Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Chinese investments in African tech will transform the fintech landscape

A recent article brought to my attention this report on the pattern of funding experienced by fintech startups in East Africa and India with rather damning results. 90 percent of the capital invested by “Silicon Valley-style” investors went to startups, technically in East Africa, with one or more North American or European founders.

These results put an entirely different spin on more recent articles on the rise of African fintech and the millions of dollars raised by startups in Africa. Village Capital, too, has been making an effort to promote their recommendations for structural change in the ecosystem in order to enable the emergence of hundreds more fintech and DFS (digital financial services) startups deemed necessary to transform the economic landscape in Africa.

But the challenge, as framed by this snippet from the report, will remain, as it “reflects deep cultural trends in American life”, of bias, stereotyping, and inbred prejudice. So called “first world” technology such as artificial intelligence is already dealing with the problem.

China’s interest in African tech, particularly trade related such as in commerce and payments, is being noticed

Simultaneously, and recently, I came across this op-ed for the WEF making the case for why the tech sector is China’s next big investment target in Africa.

Given China’s position as a leading and rapidly accelerating technological superpower in the world, making strides especially in the fields of logistics (smart cars, drones, e-commerce) and energy (solar panels, smart metering, etc), it makes sense that the most logical industry for the next stage of Sino-Africa collaboration is technology.

But that’s not fintechs and DFS startups, you say, comparing these apples to the Village Capital’s report on oranges?

Perhaps this is why Alibaba Group, the unparalleled pioneer of e-commerce and payments in China, has started to show an interest in Africa. Not only did they collaborate with UNCTAD on the eFounders programme to train over 100 African entrepreneurs in the next couple of years, they recently announced a fund of $10 million to invest on the continent over the next 10 years. Furthermore, Alibaba’s subsidiary Ant Financial has signed a partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the IFC to promote digital financial inclusion. While these are preliminary steps, we are hopeful for more serious commercial involvement in Africa from a company with a $500 billion market cap.

DFS, DFI, what’s the difference between digital financial services for financial inclusion and digital financial inclusion? The target is clear. And been noticed from the other side, as this rival opinion piece in the Financial Times shows, albeit with a greater sense of urgency and panic in the tone and style. It may also explain why Village Capital woke up this week to trumpet the results of their analysis on funding patterns from over a year ago. From the FT:

The Trump administration has made a perceived global rivalry with China the centre of US foreign policy. This competitive stance has coloured the view of African countries in Washington and a tale of Chinese mercantilism in the region has come to dominate the narrative, under which China greedily demands privileged access to Africa’s natural resources in exchange for no-strings-attached infrastructure financing.

But that story is outdated and fails to capture an emergent area of true competition — that among US and Chinese tech giants.

Given what we’ve seen in the Village Capital report linked in the first paragraph, will Chinese funding patterns be any different? Two key factors are being highlighted by both sides:

Read On…

Disrupting Predictions: How Stereotypes Distort Expectations

This chart embodies some stereotypical thinking regarding the high growth opportunities now available in low income and lower middle income countries. Its from the just released World Development Report 2019’s concept note on the theme “The Changing Nature of Work”.

Where the cognitive dissonance lies is in the accompanying text which highlights the transformational capacity of digitization and its impact on the nature of work in developing countries. As this snippet shows, Kenya has been showcased as an example of such technology enabled change:Based on this, the chart’s positioning of jobs such as “mobile application developer”, “data technologist”, and even “cyber security consultant” should actually be further to the left, given that its the lower income nations where the majority of the future need will emerge from.

Even fashion designers are not spared, placed as they are in middle income countries. Lagos Fashion & Design Week has become the byword for up and coming fashion brands, sponsored heavily by the likes of Heineken. Kigali is another hotspot for fashion’s rapid growth, and the local brand “House of Tayo” reached the pinnacle of global visibility with their bespoke suit for Lupita Nyongo’s brother, worn for the Black Panther premiere.

The irony is that if this chart is used as is, without correlation to the transformations mentioned in the text, it will end up being the one thing that readers will notice when glancing through the final report. Diagrams and visuals catch our attention faster among reams of text.

