Hartfield-Jackson and I don’t purport to have any answers to how this can be done but I am livid at what looks like the haphazard planning for this upgrade and the evident aiming for mediocrity. As people these days like to say, we will never have nice things if this continues. Ever.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

On Culture; How It Is Really The Only Way That Africa Has A Shot At Saving Itself

Screen shot of what google images thinks is African Culture. Sigh. 

On my hunt for a holistic definition of the word culture, I found this from the University of Texas;

  • Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.
  • Culture is the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people.
  • Culture is communication, communication is culture.
  • Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behavior; that is the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted, or more briefly, behavior through social learning.
  • A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.
  • Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action.
  • Culture is the sum of total of the learned behavior of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation.
  • Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.
And then there was this gem;

  • The position that the ideas, meanings, beliefs and values people learn as members of society determines human nature. People are what they learn.
Over the course of the 6- weeks of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, we were made to experience "American" culture. Their politics, their family life, their economy, volunteering and so on. Then, we were made to experience the corporate culture of several organizations. In my University's case; IBM, Coca Cola and UPS. From all of this, we learnt one thing; the success of a company, family, nation at large depends solely on it's culture. Solely. The only thing that ensures that an ideal survives from one generation to the next is culture. By the end of the 6 weeks of experiential learning, the class had an ongoing discussion that got quite heated at times about culture and leadership. Who creates culture? Who ensures that it stands the test of time? The people? The Leaders?

How does this relate to Africa? Well, every time there's talk of why we are not progressing as we should, we hide behind the excuse of we were colonized and ravaged. Our nations pillaged of resources; human and natural. Yes, we were. But so were the Asians. Look at Japan, the only country to suffer a nuclear attack, 70 years later and their GDP stands at $38,633. And this story of resuscitation and growth of an economy is increasingly similar across what is now known as the Asian giants; India, China et al. And the commonality among them all; a strong adherence to their culture whatever culture that may be. 

This recent article in the Nation from Bitange Ndemo states that;

"In Japanese culture for example, the country comes first. People will die for their country without question. Friendship comes second, and people will be willing to die for the sake of their friends. The individual comes last.
Some of the theories that arise from Japan rarely focus on an individual. For example, “Kaizen,” a management theory which refers to activities that continually improve all functions, involves all employees from the Managing Director to the assembly line workers.
They trust that their country will always take care of them and a friend will always be a friend, and such assurances mitigate against wanton greed. In most cases, whenever there is such greed, it often appears misplaced.Africans were more honest when family support systems were intact. However, modernity has destroyed those systems."

We, as Africans have lost our way. We do not know who we are anymore. We do not know what we stand for and thus what unifies us. Unification can only come from; a common language (which we do not have), a common belief system/religion (Ha!) and culture. We, ourselves are rapidly erasing what is left of the last. The sharing economy began in Africa. This is why innovations like mobile money thrive. We have slowly over time unlearnt how to share. This is why looting of public coffers is rampant. For God and myself we selfishly state. A child was raised by a village we used to say. And now we look on as millions starve. Before western aid organizations come rid us of hunger, we ideally should have homegrown efforts already underway. Cleanliness is next to Godliness and yet we litter our streets happily. Women were respected, revered even.
Thankfully, there are steps being taken to avert this. The African Union has developed a Charter For African Cultural Renaissance. They recognize that despite cultural domination which during the slave trade and the colonial era led to the depersonalization of part of the African peoples, falsified their history, systematically disparaged and combated African values, and tried to replace progressively and officially, their languages by that of the colonize, the African peoples were able to find in African culture, the necessary strength for resistance and the liberation of the Continent. That the affirmation of cultural identity denotes a concern common to all peoples of Africa; That African cultural diversity and unity are a factor of equilibrium, strength in African economic development, conflict resolution and reducing inequality and injustice to promote national integration.
Thankfully, our leaders are not alone in this fight. I met a lovely professor who is curating and putting together an African calendar. Yes, that's right. Just like the Japanese, we have a calendar. All that talk of market days that your grandmother has been having. Well, every grandmother on the continent is saying the same thing. Prior to the Gregorian calendar, we had one of our own. This and many more efforts to get more African content online, to tell our stories before they are blown away by the wind will get us there. Culture constitutes for our peoples the surest means to chart Africa’s own course towards technological development, and is the most efficient response to the challenges of globalization. 
I am hopeful for Africa.

