South Korea and Samsung provide the way forward for Nigeria

In October, Samsung had to permanently discontinue the production and sales of its flagship Galaxy Note 7 smartphones. The decision was taken after several recalls of the phones due to complaints of exploding batteries and incidents of the phones catching fire. This piece is neither about the company’s recent predicament, nor is it about my personal opinion of the South Korean manufacturing giant’s smartphones. (As for my opinion, I am often taunting colleagues and friends, including my spouse, that their favourite brand is inferior to the iPhone).

In this article, I like to explore the significant impact that the world’s largest manufacturer of smartphones has on the economy of South Korea, ranked the 11th largest economy in the world in 2015. According to South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance, Samsung accounted for 23% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2012, while Hyundai Motor Company contributed 12%.

Read the rest of the article  here

 

 

@jideolutuyi

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Positioning Nigeria for the global outsourcing industry

The global outsourcing and offshoring industry is estimated to have generated about $524.4 billion in 2015, according to Plunkett Research, a leading provider of industry sector analysis and research. The industry is expected to generate $548.5 billion in 2016, with significant emphasis on three broad areas: business process outsourcing (BPO), which includes areas such as call centres, financial transaction processing and human resources management; information technology services, including the creation of software and the management of computer centres; and logistics, sourcing and distribution services.

That the global outsourcing market has emerged in the last two decades is not the issue here. The issue is that Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and the 7th most populous country in the world with remarkable growth in mobile and internet usage, has not benefited as it should from global companies who subcontract various aspects of their operations.

Businesses outsource their operations for various reasons, some of which include cost-saving, increased efficiency, access to skilled manpower, and ultimately to increase competitiveness. Other organisations simply take a strategic decision to focus on some core areas in order to become more nimble. For instance, late last month, Blackberry announced it will make a full transition out of the hardware business by the end of its fiscal year ending in February, 2017 as the Canadian company said it will outsource the development and design of its smartphones in order to focus on software and services. Blackberry signed a deal with a new Indonesian joint venture, BB Merah Putih, led by PT Tiphone, an affiliate of one of Indonesia’s biggest mobile carriers, Telkomsel.

Several multinationals outsource their services ranging from call centre services, payroll, email services, among others. HSBC Bank has outsourced its call centres and Electronic Data Processing to India and Sri Lanka. Aviva, a British multinational insurance company, outsourced its call centres to India and Sri Lanka. IBM also outsourced its customer support centres to India. In 2012, about 2.8 million people were employed in the outsourcing industry in India, generating revenue of about $11 billion.

So why has Nigeria not benefited from outsourcing? There is certainly a negative perception that dogs the country. But apart from this, there are other factors that are responsible for the lack of attraction to global outsourcing market. According to the 2016 Global Services Location Index (GSLI) by A.T. Kearny, an American management consulting firm, India, China and Malaysia are the top three offshore destinations for outsourcing. The annual GSLI evaluates offshore outsourcing based on metrics in three categories and 38 sub-indices. One of the categories, financial attractiveness, is weighted 40 per cent and it includes wages, infrastructure costs, taxes, corruption and exchange rate costs. The second category, skills and availability, is weighted 30 per cent and it includes availability of talent, level of educational achievement and language proficiency. The last of the three categories, business environment, is allocated 30 per cent weight and it includes economic risk, political risk, intellectual property protection, among others.

An analysis of the index shows why Nigeria did not feature in this ranking despite being the largest economy in Africa at the time the index was released in January. Although Nigeria boasts of a large youthful English-speaking population, there is a huge skills gap in the country. The business environment is also deemed to be challenging given the paucity of infrastructure. These findings should worry Nigerian policymakers and the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which has placed a premium on stamping out corruption, and improving the business environment in the country.

Outsourcing requires staff of the outsourced company to have access to sensitive materials. No business process outsourcer, for instance, will allow its services to be outsourced to a country where safety of its clients’ information would not be guaranteed. It also wouldn’t make business sense to outsource business process only to find out it is costlier and inefficient to operate in the host country. Among the major reasons for outsourcing are improved efficiency, and the ability of the outsourcer to concentrate on its core business.

In August 2011, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) held Nigeria’s first National Outsourcing Conference. The event marked a major pivot in the quest to carve out space for Nigeria in the BPO industry. While outsourcing in Africa is still in its infancy, countries including Morocco, Egypt and Ghana are working to gain a larger share of the global market. Experts say Africa could be the next frontier of the outsourcing industry. African countries, especially the English-speaking countries, must do well to position themselves for the emerging industry. Outsourcing can be a huge jobs creator for unemployed youths in these countries.

Ryan Nicholas, an outsourcing consultant suggests that “Nigeria is positioned competitively to be one of the most favourable location for business process outsourcing for multinationals especially for North America-based businesses that are conducting business process outsourcing.” Ryan cited Nigeria’s official language as well as its young workforce as factors that could make Nigeria an attractive destination. Ismail Radwan, World Bank’s Lead Public Sector Specialist for Europe and Central Asia – who previously led the Bank’s work in innovation, finance and private sector development in Nigeria back in 2012 – said Nigeria is a virgin territory for outsourcing. According to him many of the countries that are the industry’s powerhouses are now saturated.

There are various outsourcing segments in the global industry including contract manufacturing, business services, energy, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, retail, travel and transport, and telecom and media. A 2014 outsourcing survey of companies across 22 industry sectors and 30 countries conducted by Deloitte showed that 53 per cent of the respondents outsourced their IT functions. IT outsourcing alone generated $63.5 billion last year, according to Statista, the online statistics portal.

A recent report published by the Nigeria Association of Information Technology Enabled Outsourcing Companies (NAITEOC), an initiative that was conceived by NITDA in 2012 for the development of the outsourcing industry in Nigeria, indicates that Nigeria’s relatively low wage structure and large youthful English-speaking population position the country as a potential offshoring destination. In the report, “Nigeria: Africa’s New Destination for BPO Services,” NAITEOC says business environment has improved even as Nigeria is a stronger environment for contract enforcement, there are improved labour regulations and the country has an expanding e-commerce sector.

But as exemplified by the A.T. Kearny’s index, the government still needs to do more by providing the required infrastructure as well as the enabling environment for this industry to develop. The government must do a better job of promoting the country’s competitive advantages to global industry leaders to showcase Nigeria’s readiness for the outsourcing market. For instance, the government can lobby to host the Outsourcing World Summit (OWS) as a strategy to address the gap between the negative perception about the country and the reality. The establishment of the Abuja Technology Village Science and Technology Park (STP) is seen as a positive development. The STP and Special Economic Zone, one of the infrastructures being developed that will eventually support Nigeria’s outsourcing industry, can be one of the centres of attraction for an OWS in Nigeria.

Outsourcing benefits the host country in so many ways, including by providing a form of livelihood for the educated and technologically savvy youths and potentially pushing them into the ranks of the middle class. Host countries also benefit from the transfer of technology, massive job opportunities and contribution to GDP growth. Outsourcing also allows the home country to stay competitive globally. There have been some controversies about poor treatment of workers, among other concerns in the industry. However, Nigeria can learn from these by ensuring there is proper legislation and regulation of the industry as it positions itself to attract global firms to outsource their operation in the country. Tapping the global outsourcing industry, apart from making Nigeria an outsourcing powerhouse, can be a significant source of foreign exchange for the country.

@Jideolutuyi

 

Read more at http://www.financialnigeria.com/positioning-nigeria-for-the-global-outsourcing-industry-blog-181.html

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42 African Innovators To Watch-Cynthia Okoroafor

Introduction

Last year Ventures Africa published 40 African Innovators to Watch and this year, the astounding talent pushed us to feature 42 innovators this time around. 42 African Innovators to Watch seeks to reposition how we consider innovation on the continent and by extension what it means to be an innovator. Each of the individuals we spotlight, share a commitment to something simultaneously infinite, yet quantifiable: change.

While the public conversation around innovation is often limited to developments within science and technology, in practice, its manifestation is limitless. This year’s list includes leaders within agriculture, the arts, hospitality, healthcare and beyond, because experimenting within any discipline leads to innovations that have the capacity to alter and inform how we live. A joke, which proffers a different way of thinking about Nigerian identity demonstrates an ingenious awareness of culture, that can do much more than simply elicit a laugh; it can shift public awareness and conversation.

