An adaptation of a paper delivered by Mr Ken Etete at MIT Sloan Africa Innovate Conference April 8th 2017 in Boston, USA.
When I received the invitation to speak on the theme “Ideas to Impact”conditions for success, what readily came to my mind to share, was a collection of all the stories of my, still, very humble beginnings as an entrepreneur- no of ‘business man’ that sounds more appealing. It is a very interesting topic to discuss and there is no better time or place considering the potential of Young Africans that have gone to acquire knowledge in every nook and cranny of the World. The opportunity to be a part of the conversation “ideas to impact” is a priceless one which I do not take for granted. What ideas are there to impact? We will move from the known to the known with the aim of developing an imbued generation.
This discourse, in relation to the theme- “ideas to impact”, will draw inferences from the African stage. However, let me start by giving you an insight to an article written by a South African that I read recently In a nutshell, the article talks about Africa being “Africa” and no matter how much we try to imbibe or infuse a culture that may be workable, they will always remain alien to us because of the way we are wired and the writer called it ‘the African Character- doing things the African Way’. The truth being that the idea of rule of law or accountability is not part of who we are, the idea of clapping for a President who has violated the country’s constitution- is because Africans have no idea of constitutionalism, the idea of not expecting much from politicians, the idea of having and claiming power for ourselves, friends and family members and the public or masses have no say, the idea of changing laws to protect the African ruler and many more instances. The writer was so pessimistic; he sounded like nothing good could come out of Africa. He further said that Africans need to come back to reality as though positive things are not a part of who we are. He depicted the African anti-corruption crusaders as bizarre, a position I agree with, Africa is a place where tribalism drives politics- another correct observation, Africa is a place where its leaders don’t like the idea of an educated populace because they say clever people are difficult to govern-the UNICEF report gives credence to this and highlighted that, accountability, political morality are alien to Africans. Ordinarily, my job is done here; I mean what else is there to say? Let me do a quick cerebral check to see what I can find Okay, here we go. What are the ideas to impact an enabling business environment? We must deliberately begin to think of ideas that will create an enabling environment to foster businesses else- If I tell you all the tricks in the book about business- we will continue to hit a brick wall. The determination to reach our goal and change the African society despite the hurdles is an idea to impact.
Africa is still enslaved. This is the major challenge we face in Africa. Our greatest set back in Africa is not the lack of capacity or business ideas as it were but of complete non-existence of a state of Law and order, let alone respect for it or its application. Why is this so? Africa has the symptoms of lack of credible public legal Administration to keep society sane and the diagnosis is spot on. The only thing that differentiates a human from animals is understanding and subjection to law and order. So the truth of the matter is that no idea will thrive in a society where there is no direction, where there are no laws; it is- simply impossible! I can actually sit here and recount the chronicles of my humble beginnings and possible business ideas but without an enabling environment it won’t work! How can anything work well in a society where the fundamental guiding principles that should help shape the environment are not adhered to?
Yes the conditions for success in business are numerous and have the chance variable but; one must be in an environment that will foster progress for more ideation or solutions. In Africa, there are beautiful policies that are not adhered to. Our leaders violate the laws of the land without any form of remorse or shame. For as long as the rule of law is a myth, you can almost say the law does not exist. It will be difficult for me or anyone to stand here and impact ideas about conditions for success and have the audience go back to the same stage that has existed for years — for “the brick wall”. This reality is depressing, energy sapping and eventually culminates in the lifestyle of “following the beat”. There is no transparency. We need ideas that will transform the society. These are the ideas I want us to talk about. Ideas that will help track down everything real time. Look at the success model of Google and Uber. They have broken every monopoly of information and transport services. Information is available to all, transport services is available to all anytime, anywhere. You need it- you call for it. You seek any information- you use the Google search engine. You don’t have to wait for anybody before you get information- all at your fingertips with Google.
So what are the ideas to break the African ordeal? We need to introduce ‘disruptive’ solutions;- solutions that will transform governance in Africa, solutions that can track the processes of justice administrations real time, technology that will eliminate the level of corruption seen in Africa among its leaders today. We need to pull Africans out of poverty. What then are the ideas to impact? So what we need are ideas that make impact and positive change that will shape our society and make it better, restore the real deal and curb the brain drain situation. It is on record that many Africans in the Diaspora are doing very well. These Africans need to repatriate the same level of expertise and creativity home. What are we afraid of? What is the problem or the concern? The continent is dying gradually and more people are leaving to populate “greener pastures” I will rather call it “watered pastures”- The good news is that in this technology driven world of ours,- the old fashioned Africa must give way for the new Africa to take centre stage and embrace technology. Technology should be allowed to penetrate the system. That’s the idea to impact.
We, as privileged young leaders, must come up with ideas that will allow the society to prosper and get every African out of poverty. Such that the government will jettison their old ways of doing things that has held the African Society back for so long and adapt to new behavioural systems. Ideas to impact- success have different meanings to different people. To me, success is that zone or ambiance we locate or occupy when we have broken the barrier that has stagnated Africa for such a long time. We need to open up ways that will eradicate completely every set back and open walls that will not deny the people their fundamental human rights, right to be productive, responsible and happy. We cannot continue to live in a chaotic world, we must introduce the calm and sanity. We are change agents- not to generate revenue for our selfish interests but to enable the leadership abandon archaic ways of thinking and doing things and embrace the new world order. No idea can survive in a pandemonium, in an environment where there is lack of fairness and equity. Shall we keep making the same mistakes- year in- year out? The wars and other issues that plague Africa can be avoided if we have a society that is fair to its people. Young African minds need to be driven by technological change and the laboratory must first be equipped. For as long as we have an environment that won’t synchronize with international best practices, these young brains that ought to help shape the society better will teleport to the grave without anything for posterity to be proud of. Let us seek ideas that will change governance, align with international best practices, respect for human rights, respect for life and property, credible elections. We need to be more transparent, more public interests-oriented. These are ideas to impact so that you and I can succeed in business and every other human endeavour; and not keep doing the same old things that have left us bankrupt in spirit and in revenue.
Ideas to impact- entails encouragement of meritocracy- The best brains and hands have to be projected and supported to run Public Administration for the good of all. We must aspire to revamp public institutions, address the causes of war and corruption and address maladministration of justice- A WHOLE VALUE CHANGE. The multi-ethnicity should be an advantage not a disadvantage. The idea to fight against every factor inimical to the growth and development of Africa is crucial; because the environment is very challenging. Unbelievable problems like – trying to incorporate a business entity takes forever, the education system has lost its’ essence, the financial system is in disarray, transport system, human environment- absence of integrity a compromised, legal system, limited supply of basic amenities. Tell me- what keeps you awake at night? Look, when next we see down the hall way- please let me know what keeps you awake at night- because that may be the element that will drive the need to birth ideas about how to influence change and be a change catalyst.