Further, if these are the predictions being made, how much of the unquestioned assumptions relegate lower income nations to tourism hubs and farming? Drones are being deployed for healthcare in East Africa, and being tested for parcel delivery where transportation is scarce. Won’t drone operators and robotics engineers find jobs if these initiatives scale as planned? Its the developing countries that face greater logistics challenges, lacking the infrastructure of the developed.

There’s a strong case to be made for the redesign of this chart. It places an unfair burden on lower income and lower middle income countries, and implicitly relegates their future of work opportunities to the less skilled quadrant. Given the current and existing changes already underway, there’s a disruption waiting to happen if this is the chart that’s used for policy planning and analysis.

A Very Nigerian Opinion on E-Commerce and Online Fashion Startups

Folake Shoga shares her opinion on the recent spate of tech startups and apps mean to serve Nigeria’s fashion and fabric industry.

Two recent articles in Techpoint, the Nigerian online technology magazine, feature initiatives dealing with aspects of the clothing business. One is a startup letting studio space and equipment to makers, 360 Creative Hub; and one is an internet based fabric selling business, Fabricsphere. Reading up on the feasibility of these two initiatives has been an interesting experience, very much encouraged by the richness of Techpoint’s coverage of Nigeria’s tech and business ecosystem.

Having said that, as just a humble, occasional and above all provincial Nigerian, I’ll start by paraphrasing L P Hartley: “Lagos is another country; they do things differently there.” Sometimes, reading official accounts, reports etc of events in Nigeria really jarrs with one’s lived experience of the country (even though being as the standard of written professional journalism is generally excellent, this hardly every happens when reading the actual quality newspapers, Punch and The Guardian and their ilk.) In the aforementioned Techpoint articles some of the prices quoted for goods and services seem steep to me, which surely militates against takeup, but I am, as I said, provincial, and moreover brought up by Ijebu people. No doubt everything costs more in Lagos.

Startup culture is a thing in itself; current, progressive, innovative, aiming to breach new ground or disrupt! received conventions – although strictly speaking away from the comfortable global North there may already be more disruption going on than we are entirely comfortable with. But the term itself, startup, comes surrounded by an effervescence of aspiration, floating on an expectation of the power of a tech-determined state change in human affairs. “First we’ll click here, then we’ll be in tomorrow today already! Yay!!”

As recently as 12 years ago it was impossible to prejudge which casual, frivolous digital activity would end up as an engine of massive social change. Nobody could possibly have foretold, for instance, how a site for rating the comparative attractiveness of your female fellow students could have morphed into a giant data-gatherer, news disseminator and influencer of global public opinion. Or how a site for online shopping could evolve to be at the forefront of research into the logistics of drone technology and other automated delivery systems. So there is a hope and a hype around web-based startup culture, an eye for the next big thing, the next new system that will prove that from small beginnings come big changes. Nigeria, as a vast untapped market, has the potential to be a hive of new technology activity, and Techpoint in it’s many articles provides an interesting and thorough overview of the local scene, though concentrating almost entirely on Lagos.

Read On…

Improvising when work gets in the way of a laptop breaking down

Aalto Design Factory, one Monday in January 2014

Just over a fortnight ago, I nudged my coffee cup over a corner of the full size design award winning keyboard embedded in my rather obsolete but much beloved Lenovo.

Today was a very important deadline that my team and I had to meet. And my work involved writing over 5000 original words in response to a wicked problem, one of those that would wring your heartstrings if you knew.

Simultaneously, I had an entire market entry strategy to complete and submit for a client project that had been ongoing since earlier in the spring. My intent had been to get that done and dusted before the 1st of June leaving me the balance of time available to focus on the complex analysis and synthesis of a narrative by today’s deadline.

A few drops of coffee was all it took to disrupt my intended plan of action.

I’m sharing this anecdote here, now, because I learnt something about myself that I’d not have noticed had this not happened.

Improvisation is the key to success in challenging situations where the infrastructure we take for granted, or the tools we come to rely on, refuse to perform the way we expect or they should.

Slow down during a crisis, and you will have that unique center of calm grounding you instead. It may seem counter-intuitive at first glance, but if you step back and consider the whole, this singular moment in time – infinity – can allow you an unprecedented opportunity to envision the whole, recognize the landmarks, and the obstacles, and then, plan your navigation all the way through to your goal. That is, instead of diving in deep into the urgency, take a step back off the edge of the cliff instead.