Ozoz Sokoh, also known as Kitchen Butterly, notes that “the innovator’s life is one guided by three Ps: Patterns – recognising them; Preservation – innovators discard very few ideas; and Possibility – old ideas aren’t dead and buried. For most of the innovators I know, the desire to create and make a difference is far greater than fear of failing.” And so, this year we present 47 innovators (we have two teams of three), who have shown an inspired commitment to the three P’s, and change, in all its forms.

‘You have to live in the present but have the vision for the future’

What started as a dream to promote black heritage on film and television screens led Cameroon native, Tonje Bakang, to create Afrostream, a video-on-demand platform designed to distribute ‘Afro entertainment’. His goal is to impact black communities in every continent in the world by sharing stories they can relate to, while also providing them with on-and-off screen heroes that they recognize. He hopes that this initiative will create a shift in how black people are depicted in film and television.

Tonjebakang

While Tonje agrees that Afrostream is thriving. For him, real success will be visible in the next ten years. Afrostream’s plans for the future centre around developing and transforming how Africans can tell their stories.

As one of the founders of She Leads Africa (SLA), Afua Osei is driven by a goal to create the ‘go-to’ community for smart and ambitious young African women. SLA offers young African women coaching, online guides, classes, and on-the-road tours and programmes, where each offering is strengthened by building direct engagement between women in SLA’s various communities.

Winners of the 2014 She Leads Africa Entrepreneur Showcase. Image courtesy of SLA
Winners of the 2014 She Leads Africa Entrepreneur Showcase. Image courtesy of SLA

For Afua, along with her partner Yasmin Belo-Osagie, SLA is a space that is for African women, by African women and about African women. According to her, SLA expands through customer engagement, and understanding what young African women need to help them achieve within their careers as they develop.

‘This year, we’ll be in seven different cities. We’ll also be launching a new and accelerated programme for women startups in Nigeria. The main focus is growth and how to reach more women.’

‘We can make social impact together …It’s about new concepts and the way that we’re doing it.’

Asma Mansour’s journey as a social entrepreneur started because of her experience working with NGOs, which in her opinion, lacked adequate sustainability impact assessment on the people that these organisations were trying to help.

In 2011, Asma founded the Tunisian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship in Tunisia after a discovery that gave her an entirely new perspective. While attending a conference in Japan, she came across a company that was solely focused on tackling social problems and happened to meet like-minded individuals who would eventually become her co-founders.

Asma Mansour F

The Tunisian Center for Social Entrepreneurship is the first of its kind in Tunisia. The innovative board co-creates local ecosystems in Tunisia, and the centre comes up with new ideas to tackle social problems, while working with unemployed people in both rural and urban areas.

Asma was an Ashoka Fellow in Tunisia in 2014. Her latest project is expanding “Lingare”, the centre’s latest product from its current location in Mahdia to other regions such as Sidi Bouzid, Kasserine and Jandouba.

‘I’m happy to solve problems and then see the impact of the solutions.’

Growing up without electricity turned out to be one of the best things to happen to young Evans Wadongo. After graduating with honours from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in 2009, Evans combined his passion for clean energy solutions to what he learned from his degree in Electronics and Computer Engineering to make the LED lamps he became famous for, at the impressive age of 19.

Illustration by Dimeji Ezekiel @knuckleheroes

He is currently the Co-Founder of GreenWize Energy Limited and the Executive Director and Founder of Sustainable Development for Africa (SDFA) in Kenya. Since its formation in 2014, Greenwize’s revenue has increased by 100 percent each year and the employee count has tripled. By 2019, the energy company is set to serve 300,000 clients with renewable energy solutions through a “pay as you go” model.

By 2019, the company hopes to develop ‘EnergieRapide’ an all-in-one solar and wind energy hub. Evans finds being an innovator both ‘tiring and fulfilling’ but for him, it’s all about hard work.

‘Innovation is the next frontier for Africa’

Thanks to Roye’s childhood dream, fans of comic books, graphic novels, and animations no longer have to look beyond the shores of the continent for superhero characters that they can idolise. Rather they can look to ‘E.X.O. – The Legend of Wale Williams’.

As a child, Roye watched all the classics: Superman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, and more. While he loved these characters and could relate to them as a boy, he also wanted to see a superhero that was Nigerian or African.

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Based on his interest in comic books, movies, and entertainment, Roye decided to study graphic design, motion graphics and animation. Soon after, YouNeek Studios was born and Roye’s Nigerian superhero has been making headlines all over the world ever since.

‘…We’ve seen a lot of support, not just from the African community, but the world as a whole. [E.X.O.] is making an impact I could have never imagined could happen outside Nigeria and outside Africa.’

Roye is humbled by the support that he receives from individuals all over the world seeking permission to translate the comic book into their local languages. “The next phase of what we’re doing now is making animated movies based on the books.”

‘You always have to figure out what works in the environment that you’re in.’

Nkem Uwaje founded FutureSoft Software Resources Limited (Futuresoft) in 2008, driven by a desire to change Nigeria’s technology space. FutureSoft, an IT solutions provider focused on online solutions, e-learning and IT security, has garnered Nkem respect and recognition as a leader in her industry, where she remains one of the few women occupying the space.

lagos design one

Nkem is also an expert speaker on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Africa. She received the Jim Ovia Prize for Software Excellence and the Etisalat Prize for Innovation, for her efforts in improving access to technology in Nigeria and Africa-at large.

Presently, Nkem is focused on expanding Futuresoft into other markets in Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya within the next five years.

‘The process of creation can be a weird one. For some time, you’re creating in a vacuum.’

When Ethiopian native Sara Menker’s nine-year trading career at Morgan Stanley stopped motivating her, then the Vice President of the New York Commodities Group, she turned her attention to fixing a problem in Africa that impassioned her – agriculture. Starting out, Gro Intelligence was primarily concerned with agricultural data issues and commodities on the continent, but soon Sara and her team realised that the scale and technical complexity of the product that they were dealing with, was in fact global.

Sara Menker of Gro Intelligence talks data for farmers at the Africa Innovators Summit in Nairobi. (Quartz)
Sara Menker of Gro Intelligence talks data for farmers at the Africa Innovators Summit in Nairobi. (Quartz)

Currently, the 28-man team of Gro Intelligence is split between Nairobi, Kenya and New York in the United States. “We’re a really odd company… it’s basically a melting pot of engineering, data science, design and domain expertise around markets and actual science. We do have full-time scientists that work on environmental problems alongside the engineering and design teams. It’s a big shift from when I started Gro.”

For Sara, being an innovator is about constant discovery and uncertainty as well as being able to remain comfortable in a world where everything – including your ideas – is constantly shifting. Gro is presently working on improving ‘Clews’ and the overall delivery of the company.

‘Our product (Clews) helps users find connected paths between information and the shortest path possible to an end goal to the questions that they have around agric.’

Sara is a Trustee of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies, a member of the Global Agenda Council on Africa at the World Economic Forum and an Advisory Board Member of Shining Hope for Communities. Sara was named a Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum and is also a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative of the Aspen Institute.

After a traumatic experience, a bipolar disorder diagnosis, and epilepsy discovery,  Sitawa Wafula quickly discovered that there wasn’t enough information on the continent that she could access to help her understand how to cope and further understand her physical and mental health. In addition, there was a lot of stigma surrounding her mental health, which made the process of dealing with things even more challenging.

The three-time award winning mental health and epilepsy crusader decided that she was going to tell her story and make sure that individuals that shared her condition knew that they were not alone.

Sitawa Wafula at My Mind My Funk office / Photo credit: Emily Johnson for The World
Sitawa Wafula at My Mind My Funk office / Photo credit: Emily Johnson for The World

Sitawa started a mental health social enterprise called My Mind My Funk (MMMF) along with Kenya’s free mental health SMS help line 22214, which has helped survivors of rape and people living with epilepsy and mental disorders all over Kenya, different parts of Africa and the world. She was the 2013 Activist of the Year and East Africa Youth Philanthropist.