Friday, August 14, 2015

MWF Chronicles...The End and The Begininning

How does one summarize the past few weeks. It's been a whirlwind of activity. From meeting Grammy winning artists to shaking hands with the President of the most powerful nation on Earth. For me, this experience felt like Cinderella at the ball and right now it's past midnight. I'm back in my work clothes and the fancy dress has disappeared. The magic's gone. I'm left holding a glass slipper though which are the memories and lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. This was meant to be an academicesque article with things I have learnt (which is what the masses want and need to read) but I thought I'd first have a feels article. Process the swarm of thoughts in my head and gain clarity that writing oh so beautifully provides.

It's taken me a week to finally write this conclusion. When I was told that this fellowship changes you, I didn't believe it. I was very skeptical. What can happen in 6 weeks that can dramatically alter one's personality, their life path?! Nothing, I thought. Alas, I have changed and dramatically so. I wonder though if it is the change that had been anticipated by the initiators of this fellowship. I travelled thousands of miles to be shown and learn about the great America, which I have but the important learning for me has been about Africa. I travelled all this way to learn that my home, my motherland is truly home. We have a proverb in my language that says that a child who has not travelled praises his mother as the best cook. I have travelled and I still maintain that my mother is the best cook. Being lumped with fellows from 17 other sub-Saharan countries has done more for me than any class, television station (I hate you international media for misinforming me so tragically my entire life) newspaper article could ever do for me.

Living with people who are deeply in love with the continent and doing amazing things to revive it has been ridiculously amazing. Stacey who's radically changing the status quo of  education in South Africa, Funmi and Sindi who want every single African child to fall in love in with reading and are doing everything in their power to get material, African centric material to these children. Dami, who was my roommate(fine babe, sha) and Tino changing the graphic landscape on the continent. Pixar and Co better watch out for these two. Tania,Thabo and Nina disrupting finance and investment. Munya,using tech to make sure there's more African content online, showcasing the intense creativity of Africans. Selly, ridiculously awesome fashion designer. Tsonam and Fanana, running Tech companies that will be the forerunners of the African tech industry. The media guys and girl; Abdallah, Napoleon and Lepang striving to make sure that African voices and stories are heard, loudly, clearly but most importantly authentically in media. I was challenged. I was and still am in awe. I was inspired. By their passion for their work and their deep deep love for the continent.

I find it funny that I went to America to become more African. I now see my continent as the West sees it, a land of opportunity. It saddens me that we it's citizens do not. It broke my heart to read of the thousands dying at sea trying to cross into Europe yet Asians are flocking to Africa like moths to light.

The best thing that this fellowship has done for me is to inspire love and passion for my work. Whatever work it may be. And that all labor has dignity. Where do I go from here?! To work, to hustle, to grind. It's like someone has poured gasoline on the fire that I already had for my startups. I am anxious to get back and get moving. So much to do, so little time. And as for the newly massively re-ignited pan-Africanism, I believe that Africa is not poor but it is poorly run. And that has to change, somehow. Africa is not just rising now. It's always been rising. It's the cradle of man-kind. We had organized kingdoms, trade systems long before the explorers/ missionaries interrupted our rise. I read recently from someone on twitter that they wished Africa had a strong immigration policy before we let Europeans land on our shores hundreds of years ago. Instead, we pitied, welcomed and fed. And then we were ravaged. We are still recovering from that and we will recover. We will rise. Let this quote from Martin Luther move you like it did me.

