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