MMMF is focused on the social and preventative aspects of mental health as opposed to the curative, which in too many cases involves traditional healers or subpar psychiatric help. The organisation tries to include mental health awareness in everyday life, by working with young people to promote wellness in their communities all across Africa. This way, according to her, “you don’t need to always contact Sitawa or MMMF to get information on mental health,” and you can access mental health information that is suited to you.

‘We become what we think about.’

As a student in St. Ignatius College in Enfield, London, United Kingdom, then 15-year-old Kelvin Okafor steadily honed his talent for drawing. Kelvin took on drawing while his peers were having fun socialising and this is something he is grateful for as it made him the artist that he is today.

Kelvin is known for his pencil and charcoal drawings of lifelike portraits which feature both ordinary people and celebrities which have caught the eye of a global audience. Early pieces of his work include portraits of Amy Winehouse, Tinie Tempah, Mother Teresa, Lauryn Hill Jamal, Nelson Mandela, Rihanna and Beyoncé, amongst others.

kelvin okafor

According to Kelvin, as a teenager he would “draw tirelessly” until he was satisfied. With the help of his parents, the British-Nigerian artist did a foundation Art & Design course at City and Guilds Art School (2005–06), then studied at Middlesex University (2006–09), where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. His awards include the Catherine Petitgas Visitors Choice Prize, of the National Open Art Competition.

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu’s footwear company soleRebels is one of the most disruptive innovative companies in the past few years. All the Ethiopian-born social entrepreneur wanted to do was provide her poor community in Addis Ababa (Zenabwork) with jobs, and the eco-friendly company remains the world’s one and only World Fair Trade Organisation (WTFO) certified footwear company.

Every single one of soleRebels’ shoes is handcrafted and to Bethlehem they spotlight the “amazing artisan heritage of Ethiopia” as well as the creative skills of the people in her local community. Bethlehem is currently a United Nations (UN) Goodwill Ambassador for Entrepreneurship and is on the board of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

soleRebels employees are among the highest paid workers in Ethiopia with full medical insurance which covers them and their families. This probably has something to do with why the brand, which relies solely (pun intended) on recycled car tires and inner tubes, hand-spun cotton and hand-woven fabrics, is the first of its kind to emerge from a developing nation and go global. Last year, Bethlehem launched ‘Republic of Leather’, a new venture which offers custom made leather wears and accessories.

‘Our problem in Nigeria and Africa is not the quantity of food. Our problem is the quality.’

In light of the importance of healthy and safe food, Food Scientist Vivian Maduekeh started to pay closer attention to what she felt was being ignored in Nigeria– food safety. Vivian is the Founder and Managing Principal of Food Health Systems Advisory Africa (FHS Africa), dedicated to advising food companies on food safety management systems to promote safe standards for food to the general public.

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FHS Africa bridges the gap between farming and agricultural firms in the agricultural sector of most countries, in order to maximise the economic rewards of agriculture by producing high quality food products. Vivian was spurred to establish FHS Africa after Nigeria was banned from exporting beans to Europe in 2015 because they possessed high levels of toxic chemicals. Through an online resource called the SafeFoodNigeria Initiative, which was launched in 2012, the journey began.

 

FHS changes the conversation on food security. Countries and NGOs are concerned about food security in terms of increasing food production, but we need to talk about the standards and safety measures. In Nigeria, such a thing as what FHS is doing is rare because we rely only on NAFDAC.

Vivian is a Project Director at Young Bright Minds Africa (YBM Africa). FHS is currently working on launching an application called ‘Food Incident Reporting Portal’, a sort of eyewitness reporting platform that encourages customers at restaurants, cafeterias, supermarket to report their harmful food discoveries at these places so they can be properly addressed.

‘It’s not about the money… Anyone can stand in front of the camera, but it takes true passion to be different.’

As a sophomore in college in 2012, Henry Obiefule – Chief Obi – incidentally started a comedic career in the United States by making and posting videos on social media media platforms, Keek and YouTube. With a fair amount of nudging from his friends who liked his videos and encouraged him to do more, he kept on, while extending his content to Vine, and finally Instagram. Today, he has 172,000 followers on his Instagram page and his full-time career includes stand-up comedy with hosting and MC-ing duties.

Illustration by Dimeji Ezekiel @knuckleheroes

Chief Obi’s videos were inspired by growing up around his Igbo relatives, the “die hard ones that you see in Nollywood movies”, and the experiences of the popular character from his skits – Obinna is actually loosely based on his own experiences living with those relatives.

“I stay relevant by being motivated to do my videos, because I love doing what I do.”

 

The New Funny

Sometime in 2011, an aunty sent me an audio message on Whatsapp. It was the singsong voice and accent of a middle aged woman from the South East admonishing the youth to avoid being what she termed ‘a waste’- except that she pronounced it ‘weist’, or something like that, with a thick heavily-inflected tone infused with Igbo ‘ethnic interference’. The recording had just the right dose of playfulness and wit to make me reply to her text with ‘LMAO.’

That skit had a whole nation, who recognised the character caricature of the heckling, inadvertently funny Igbo madam, in fits. The irony is that this Igbo madam would be feared by her henpecked charges, unable to laugh at her antics. Yet, in parody, she was hilarious, and I could belly laugh without worrying about the reprimand that would follow. As send up, it was effective and timeless- an instant classic. It was also short, a quickfire burst of hilarity, which I could consume between piles of work.

The singsong voice belonged to Chigurl, AKA Chioma Omeruah, one of the many voices in comedy that has been fostered by the rise of social media. She has since grown into a multi-talented sensation, appearing as a stand-up comedian, in music videos, as a compere and YouTube doyenne with a huge following. Her work has gone viral in a way that seems to be peculiar to the comedy genre: Short sharp skits have taken over Nigerian smartphones so that sharing video and audio of these instant hits has become a national pastime. Many comedy careers have taken off on Instagram, Facebook, and especially Twitter where the rapidity of conversation means that a skit can be absorbed and deconstructed by thousands of people in a matter of minutes. Twitter has become the natural home of online skits and one-line quips. In truth, everyone is funny at some point, and the platform allows for users to microblog a throwaway thought whenever it arises, without the pressure of building it into a narrative or a production that might keep the audience entertained for several minutes or hours at a time. In short, Twitter provides the opportunity for this humour to surface every now and again as opposed to the sustained funny that a stand-up comedy show requires. A 140-character tweet does not call for any more than a cursory glance. For Nigerians- ever ready with sharp tongues and saucy wit- this innovation is gold.

Of course, the phenomenon is not exclusive to the Nigerian digital landscape. The American-based international media site, Mashable, ran an article as far back as June of 2010 with the headline ‘The Rise of Comedy on Twitter’. Staff writer Matt Silverman observed even back then, just four years after Twitter’s 2006 launch, that the most popular tweets were the one-liners and quips that come to life on the app’s 140-character tweet limit. His notion that ‘tweeters love the funny’ is echoed across several social media stages with the funniest posts racking up the most views and ‘likes’ from users. This global trend is blamed on the sociology of the shrinking collective attention span, but has fueled the shift of video content to the smaller screens of smartphones, augmented by ubiquitous Wi-Fi service, allowing people to consume these skits on the go, while in the car, at the gym, on a walk or, crucially, at work. Skits can be created for a wide audience without the heavy costs associated with filming a comedy production, or without the difficulty of seeking employment from a comedy club. All a budding comedian needs to worry about is the price paid to Internet Service Providers and Mobile Network Operators for the data to upload videos or to send an MMS.

On the mobile app, Vine, for instance, users create thirty-second videos where they can capture unplanned slapstick moments- a stumble and a heavy fall in bad weather, a fumble at the dinner table, a tumble in the street. Watched in real time, this might make for an anecdote or a private laugh at a later time. A Vine rewards rewatching, allowing laugh out loud moments one might ordinarily be unable to recollect to friends to be replayed in full, recreating the serendipity that would have otherwise been lost. Vines from all over the world have made small time celebrities of many Internet voices.

These days, everyone with a smartphone makes these skits, capturing humorous events in quick takes and sharing them with friends in a matter of seconds. It is handy that these platforms can be cross-referenced- a tweet links into a vine or an Instagram post is referred to on Twitter. Most of these apps support video- the most adaptable media for comedy. In consequence, a second wave of Nigerian comedians has emerged in the second decade of the millennium from the handful of Internet savvy personalities who are able to manipulate video. The major successes have also been able to cut across multiple platforms and audiences to showcase and market their work. It is, of course, ironic, that this breakthrough has occurred in spite of critically slow Internet speeds, lagging infrastructure and a lack of technological sophistication.