"In your life's blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth, and your own somebodiness. Don't allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody...However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody. And so you must be involved in the struggle for freedom and justice."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On Startups; From Ideation To Exit...MWF Chronicles V

This week we had what I will term as the most thought provoking session for me. KP Reddy, and amazing serial entrepreneur was invited by Duncan, one of the faculty to give a presentation on startups. He started his first business at age 19 and by 27 he had grown his startup to a publicly listed company. At this point, he handed over the reigns and took off 3 years. In this time, he was growing his own food and doing yoga everyday (Yes, seriously) 

Currently, the techie turned investor and speaker is highly sought after due to his candid counsel to both startups and Fortune 1000 companies alike, he has been requested by organizations such as IBM, Coca-Cola, UPS, Cox Communications and Autodesk. K.P. has spoken at universities all over the U.S. including: Harvard, Georgia Institute of Technology, Vanderbilt, Stanford, Emory, San Jose State, University of South Carolina, and Cleveland State.

Innovative and witty, K.P. speaks to leaders with intriguing topics such as: Your Culture Sucks Because You Suck, Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate, Disruption Is Not A Marketing Campaign, Why You’re Not a CEO, Yet… and Why Every Recent Grad Should Work at a Startup.

In 2012, K.P. published BIM for Building Owners and Developers, a book on the adoption of advanced technology in the infrastructure space employed by leading companies and universities.

K.P. is also startup Catalyst, helping organizations accelerate through coaching and programs such as: Startup Weekend, Customer Discovery Classes, Accelerators and Hackathons. These can range from one day to six week cohorts, depending on your needs and timeline.

From this session, I was able to see clearly what I’m doing right but most importantly , what I’m doing wrong and how I can start to correct it. I wished that my co-founders and all the startup founders from my eco-system were there. There were so many take-aways and here’s a few of the gold nuggets that K.P shared ;

1.Be an expert in a field of study. Find something that you are really good at and become king at it. Whether it is a particular form of technology, marketing or finance subject. For example, you should be able to say something like, “I’m among the top 5 experts in cryptocurrency transfer services among the unbanked in sub-Saharan Africa.” For you to achieve this, it means you have to dedicate an insane amount of time to reading and research. You should achieve top of mind status for your field.

2.Don’t rush and quit the day job; Learn new skills first to de-risk yourself. Secondly, learn about the market you want to enter to de-risk the business. You have to be realistic based on the experience you have, because this is what drives results. DO NOT QUIT UNTIL YOU HAVE A PLAN.

3.Build your equity; Ideas are a dime a dozen, they do not matter. You cannot base your equity on an idea. What matters is deliverables. What have you done with your idea? Have you documented your work? Before you go out hunting for investors, have you done your own due diligence? If any mistakes are to be made, make these on your own dime. Realize that some ‘founder’ have unfair advantage, be it a degree (and hence connections) from Stanford or celebrity status. Find a unique way to compete.

4.Capital; Capital is not to be used for founder salaries or exploration of business models. Capital is essentially meant to be used to build production platforms and to scale sales teams that a utilizing a proven methodology. Do not raise capital to a “dead end.” You must always know how much total capital is needed to execute on your plan. Your gross margin must be able to support your cost of capital. For early stage investment, you need to have revenue to validate the customer need. Think of capital as a highly structured supply chain.

5.Start with the exit in mind. This was my biggest takeaway. I am essentially building a business to handover to my children and all this talk of exits that is trending has had me worried for a while. I do not want to sweat blood and tears all for some guy in a suit to come and slap a value to my work and walk away with it.I expressed this to Reddy and he allayed my fears. An exit doesn’t always mean selling your company off to some huge corporate investor. An exit strategy can be handing over to the next generation. Do not build a company around yourself. It should be able to exist successfully in your absence. This for me was key because most successful businesses in Uganda collapse soon after the death of the founder. And it is because of this very reason, not having the end in mind so there is no business continuity plan set up. I am glad that he emphasized that we should always be cognizant of this fact.