Then, and only then, when you have your roadmap in mind, take that critical first step forward to begin.

We submitted over 10 megabytes of materials last night, well in advance of our deadline. And, after a day or so of letting my poor old tired eyes rest from switching back and forth between two screens and flipping the trifocals on and off, I’ll sit back down to complete the interrupted strategy for my patiently waiting client.

New Delhi Notes 2015

I was in New Delhi for just over a week at the beginning of June, visiting after a period of 3 years, and so many things caught my attention that I thought I’d do a round up of my observations, just like I did 10 years ago.

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Systems implemented and working. The impact may not be visible to a first time visitor or someone living through it. Immigration at the airport didn’t need me to fill in a disembarkation card anymore. As a citizen with a machine readable passport, I was ‘in the system’ already. The bank was virtually empty. I’d never seen it so desolate until I noticed this e-Lounge next door. My request for a debit card was handled instantly and the card handed over. Yes, I can use it for internet payments too. Ooh, I’m now part of the Great Indian E-commerce boom.

smallbankSo, Sanjay tells me all about ‘those purchases you make and then they send it to your house and you can use Paytm’ – e-commerce, without ever once using the world Internet, e-commerce or speaking in English. His own commitments (the last baby turned out to be twin girls) keep him from splurging on a smartphone but he keeps a SIM with his Whatsapp and Facebook accounts to use on his friend’s phones. Sanjay is my go to “aam aadmi” or representative of the emerging Indian middle class, in the classical sense. He’s a blue collar worker in maintenance, with a motorcycle, consumer electronics and a daughter in private English medium schooling. He only has vocational training and high school equivalency certificates.

IMG_2219This startup received 9 million dollars in funding and splashed out with billboards in key neighbourhoods. Brother in law who’s head of McCann Erickson in India tells me its the classifieds they use. And yes, this ad shows one of the unique issues of going online in India.

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Gentrification is everywhere. Even in the jhuggi-jhopdis. People’s clothes are brightly coloured and modern and cheap. I bought two excellent t-shirts for Rs 150 each ~ 2 euros and some odd cents, at least 40% cheaper than similar street vendor prices in ye olde shopping mecca of Singapore. I mean, branded coconut water kiosks, really?

smallmobilityThe Metro is bringing mobility on a scale that’s changing the landscape of the city. Another 3 years and where will we be?  What struck me was even with the worst heat wave in years, the power went off only once, that too for a couple of hours, something that had never happened before. Summer is always the time for load-shedding due to the higher consumption of air conditioning and other electricals.

smtaxiAnd if you have money, its app-driven public transportation for you. Ola is what everyone talks about. Apps are becoming commonplace. 10 years ago, when I was first told to keep an eye on the mobile phone and way it would change things, in everyday life, was this the future we’d envisioned for ourselves?

IMG_2200But for all that technology and infrastructure and systems, cash is still king with many shopkeepers laughing off mention of mobile payments and gizmos to stick to what they know. Paper and coins.

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The informal sector is still the provider of income and employment for the majority and the mindset of scarcity means the culture of repair, re-use, re-purpose and resell hasn’t gone anywhere. Even if its been glitzed up with spit and polish.

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Its never going to be “normal” or “conventional” but its definitely signs of social and economic development. India has come of age.

 

 

Postcard from Kajiado: Cheap chinese phones and the internet

Downtown Kajiado, Kenya, 21 Oct 2011

It wasn’t the first time we’d heard this from a cyber cafe operator, but apparently the biggest challenge to mobile phone users wishing to get online by using their spanking new phones was whether they were a cheap Chinese phone or a fake.  Up and down Kenya, or right in the heart of Masai country which is where we were today in the hot sunshine, if a customer bought a cheap phone and wanted to get online they ended up coming to the nearest cyber cafe for help setting it up. The problems are legion – from the fact that only genuine brands like a Nokia or Samsung are easily and directly set up with the mobile operator’s internet connectivity by receiving an SMS to the fact that the OS was rarely well configured or programmed.  One lady we’d met earlier this week  confessed shamefacedly to using a fake Nokia for browsing – she worked for a Safaricom dealer – apparently she was saving every penny towards buying a laptop for Christmas.

It makes me think that as social networking drives many more online to connect and communicate with their extended networks, global brands have less to worry about than they imagine they do.