Take Folarin Falana, known by his stage name Falz the Bahd Guy, first heard on YouTube circa 2009, later making his breakthrough with the well-received ‘Wazup Guy’ in 2011. Falz sat for and passed the bar at the Nigerian Law School, then began to pursue a career in showbiz. His first album was a moderate success and seemed to point the way to a career that would eventually taper off in the ultra-competitive Nigerian music industry. That is, of course, until he was able to weld his unique style to the cult celebrity status that social media comedy has bestowed on its Nigerian exponents. Falz raps in an exaggerated Yoruba accent, with a belated h-factor, in a manner that suggests that he might have persistent trouble with English vowels. Taking advantage of the free publicity that social media affords, he began to upload videos on Instagram to promote his songs. One particular video, released in advance of Valentine’s Day last year, skirted around the theme of his song ‘Ello Bae’. The rapper boasts impressive academic credentials, yet his social media persona came off as a confident buffoon clueless about his mistakes. The effect was astounding. Responses to his invitation to mimic his shambling diction were overwhelming and he quickly rose to the top of Google search lists in Nigeria. As one of the most recognizable voices in entertainment, Falz now has to maneouvre between offers to act as Master of Ceremonies at events and, of late, to star in Nollywood productions. With his star on the rise, Falz embodies the modern Nigerian comedian, a nimble and versatile performer comfortable slipping from genre to genre, all the while connecting directly with his fans on social media.

Other members of the second wave, including K10, another barrister-turned-rapper, argue that it is the general hardship in Nigerian life that draws such a huge following to comedy. “Nigerians love anything that can distract us from our daily hustle”, he says, noting that his first video was posted at random, possibly after a hard day at his nine-to-five. K10’s passport bears his given name Koye Kekere-Ekun, but on social media, he prefers his moniker @koye10. The same is true of the entire second wave including the high-drama and explosive wit of Chief Obi, Akanm the Boy and Aphrican Ape (respectively @chief_obi, @iamkanmi and @aphricanape06). They share a mastery of the online skit, able to draw in thousands of viewers to their exaggerated observations in a matter of hours, with performances brimming with a peculiar brand of Nigerian humour. These three, like Falz and Chigurl are able to work their funny magic across the spectrum of social media apps to maximize their appeal to ever-growing audiences and parlay their popularity into burgeoning careers in live entertainment.

When I ask him whether he would have broken into comedy without social media, K10 is probably speaking for each player in the new generation of comedians when he fires back the wry retort, “For where?” And this is part of the thrill of the second wave. The first wave, if you like, headed up by veterans like Ali Baba and Basketmouth, followed by others like man of the moment Bovi, thrived from their command of pidgin English and their ease within the stand-up comedy circuit that emerged alongside the gbedu scene around the beginning of the new millennium. Theirs was the reign of the mic, in the tradition of Western stand-up where laughmakers trot out anecdotes and punchlines one after the other for a seated audience trying to get away from the daily grind. In fact, Basketmouth and co operated almost exclusively in the bastard tongue, steeped in the delicious humour of the streets with a tinge of the poverty, dysfunction and craze that lurks at its underbelly. Their crowds, most of them brought up away from the particular madness infused in the jokes, raved at the otherworldliness of their tales, even as they reveled in the refreshing and unashamed use of a unique Nigerian lexicon.

Standing apart from these pioneers, K10 and his band of merry social media men do not play on the same Robin Hood gimmick of their forerunners who always seemed to be teasing their ajebutter fans for not having waded through the same pools of deprivation that they, the upstarts, had suffered. Instead, they dwell in the gentler techniques of satire and mockery. K10 has put up videos complaining about the stresses caused by the tormenting heat of Lagos and the evil side effects of bad breath, all hazards of his own daily life. He does not need to prop up his jokes with outlandish scenarios or poverty tropes, the point being that life in Nigeria is hard in itself- at every level there are victims. Be it the trampled-upon in the lower reaches where a viciously corrupt state squashes the under-privileged with its bulging potbelly, or the middle class, questing for luxury where there is only frustration, there are daily injustices which can throw off the ordinary person looking for peace of mind.

Another social media adept whose online routines have thrust her into the spotlight is Yagazie Emezi, who came to the fore through her willful and honest posts on YouTube. She doesn’t herself identify as a comedian, although her vlogs leave you with the sense that some unrepresented oppressor (the insensitive, the misogynist, they who would wish to repress self-expression) is being told to #GTFOH. And a #GTFOH which is well timed will always bring on a laugh. Yagazie’s funny is the serendipitous kind I talked about earlier, becoming funnier on every replay. She seems to embody the new social media funny and watching her Instagram videos, you crack up at short notice as she mimes to a song playing in the background and then cracks up at herself.

When Zeba Blay of the Huffington Post interviewed her in March of this year, the accent was on her storytelling, which is the ‘raw truth’ that she is attracted to. However, a glance at the neat way she twists layers of social commentary and comic observation into cartoon sketches on Instagram will do more than make you smile. In her use of the innovative possibilities of social media she demonstrates the elements that have brought the second wave their garlands, the emphasis being on the cult of personality so that the more familiar you are with their work- the better you are able to recognize the stories they are telling- the funnier they become.

So it is not surprising that the greatest achievement of these personalities is that they have managed to bring a more nuanced perspective to the understanding of Nigerianness. Where their forebears thrived off a narrative that separated Nigeria into a simple two-toned picture of the haves and the have-nots to make the one laugh at the other, these social media voices present unique Nigerian stories, which together tell a universal truth. Nigerians are agitated: taking out their anger on their children and other Nigerians, intentionally or otherwise; aggressive in the pursuit of their goals; but always aware of their limitations and the limitations of this society. When they connect on social media, this generation of Nigerians, who have found a new groove online are able to talk about anything and laugh about everything, sparing no topic the caustic end of the tongue. From pregnancy and sugar daddies to Beyoncé and Bernie Sanders, Nigerians weigh in on each issue with fireworks humour. Then innovators like K10 swoop in, select the stories to which they best relate and churn out their very individual take on the issues. You cannot help but LOL.

After selling her first company, Yeigo, to South African communications company, Telfree, in 2009, Computer Scientist and entrepreneur, Rapelang Rabana, remained with the company for two more years before starting another equally brilliant company – Rekindle Learning. The 2014 Entrepreneur for the World and World Economic Forum Global Shaper started Rekindle with the hopes of transforming how we learn and utilising digital technology to better facilitate that process.

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“Being an innovator comes from the things that you are subliminally aware of which frustrate or annoy you and believing that you can change them.”

Rekindle Learning focuses on the methodology behind learning and how young individuals in Africa can quickly and competently reach mastery levels while also seeking to develop their skills and capabilities. The technology company uses tools such as personalised learning which checks your learning performance by helping you master your weak areas, and ‘real time guide’, a GPS-like tool that helps individuals without experience navigate through organisational processes and rules to help them add value to whatever organisation or corporation they find themselves in.

‘The real-time guides give you contextual advice. Essentially, you can behave as if you’re an expert. Just as you do in a new country with the help of GPS.’

Rapelang hopes to use Rekindle to achieve more within academia and education in the future. In the near future they plan to establish an English learning platform to address the poor quality of written English found amongst youth who are secondary school graduates, with other subjects to follow.

 

‘We’re still finding out what works and what doesn’t as we go along. The outline is to reduce the time to competency, and whatever can assist with that is what will be part of the plan.’

Trekking up to three kilometres in search of water as a young boy in Uganda, Samuel Otukol could not believe that there was so much water in one place when he moved to Canada. The difference between his hometown where there was a constant water shortage and his new country of residence inspired him to eventually create the Water Distillation System and Process (DSP), an alternative source of viable drinking water, after years of research.

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“Some realities [in Uganda] have not changed much… There are boreholes now, but some of them are tapping into brackish water which could be harmful to health.”

Because of Dr. Otukol’s research, drought-stricken areas or those that only have access to seawater, commonly found in Eastern Africa, can now boast of clean water and improved agricultural practices. The DSP also works with solar energy which is an added advantage in areas that witness electricity shortages in addition to periods of drought.