I got such deep insight for my startup and I can’t wait to get back home and start implementing what I learnt.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Experiential Learning - UPS...MWF Chronicles IV

Yesterday, we spent the day visiting UPS on location for an immersion session on how the company actually runs. We had presentations from the staff on a wide range of topics; from their history, how the company engages with government, their emerging markets strategy and their digital social media strategy. The company was founded 108 years ago by Jim Casey, an Irish immigrant raised by a single mom. It grew astronomically from just 4 employees and 2 bicycles to a multinational operation of over 400,000 employees with an aircraft fleet of 221. We were told that the key element of this success was the company culture that the founders were really committed to and took time to embed in their day to day lives and operations.  Believing in people, delegating power, integrity and sharing financial success are all key elements of this culture. They are evidently living this even today. Most of the people we spoke to have worked at UPS for no less than 30 years. THIRTY! It's remarkable.

The most intriguing session for me was the operational technology session. The technology they utilize and how it has evolved was mind-blowing. They have been utilizing big data for years, long before we started calling it "big data"! It is amazing to see the use of it and how it's helping them make millions in savings. From basic things such as reducing the waiting time of drivers and making decisions on things like whether the driver should leave the engine running or not. For example, they saved $14,6m for every minute they did not waste in 2014. Their ORION (On-Road Integrated Optimization & Navigation) builds the foundation of UPS' rich technology. They do not have a patent for it because it is a trade secret just like the Coca-cola recipe. We were not allowed to take pictures and they do not have Wi-Fi access for guests. All part of securing their data.
I asked Chuck Holland,the head of operational technology what their approach was towards startups that are disrupting their industry such as Uber that has just recently announced that it will procure most of Tesla's autonomous vehicle in the near future. They may not be legislated yet but that won't remain so for very long. And while UPS is using Orion to optimize the role of their drivers, Uber is going to eliminate the role of the driver. His answer, they are watching this space keenly but will jump into it with caution.

This experience has so far made me acutely aware of how disruptive certain technology and startups are. Operating with leaner, meaner models and rendering old institutions redundant. Take Kodak for example, having over 17,000 employees, it filed for bankruptcy in 2012. The year that Instagram, a photo sharing app with only 13 employees was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion. Times have changed. Emphasis is not on content creation anymore but context creation. But this change is not just here in America. Iroko, a Nigerian startup is spreading like wildfire streaming local African content via web and mobile. I am certain very few local stations think of it as competition or even at all. And this is the sad thing about us, this change is going to catch most companies unaware. Yet they could have set up tech strategy departments to keep abreast of such changes and devise means to keep up.  Data is getting cheaper. Devices are getting cheaper. One can now get a 4G enabled tablet at less than $40. If you a run a company (in any field, even agriculture) add informing yourself on technology as part of of your job description. Thank me later.

"Run your business from your heart AND from your head." - Stan Deans, President- Logistics                                                                                                                &Distribution,UPS

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Africa,Let's Get High Off Our Own Supply...MWF Chronicles III

A recent research survey, conducted by UK-based business-networking group, Approved Index, ranked Uganda as first in the world for having the most entrepreneurs per capita. This is shocking because for a country that has the highest number of entrepreneurs in the world, we have one of the weakest economies in the world albeit having had a more or less stable political situation for the past 29 years. Right now the shilling is plummeting to the ground, I left the country when it was trading at 3200 against the dollar. It is now breaching the 3500 mark! All in a manner of weeks. The Central Bank Governor has come out to say that there should be no reactionary interventions to be expected from them anymore so essentially, we're on our own. We are screwed. Woe unto you if you earn in shillings.

But this should not be. It makes no sense at all. Uganda has substantial natural resources; fertile soils, regular rainfall, deposits of copper, gold, and other minerals, and recently discovered oil. We are populous; with a growth rate of 3.03% and a population size of 35 million that is expected to reach 47 million in 2025. And finally, we are young. More than half of the population is under 15. This is a recipe for success. We should be the production and consumption capital of the world. Alas, we are not. Production at least. But we are heavily competing for that consumption title. Last year, we imported $5.71B worth of goods and exported a measly $2.68B.  What did we import you may ask. Fuel(21%), Medicine (3.8%), Palm oil (3.6%), TV's (3.1%). TV's?! Yes, really. I double checked. We spent $0.17B on TV's. What is wrong with us? And these are the top 5 imports. We import everything from toilet paper to hoes. For a country whose backbone is agriculture, the bare minimum  we should be doing is making these hoes already dammit!  At the very least but no, we want to get hoes from China. 