As a professor of Applied Sciences, Prof. Lesley Erica Scott is using her knowledge to transform medical diagnoses in Africa with Smartspot TBcheck technology. The technology checks the accuracy of the results from popular rapid Tuberculosis tests, of which incorrect diagnosis of the deadly disease can put individuals at a risk of going through unnecessary treatment. Smartspot is the first technology of its kind developed by Africans, for Africans, to be endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Smartspot TB Check by Prof. Lesley Erica Scott
Smartspot TB Check by Prof. Lesley Erica Scott

‘This is an idea that can be commercialised and impact health in Africa and the world,” says Prof. Scott.’

With Smartspot, Tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment which has saved over 37 million lives between 2000 and 2013 will significantly improve, allowing laboratories to safely and economically diagnose the disease which is the third leading cause of death in Africa. Smartspot was awarded the Special Prize for Social Impact ($25,000) at the 2015 Innovation Prize for Africa awards which held in Morocco.

Last year, Burundian Chemical Engineer, Dr. Jean Bosco Kazirukanyo, shone at the Innovation Prize for Africa awards with Oil Spill Cement (OSP). His ground-breaking innovation, which was also borne out of climate change activism, mitigates the poisonous effects of oil spillages and lubricants by containing them in lumps suitable for adequate disposal and ecological recycling.

Oil Spillage Cement developed by Jean Bosco Kazirukanyo
Oil Spillage Cement developed by Jean Bosco Kazirukanyo

Dr. Kazirukanyo, who is also known for his work with the Advanced Cement Training and Projects Institute (ACTP), which produces highly trained and qualified cement engineers and chemists, is on his way to helping the continent manage potential ecological crisis.

Born to a Zimbabwean family that lived on a small farm and made ends meet by growing food crops such as, cabbage, maize, yam and potatoes, Dr. Edward Mabaya grew up appreciating some of the rewards of subsistence farming. Years later, and armed with a PhD in Agricultural Economics from Cornell, he began to work with the Rockefeller Foundation on seed access in Africa. He then set up an organisation to help African seed companies market and distribute seeds. Dr. Mabaya’s research and technology helps small farm owners in the rural areas of most of the English-speaking countries in Africa to access maize, cassava, sorghum and other types of seeds.

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The African Seed Access Index (TASAI) provides a diagnostic tool that helps farmers, investors, agricultural companies and policy makers in Africa uncomplicate the process of seed systems and supply. Since its launch in Nairobi last year, it has spread to 12 countries in Africa and promises to cover the entire continent in the next two to three years.

 

‘I’m trying to make seeds ‘sexy’ again. People have forgotten how powerful seeds can be in transforming the lives of small-holder farmers…This very small technology can be the key to improving food security in Africa. It’s simple yet complicated.’

Dr. Mabaya, whose life has been directly impacted by agriculture, believes that it is one of the answers to the eradication of poverty in Africa. As the Associate Director of the Cornell International Institute for Food and an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow (2007) amongst other notable achievements, Dr. Mabaya credits his current status to his firsthand experience with seeds as one of ten children on a small farm.

‘[Seeds] transformed my own life. I’m where I am now, partly because I saw the power of seeds in rural Africa. What keeps me motivated is making sure that more people get the access that I was able to get.’

Paul-Miki didn’t like struggling to study because there was no electricity or seeing his grandmother give her phone to a driver who had to journey miles out of rural Ghana, just to charge it. Years later, his concern for energy in Africa and passion for entrepreneurship, witnessed a boost after he won the United World Scholarship in high school to study in Hong Kong, after which he moved to Colorado College in the United States where he is currently a senior.

The Kadi Energy power bank Ray 10.
The Kadi Energy power bank Ray 10.

Paul-Miki established Kadi Energy during his sophomore year in Colorado; the young innovator believes that energy is the difference between those at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ and those in the developed world, and is devoted to unsettling the inequality that obstructs equal access to energy around the world.

‘As an innovator you’re constantly thinking about the things around you and what could be made better. It’s also about empowerment and leaving a legacy. It shouldn’t start and stop with one person.’

Kadi, which in ‘Ewe’ (a language from the Volta region in Africa) means “light”, hopes to become one of the major players in energy in the world by producing energy storage systems and launching unique 50-port charging stations for micro-enterprises. The prototype for the charging stations was manufactured and assembled in Nigeria and the company hopes to expand manufacturing to other African countries.

In Ghana, Paul-Miki’s is building a ten megawatt solar farm to provide energy for 10,000 homes with plans to achieve completion in the first quarter of 2017. Haiti and Sierra Leone are also posed to witness the launch of the charging stations in the near future.

It is no surprise that Malawi owes its first and only technology hub and incubator space to Rachel Sibande, CEO and founder of mHub which identifies, nurtures and incubates young technology entrepreneurs. A PhD candidate in Computer Science at Rhodes University in South Africa, Rachel’s research focuses on the use of mobile technology for citizen engagement.

When she was young, Rachel was curious about gadgets, and would break old radios and move parts from one gadget to another to learn how they worked. Earlier on in her career, Rachel taught Information and Computer Technology (ICT) at an elite high school in Malawi and was a Statistics lecturer at the Mzuzu University.

With a membership of over 120 young technology enthusiasts, mHub has championed the development of local technology solutions in Malawi. The company intends to become a leading software development house in the East African country and penetrate global markets. Also, mHub plans to nurture and mentor more than 40 technology startups by 2021 by establishing a formal training institute for practical and dynamic technology-related courses that respond to the fast changing world of technology.

Rachel’s passion for enhancing female participation in Science and Technology led her to establish a ‘Girls4Code’ initiative and a ‘Children’s Coding club’, where children and girls between the ages of 9 and 18 are taught the basics of computer science and mobile application development skills in order to take up careers in science and technology.

“I find satisfaction in creating change that unravels new value. For me, not even the sky’s the limit…it is about being creative and dynamic.”

At just 20 years old, Winnifred Selby is a 2016 New African Woman in Science, Technology and Innovation Award winner, a 2015 World of Children Honoree, a 2014 Set Africa Fellow, an Anzisha Fellow 2014 and a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum. The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, of which she is a co-founder, is at the centre of these achievements.

The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative employs 35 people and is focused on the afforestation of degraded lands and exportation of bamboo bike frames to generate revenue for the Ghanaian economy. The initiative also serves as an empowerment scheme for women as bamboo briquette (making a type of charcoal from bamboo residue to use as a cooking fuel) entrepreneurs with added training on leadership and entrepreneurship. More than 100 women have been trained in professional technical courses since the programme’s inception.

Winnifred Selby
Winnifred Selby

The outstanding leader and serial social entrepreneur dedicates her life to the economic empowerment of young people in her community and as the President of the EPF Educational Empowerment Initiative, her varied abilities are directed toward a single purpose: the ever-widening implementation of her mission to keep school children, especially young girls from deprived communities in Ghana, in school.

 

‘Moving forward, we seek to position the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative as the number one bamboo bike manufacturer and exporter in Africa, creating employment opportunities for hundreds of young people. We also want to go into large scale commercial bamboo plantation as a means of creating employment opportunities for the youth while encouraging processing of the bamboo by adding value to it and exporting them to earn foreign exchange for the country.’

Winnifred has travelled extensively worldwide, shared platforms with notable international figures such as the Executive Director of the World Trade Organization, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon whom she was able to convince to take a ride on one of her bamboo bikes.

In 2014, three friends teamed up to start a company using their extensive backgrounds in web development, digital design and their love of music. In June 2015, MyMusic was launched in Lagos offering Nigerians the opportunity to download music in a cheap and easy manner.

According to Dolapo Taiwo, one of the co-founders, “we had an idea for people to download music in one click…we didn’t know how it was going to pan out.” Damola and Dolapo returned to Nigeria in 2008 to start Unitech Media (which is still in operation) and later joined forces with Tola in 2014 to start the company. Today, MyMusic is integrated with all the telecommunication companies in Nigeria and about 60 million Nigerians with a phone and internet connection can download music.

Mymusic founders Damola Taiwo, Tola Ogunsola, and Dolapo Taiwo
Mymusic founders Damola Taiwo, Tola Ogunsola, and Dolapo Taiwo

“Our lives are action packed and unpredictable. Sometimes you work till 2am and other times it’s for 24 hours,” says Damola who is also the CEO of the company, and Dolapo echoes this sentiment. “As an innovator you’re on a quest to solve a particular problem, and until you solve it you never really sleep. You have to never take no for an answer.”

Damola, Tola and Dolapo have plans to make MyMusic Pan-African with a short-term plan to expand into five other African countries through an aggressive marketing plan. In time, the company hopes to go global, as they note “African music is very dynamic and big all over the world.”

MyMusic currently partners with Facebook on the social network’s ‘Facebook Music Stories’, as Facebook’s first African partner in this capacity

‘The passion of trying to save lives, imparting knowledge and creating change is what drives me.’

Nigerian-British Geneticist and Scientist, Ify Aniebo, is on a mission to find out why malaria drugs are failing by exploring drug resistance. According to her, Africa is living on its ‘last life’ for malaria drugs and the medical community is not working quickly enough to develop new solutions. Ify’s dedication to these issues was born from her experience with malaria as a child and a desire to educate people about science and health.

Ify founded African Health Magazine to provide better information around health and science, particular to health concerns facing people around the continent. Her work is centred around trying to stop the spread of malaria drug resistance in Africa with detailed research which serves as a surveillance tool for clinical scientists.

In order to do this, the molecular geneticist spends most of her days and nights in the laboratory. “Sometimes I’m not aware of the time. It’s tough and it also gets lonely for scientists. You’re in your own world a lot. If things don’t work out you try to find why. But when you do get a little bit of progress it gives you the energy to carry on.”

While the award-winning scientist admits that her PhD candidacy at Oxford University (which is almost over) doesn’t afford her the energy to invest in her magazine as much she would like, she plans to move back to Nigeria in September and make the magazine and initiative more programmatic with outreach strategies in addition to the use of mobile and internet technologies.

“Education is empowerment. People need to know the signs to look out for. However, not everyone can access the internet. I plan to go into the rural areas to provide information to those who need it the most.”

‘Language is a beautiful thing.’

Adebunmi Adeniran created NAILANGS, the keyboard that allows you to type in Nigerian languages, three years ago after a conversation with friends in the UK about the importance in embracing their languages.

NAILANGS is a multilingual keyboard which supports and enables writing in at least 12 Nigerian languages and aims to ensure that local Nigerian languages do not become extinct by making them easy to learn.

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Ms. Adeniran studied Russian Language at the University of Lagos, along with minors in the Italian, Yoruba and English Languages.

However, she was always passionate about teaching her language (Yoruba) to others while also learning to speak theirs. She is fluent in English, Yoruba and Russian, can speak some Italian and is currently learning to speak Portuguese.

The linguist believes that passion begets innovation; she plans to visit Nigeria soon to market NAILANGS and make the keyboard something that any Nigerian can use. “I want the future generations to be aware of how beautiful our languages are. This is just the beginning.”

In the future NAILANGS hopes to incorporate language translation as one of its features.

Takunda Chingonzo’s passion for technology and entrepreneurship led him to create Neolab Technology P/L at the age of 19. Neolab Technology provides free internet to the public through Saisai Wireless and other similar startup networks. These other startups include Neo Effect (empowering underprivileged youth in southern Zimbabwe through Information Technology (IT) literacy), MX Project, and BOOT Africa (promoting student startups in tertiary institutions).

Takunda Chingonzo speaking with U.S. President Barack Obama during the U.S.-Africa Business Forum on the sidelines of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Takunda Chingonzo speaking with U.S. President Barack Obama during the U.S.-Africa Business Forum on the sidelines of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The award-winning 23-year-old university student believes that any business can thrive with access to the internet. He is committed to technological innovations that bolster a vision of revolutionising entrepreneurship in Zimbabwe’s economy and the rest of Africa.

 

Saisai is going to become a gateway for local developers, content creators and curators to reach their targeted customers.

Takunda also plans to establish 100 sustainable companies on the continent by 2020 with the launch of 20 per year. His business model for Africa is investing in products with visible potential in order to guarantee lasting success. For Takunda, innovation is an extension of ourselves as humans and must be practiced with frugality. He believes an entrepreneur should create and transfer value to the end user using the least amount of resources.

Last year, Moroccan researcher, Adnane Remmal, won the Innovation Prize for Africa’s $100,000 cash grand prize for a patented alternative to livestock antibiotics. A professor of Biotechnology at the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University, Remmal’s innovation seeks to address the health problems that antibiotics in livestock feed can cause humans.

Professor Remmal directed his research towards studying the quality and strength of livestock antibiotics and replacing them with the most natural and harmless compositions for livestock, which offer the same antimicrobial results and prevent resistance. This way, livestock remain healthy, the agricultural sector receives a tremendous boost, and people can consume livestock products without fear of transmitted germs or carcinogens.

He currently runs a small company that manufactures and distributes the product with hopes to attract investment in order to increase production levels and expand into other countries in Africa and the world.

According to Professor Remmal, innovation is the most important means to contribute to African development.

Ventures Africa

The entrance of Nigerian artist, Victor Ehikhamenor’s home is a vibrant and diverse trail of his artwork. The first is a play on collage with hundreds of old film cartridges arranged into a square, around picture cut-outs of a camera in the middle, bare African women, and article clips from foreign magazines. The second is a multi-coloured painted carcass of an old generator, and the third is an old typewriter sitting on a wooden box covered with inscriptions and the Ehikhamenor’s characteristic drawings. Titled, Their Point of View, Power Play, and Klakitiklak of Ineffective Policies, respectively, these pieces occupy most of the balcony as Ehikhamenor welcomes guests into his home as well as his artistic vision, which over the past decade has made an indelible imprint on contemporary African art.

Ehikhamenor’s rise to prominence has been based largely on his originality and inventiveness; his ability to move past the use of traditional art materials, and to transform anything into a work of art. One of his works, Lagos Rush Hour, is made out of scraps; pegs, plastic bags, a sponge, and a broom. “It’s a girl in a rush,” he says, of the paper bag figure in the shape of a girl on a run, with pegs as legs. Lagos Rush Hour, which takes up a prominent space on the wall of his living room, is a departure from his characteristic paintings of abstract intersecting and overlapping figurative forms, appropriations of the signs and symbols he grew up with, on the walls of his village shrines in Udomi-Uwessan, Edo State.

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Lagos Rush Hour Credit – Victor Ehikhamenor

A majority of Ehikhamenor’s works are influenced by his rich traditional past as a village kid. “I grew up in the village; the vibrancy and everything you see in my works is a conscious reflection of my upbringing,” He says at the beginning of our conversation, as he so often does at most of his interviews; he tells everyone who cares to know, that he is a “village man.” For him, years of studying and living in London, and the United States did not result in a foreign accent. Not even his frequent trips Europe to show his work could take away his Edo tinged accent, one that becomes prominent when he switches to Pidgin. “I am from Africa. I am an African artist. I have no identity crises, I know where I come from,” he tells me.

Growing up, Ehikhamenor was surrounded by art. From Christian iconography in the village Catholic Church, to traditional markings on the walls of his community shrine, he notes, “I was surrounded by a whole lot of it [art].” Art runs in Ehikhamenor’s bloodline. His uncle was a photographer, his maternal grandfather, a blacksmith, his mother, a local artist, and his grandmother, a cloth weaver. Both women had a great influence on him, reflective in the female figures, layered copiously throughout various pieces of his work.

Ehikhamenor breathes art. You can see it in the acrylic or oil brush strokes in his paintings, the complex lines and symbols of his charcoal and chalk drawings, the cultural and political dimensions of his installations, the tiny holes of his innovative perforations, and the bluntness of his writing. Everything is a canvas to him. His bookshelves, which stand tall against the wall on the left wing of his dining room, are not spared from his deliberate doodling. Neither is his Mac laptop case, his iPhone case, his glass frames, nor empty exotic wine and perfume bottles; they all bare the trademark of abstract stylised drawings. In one of my meeting’s with him, we stop by a friend’s home in Lekki to pick up wine bottles of varying shapes and sizes soon to be transformed into works of art.