The only way that our economy will be resuscitated is if we start to produce. So I asked myself, why don't we produce? Why aren't more Ugandans throwing themselves into manufacturing. We are after all the most entrepreneurial people on the planet and there is clearly a gap. Then I remembered my own foray into manufacturing. A while back, I debuted a line of onesies. Made from 100% organic cotton grown here in Uganda and tailored in Ugandan. It was a flop. Not because people didnot like the designs, they loved them. Not because of the quality (100% cotton, perfect for babies) but essentially because they were made here. I had to remove the tags that had the label made in Uganda for the sales of that line to pick up. And I went back to selling the onesies imported from China after that because it made business sense. They were cheaper to source and even though they were of a poorer quality (only 80% cotton) and priced at the same price as the ones made in Uganda, they flew off the shelves. But what is it about us that makes us not want to buy our own. Why do we think things made by people just like us are not good enough. Because this means that indirectly we think we ourselves are not good enough. What is this self-hate? I need someone to explain it to me.

This past weekend, I was privileged to volunteer at the peach tree marathon here in Atlanta. It is the largest 10k marathon in the world attracting over 60,000 participants. It is held on the 4th of July and it was a sight to behold. The most intriguing thing about it, was the participants. Young , old, pregnant everyone character you can imagine was there. I saw a couple dressed up in silver body paint to celebrate 25 years of marriage! But what struck me most was the love Americans have for their country. It was raining cats and dogs but everyone turned up, running in their flag themed outfits. The 4th is celebrated like Christmas. These people revere their country.

Must take photo at every event. LOL.

I am ashamed to say that I have never owned a Ugandan flag prior to having to come for the Mandela Washington Fellowship. And yet I claim to be an avid lover of my country! My love is a lie. Here I was surrounded by the American flag in all forms and sizes; shorts, dresses, hats, body paint. Every house that we went passed had the flag raised outside. Here were people who truly,madly and deeply love their nation.  And then it hit me, this is why the economy of the U.S is strong and now China and India are following suit. What is unique about them is that even before they export, they have a large home based market for their produce. Simple as that. This is what we lack. We are busy looking to export instead of starting to first consume what we produce ourselves. How do we expect people to consume things that we ourselves do not? If we want to scale our economies,this must change. And this must change for every single African country. I have been asked by several people if I'm looking to set up shop here in Atlanta. My answer has been and remains a firm NO. Until I am done spreading the gospel of Zimba Women to the 1 billion people on my continent, I will not look elsewhere. The only way to show that we love this continent is to put our money where our mouths are.  Africa, we must get high off our own supply.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

On Branding Our Cities... MWF Chronicles II

Dear Reader

I realize that the writing is not up to par. I apologize but I feel the need to curate this experience, not only for myself and for those that know me but for everyone. I feel learning must be shared and especially for those that applied for this program and did not get the chance to come. It is the very least I should do. So here goes;

On Tuesday, we met the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed and I was impressed beyond belief. Everyone here keeps referring to him and how incredible of a man he is and I finally found out why. He is a man of excellence. We had a Q and A session with him. This for me was a new experience because back home, sessions with leaders are not for you to ask them questions but for you to listen to their agenda and what they are presumably doing for you. *rolls eyes* Mayor Reed is an excellent orator. He spoke with passion and conviction about his work and it was easy to tell that he loves his city.

Prior to that we had met the CEO and staff of Invest Atlanta (It is the equivalent of the Uganda Investment Authority if Uganda were Atlanta)and been taken on a tour of the city of Atlanta. It is an impressive city by all means but what struck me most is that for every development, every company, the tour guide let us know how many jobs had been created as a result of it. Do we take this into account when "investors" move into our towns, our cities and our countries? How many jobs has MTN created, Stanbic, Standard Charted, EABL, CNOCC, BAT et al? Is it relative to the amount that they spend in the country? Is it relative to the amount that they repatriate back to their home countries? What is the FDI? Does Kampala as the capital city even have an office in charge of investments in the city? What are they doing? How are they attracting investment? I have questions!