“I see in forms and colours,” he says while setting up a sculpted canvas in his living room for me to see. “Because I am an abstract painter I don’t really deal with things the way they are. The way I deal with things is different from painting them the way they are. If anything impresses me, I change it to a different form.” He must sense my desperation in trying to make sense of what seemed like a crumpled cloth of rioting colours, for he goes on to explain, “This is a soft sculpture, influenced by the way we wear our clothes or hang them, people going to church on Sunday, this is the kind of colour that swells around the market woman, and people going to a meeting in the village.”

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An indoor soft sculptureCredit – Victor Ehikhamenor

Undeniably one of Africa’s most innovative contemporary artists, Ehikhmenor constantly seeks to reinvent his work. In a 2013 interview with Nigerians Talk, he said he aspires to keep creating works that plays with material, which is exactly what he has done, quite successfully over the years. And though he is consistent in the use of his biomorphic shapes and forms, his materials and process continues to develop. “Regardless of whatever he does, it’s always something fresh, but then you still have the staple signs and symbols in it,” says Adenrele Sonariwo, owner and manager of Rele, a contemporary art gallery in the heart of Lagos.

Ehikhamenor invented “paintforation” – drawing by perforation. This technique involves using nail perforations to fill in sketches on white canvass. “The whole idea is that this reacts to the light”, he says, unveiling one of his unique ‘paintforations’. “So if I put off the light”, he turns off the light in the room, “can you see what I’m talking about?” he asks me. In the dark, the images on the canvass lit up, becoming more defined, whereas with the light on, the canvass glowed, and the images looked like silhouettes. Either way, the beauty of the work does not elude you. “For a place like this where power is an issue, I am constantly thinking of ways people can appreciate my works. And as you’ve seen, different lighting give different meanings. Paintforation works with shades and shadows, not colors,” he explains with enthusiasm.

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PaintforationCredit – Victor Ehikhamenor

Foremost Nigerian writer and poet, Toni Kan, who’s been friends with Ehikhamenor for over a decade also attests to his creative ingenuity, “The uniqueness of Victor as an artist is that he constantly improves his game,” he tells me. “I have closely watched him evolve overtime, constantly changing things. One can see the progression in his works.” He adds, “He is constantly innovating his art. Every time he does an exhibition, it’s something completely different. There are certain artists I know who are static, but not Victor. He always challenges himself. ”

Successful artists often embody dedication, patience, and a huge dose of discipline. Therefore, it came as no surprise when most of Victor’s friends could not describe him without noting that he is a “hard worker.” Ehikhamenor is quite a busy man, whether he’s working on a new painting, installation, or sculpture, or jetting around the world for residencies or to hold exhibitions, he’s always up to something. When we met earlier in September 2015, Ehikhamenor had listed some of the events he had scheduled for the last quarter of the year, and in the first two quarters of 2016, including an exhibition in Jogja, Indonesia, and a residency in South Africa. We are in the middle of a conversation when his phone rings, “That was Jude Anogwih, he’s a curator … I have a major work that I need to do for an exhibition called Indonesia meets Nigeria, so I need to meet him to discuss certain things …” he explains once the call ends. Victor was one of 11 Nigerian artists invited to join twenty-three Indonesian artists in the grand exhibition at the Biennale. It was there at the Jogja National Museum he showcased the ‘major work’ he’d mentioned back in September, an installation titled “The Wealth of Nations.

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Wealth of NationsCredit – Victor Ehoikhamenor

The installation consists of two parts, one in conjunction with Indonesian artist Maryanto Bebo, at the entrance of the Jogja National Museum, and another inside the museum. The former was a neatly arranged pile of old drums standing about 30 feet high. The drums bore drawings typical of Ehikhamenor as bright red-coloured biomorphs encircled each one. Inside the museum, an entire room was engulfed by Ehikhamenor’s work- he left no space unmarked. This is how Emmanuel Iduma, writer and art critic described it, “The walls of the room were covered in black drawings on a yellow background … the shapes and forms seemed to join without end, painstakingly linked, with the adeptness of a calligrapher.” Both installations addressed political issues of corruption and violence surrounding oil exploitation in Nigeria.

“On January 15th 1956 commercial quantity oil discovered in Oloibiri (In today’s Bayelsa state, Nigeria). On January 15th 1966, Nigeria military discovered its first coup d’état.Those who discovered oil and those who discovered coup are bed fellows, not strange to each other. Welcome to the Wealth of Nations”, Ehikhamenor wrote on his Instagram page sharing his newly completed installation art to his over 5000 Instagram followers. He seemed to echo the words of late Oronto Douglas, a former human rights attorney who defended Ogoni leader Ken Saro Wiwa, when he said in a 2009 interview, “There is a symbiotic relationship between the military dictatorship and the multinational companies who grease the palms of those who rule…. They are assassins in foreign lands. They drill and they kill in Nigeria.”

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Wealth of NationsCredit – Victor Ehikhamenor

For Ehikhamenor, art serves as a medium of intervention in political conversations within, and outside Nigeria. Like the pieces that welcome you into his home, “The Wealth of Nations”, served a political narrative for corruption, and resource exploitation in Nigeria. “I am from Africa. This means I am an African artist and writer, and must address what matters, the issues that plague us,” he said to me.” This statement seemed a reiteration of what he told the Financial Times two years ago, “I would feel a fraud if I ignored some of the issues of my country.”

As a writer, Ehikhamenor is a political satirist. When asked why he writes in satire, Victor notes, “When I was growing up, chloroquine didn’t have capsules, there were only two ways of taking it; it’s either you are very sick and you take as a capsule or you put it inside Eba and swallow it with soup,” he explains to me giving a light demonstration, “because when the food dissolves, it [the chloroquine] goes into the blood stream. Though it’s very slow process, it eventually works. So when I write, you read, and you laugh, but in the end you realize what I’m talking about is extremely serious. That is what satire is – serious issues delivered in a humorous way. My father was a big satirist, he shared the most important messages in funny ways.”

For him, writing is also a form of creating art, but the difference is the immediacy of it. When I told him that he better addresses political issues in his writing than with his paintings, he disagreed, “Equal measures”, he says. “Although writing is art, it is immediate. But with my paintings or installations, you have to digest them to see what I’m referencing.” It is this unhurried, progressive art that is currently commanding worldwide attention, and bringing him much deserved widespread acclaim. Ehikhamenor’s characteristic biomorphic form of imagery has taken him across the globe,  “I can’t count the number of countries I’ve been to, they are many,” he replies when I enquire of him. This peripatetic nature of work certainly contributes to his love for luxury; not necessarily for a lavish lifestyle, but one of great comfort and elegance. One can tell from a number of things including the setting of his home, his choice of restaurants, and hangout spots, his love for exotic food, and in his sense of fashion. Ehikhamenor is a debonair; whether he’s in a laidback tee and all stars, a formal wear, or traditional garb, he’s always dapper.

Driving through Carter bridge from the Island to the Mainland, and overlooking the ancient storey buildings that span the Marina road all the way to Akpogbon, Ehikhamenor longed for the classic architecture of the past, “Every single building in this place is art, built by well-known architects when Nigeria really fancied art”, he said in an almost wistful tone. “So why do you think people don’t pay attention to art in this sense/depth anymore”, I ask. “Because our orientation shifted from what is important to money and “fast” life,” he responds. Later, he admitted that this attitude is changing and that people are beginning to pay attention to art, especially in terms of business and monetary value, “people are beginning to see the benefit of collecting art, there is an upswing in the secondary market. Nigerian art is being recognized all over the world, we are going places now, the international media have been talking about it … serious value is coming to the Nigerian market right now.”

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Mural artCredit – Victor Ehikhamenor

According to Adenrele of Rele Gallery, the business of art in Nigeria has the potential to become quite lucrative in the long run. However, there is a need to keep educating Nigerians on the value of art. “We need to keep educating people, and start producing a new generation of collectors” she says. “Although we have a good amount of art collectors, they have been in the industry for quite a while, so its time to educate a new generation of collectors, and see how we can increase the market, and also bring a new audience to buy art.”