We went to the Atlanta Business League and to the World Council for Young Leaders in Atlanta and it continues to strike me that even though this country is developed, they are extremely serious about enhancing that development. They are doing everything to position this city as a hub for commerce and growth. From social services, welfare amenities and infrastructure. As the mayor said, capital follows fixed infrastructure (now it makes sense why the Ugandan infrastructure budget this year was crazy. I see the purpose). They have spent millions of dollars on a street car that stops at all the major sights of the city, refurbished their airport and are building a stadium worth 1.4 BILLION dollars and all for what?  To attract more investment. Porsche just moved it's head quarters here and created 6000 jobs and they are looking for more of that. This is a city that is already developed! We are far faaar faaaaarrrr removed from that and yet we are complacent. We fight legislature to improve our cities yet we stand to gain the most from it.

The attitude of servitude and excellence is real. The city wants to be and takes pride in doing things right. All of the council people we met at the mayors office were exemplary. They would introduce themselves , express why they were elected and what they've done since. Even if they were politicking, it was a good show. I'm sure if I tasked many people in Uganda's government to explain what contribution they've made since they were elected, they would draw a blank. Even just for show.

And that is not to say that we were not taken to the bad parts of the city. We were. And then we were told the plans to rehabilitate and revitalize those parts. So yes, not all is well but atleast they can be seen to be actively trying to improve. And I realize all this is branding and marketing.We must brand our cities better. We must highlight them as states of progress and find ways to collaborate with our local councils to make this happen. It won't start with our leaders. It has to start with us. We need to find a middle ground with leadership because that's the only way permanent positive change can happen.

Monday, June 22, 2015

On Job Appreciation... MWF Chronicles I

I have been on campus at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta for 4 days now and it has been nothing short of an amazing experience so far. It is one of the foremost Historically Black Colleges and I feel lucky because it is a deep cultural experience for me especially given all the racial tensions going on in America right now. I feel I will have a deeper understanding of this nation's history when I leave due to the wealth of knowledge that I will be exposed to. Clark is situated in the Atlanta University Center District. This sprawling 6-campus university boasts of four institutions prominent in the civil rights movement including Morehouse where Dr.Luther went for his undergraduate degree. An all male college (Who knew!)

Today, we had our orientation and something happened that will stay with me and hopefully, I can implement my learning when I get back home. We were introduced formally to everyone who will support this program for the duration of it's entirety. The President of the college, faculty, librarians and teaching assistants. It is truly inspiring to know how much they are all vested in this program. The energy and effort that went into putting it together is unbelievable. But what stayed with me was; the chefs and the security personnel. I have been lucky to have attended several institutions and never in my life have I been introduced formally to the people in charge of food and personal safety yet ideally these are the most important facets of life. And the pride and honor with which they were introduced was amazing. You could tell that they take pride in their work not only because they do a good job (which they do) but because even the people that they serve take immense pride in their jobs as well.

And then when I think about it, everyone I have met so far is extremely proud of their jobs here and it shows. And by everyone, I mean EVERYONE. From the president of the college to the waitress at the local bar.
The customer service is much much different as a result. I have been around some and this is the best customer service I have experienced to date. I was so moved in a shoe store after having the lovely sales lady follow me around for almost an hour and being so generous about it that I gave her a bracelet I'd carried from home. I was and still am in awe.
I must do better and so should we all. Whatever we are doing, even if it's not something we like. We must take pride in it and it must show.

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
 - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Forward thinking like MLK.

Mandela Washington Fellowship....

I was selected to be a Mandela Washington Fellow for the year 2015.  The Mandela Washington Fellowship is the flagship program of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and embodies President Obama’s commitment to invest in the future of Africa. The fellows undertake six weeks of intensive executive leadership training, networking, and skills building, followed by a Presidential Summit in Washington, D.C. Through this initiative, young African leaders gain the skills and connections they need to accelerate their own career trajectories and contribute more robustly to strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.