Educating or garnering a new audience to value, and collect the works of an artist like Ehikhamenor shouldn’t be hard, he already has a following, his own audience. The originality and dynamic nature of his works, coupled with his lively personality, appeal largely, but is not restricted, to a young demographic. “Victor makes ‘cool art,’ says Toni Kan. “I’ve met many young people who want to own an Ehikhamenor art work, or branded product,” he told me, adding that contemporary art has evolved, and that Victor’s work has got quite the appeal, “especially with his involvement in fashion, and product branding.”

When it comes to marketing his art works, Ehikhamenor says he likes to “shy away” from the business aspect of the industry, particularly the bargaining process. “I leave that to the gallerists, like Rele.” But in every sense, Ehikhamenor is as much a business man as he is an artist, even he can’t “shy away” from this truth. “Art is business and business is art,” he says to me. “When you are done painting, and you’re out of the studio, what next?” came the rhetoric question. “I want my work to sell. As an artist, it’s not okay for people to just say your work is fantastic. You want people to pay for it; it contributes a lot to how you are rated as an artist,” he said matter-of-factly. Apart from passion, business is what drives some of his innovations, be it individual product branding, or co-branding, “Victor is taking art everywhere. He’s not sticking to the traditional concept of just putting his works in galleries, he’s taken his art to the street,” Kan says, referring to his glass frame, and phone case that Ehikhamenor drew on. This intricate balance of accessibility and grandeur is what makes Ehikhamenor relevant, and relatable as an artist.

When I ask him where he sees his work in the next few years, he replies, “Only God can answer that. I take things one day at a time.”

Victor Ehikhamenor is currently on a residency program in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In 2012, Bilikiss Adebiyi left a five-year-long job as a Software Programmer at IBM in the United States to return home to Nigeria and execute an idea that came to her while she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): A recycling company now called WeCyclers.

WeCyclers collects waste from low-income communities and rewards the participants with points that can later be exchanged for prizes.

The generated waste materials – which are also collected with help from the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) – are then sold to recycling companies, making WeCyclers both a social and economic enterprise.

Plastic bottle home developed by D.A.R.E / Photo credit: Andreas Froese for ECOTEC
Plastic bottle home developed by D.A.R.E / Photo credit: Andreas Froese for ECOTEC

Before founding WeCyclers, Bilikiss attempted to establish a scrap metal venture with her brother which didn’t quite pan out. However, that failure led her to an even better innovation. Bilikiss hopes to turn WeCyclers into a movement that will change the way Nigerians and Africans view waste.

According to Bilikiss, “Waste management is one of the main problems for poor populations in Nigeria. We want to create a system that would change how people see waste from a problem to a solution.”

Young Madiba Olivier always thought he was going to end up working as a game developer in either the United States or Europe, but it turned out his home country of Cameroon had much more in store for the game lover. Upon realising the lack of dynamism and African characterisation, as well as mythical and cultural representation in games, Madiba decided to make games that would address these issues while entertaining game players both home and abroad.

lagos design 2

To this end, Madiba began developing Aurion: Legacy of Kori Odan, a Role Playing Game (RPG) inspired by one of his favourite games ever – Final Fantasy. He launched Kiro’o Games, which is now the first gaming studio in Central Africa, in 2013. Last year, Kiro’o Games received $50,000 from a Kickstarter campaign to fund its projects.

“As an innovator, you’re a little bit alone. A lot of people don’t understand how you see things or how you see the world”, Madiba says. The Computer Scientist also thinks that while some people are born with the gift to come up with great ideas, others are trained. For Olivier, it’s 50-50 and the key is to keep an open mind and learn how to process ideas better. Kiro’o plans to organise with other games studios in Africa to make the continental market one of the best in the world.”

‘The video game industry is moving towards virtual reality/augmented reality. In ten years, Africa can invent the next way to entertain. America already invented sight cinema and video games. I want to have a team ambitious enough to invent the next step.’

“We’re in the last stages of trying to release the game. This is the end of the road of a 12-year dream. We will decide on the future of the industry in the region if Aurion is a success. If we succeed, we will pave the way for other games to be produced in Cameroon. If we don’t, we may have closed it for a long time for investment and giving others a shot. That gives us a lot of pressure and equal motivation.”

Aurion: Legacy of Kori Odan launches in April 2016.

Since 2002, Chimurenga Magazine has been redefining African culture through music, literature and visual arts. Founder Ntone Edjabe, DJ, basketball coach, journalist and researcher started his ‘revolutionary struggle’ (the translation for Chimurenga) as a tool to draw attention to the complexities and diversity of the African continent and realign the global discourse surrounding it.

Chimurenga was originally a magazine but it now incorporates additional platforms such as the Pan African Space Station (PASS), which is Chimurenga’s broadcasting wing and online music radio, the Chimurenga Library which is also online and collects pan African periodicals and personal books, and a broadsheet produced every quarter known as The Chronic.

Cover of latest Chimurenga Chronic Issue.
Cover of latest Chimurenga Chronic Issue.

Edjabe’s platforms and publications are known for their blunt and unbiased perspective on the politics and cultural development of the continent; he posits that music and creativity are the most crucial tools in liberating Africa from its struggles.

Brazil-born, Abidjan-raised Ivorian designer, Loza Maleombho, runs a fashion brand that takes creativity to the next level. Educated in the United States, Loza directed the artistic aspect of her Fine Arts in Animation degree into establishing a fashion career that has seen her work with ZARA, Diesel, Jill Stuart, Yigal Azrouël, and Cynthia Rowley in her early days in New York.

Loza’s brand, which is now based in Abidjan, has been featured in VOGUE, ELLE Magazine, MARIE CLAIRE and a slew of other fashion magazines.

Loza Maleombho for Saint Heron. Photo by Daniel Sery
Loza Maleombho for Saint Heron. Photo by Daniel Sery

My creative process is very much centered around using tools available at hand; local fabric and materials, social media and storytelling in order to start a discussion between modernity and tradition: Two antagonist notions. I believe there is a link to be established in all things, there just needs to be a reason for it.

Last month, one of Loza’s designs was featured in Beyonce’s video for the song ‘Formation’ causing a lot of buzz for both the designer and her designs. Speaking in an interview after the video was released, Loza says she watched the video four times just to catch a glimpse of her design.

Presently, the Loza Maleombho team consists of six people but plans to grow into a larger team of solely women to promote female empowerment as well as social and economic development. Loza also plans to establish a training workshop for young women from unprivileged backgrounds to teach them sewing, pattern making and production so as to improve their economic situations.

‘…See the bigger picture. The work has to be the reward. Anything else is just a bonus.’

Zina Saro-Wiwa first carved a niche for herself in arts and film-making in 2008 with her documentary This Is My Africa which transformed discussions about the continent in international media. A former BBC presenter, Zina’s experimental video installations, documentaries, photography and films take an interesting stance in the scope of young contemporary African artists.

In 2013, Zina moved back to the Niger Delta in Nigeria to make a body of work that aimed to tell new stories about the region through contemporary art, food projects, and her own contemporary art gallery called Boys’ Quarters Project Space which is based in the city of Port Harcourt. Zina’s work has been shown in museums all over the world including Seattle Art Museum, The Fowler Museum, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Stevenson Gallery, Goodman Gallery, Guggenheim Bilbao, Nikolaj Kunsthal, Tate Britain and many others.

Shuttling between Brooklyn and the Niger Delta, Zina is currently set to show her work based on her Niger Delta residency at Brooklyn Museum in April, the Serpentine Gallery programming in May, and also at Arles Photo festival this summer. Her Port Harcourt Gallery, Boys’ Quarters Project Space, moves to London for the summer where they take over the Tiwani Gallery for one month.

“An innovator’s life – especially that of a woman’s – is often a lot more tedious and thankless than the outcomes may suggest. You have to be prepared to sacrifice comfort, stability and relationships to see an idea through to the end. You have to love what you do and see the bigger picture.”

https://player.vimeo.com/video/138822279

Tired of the lies that politicians were constantly feeding Kenyans through journalists, in 2008 multiple award-winning photojournalist and activist Boniface Mwangi decided to take up a more profound role in the documentation activism amongst Kenyans.

Mwangi’s unbridled passion for social justice and change led him to establish the first-of-its-kind ‘artivism’ hub called Pawa254 in 2011, a platform which “empowers young professionals and disadvantaged youth to effect social change through new innovative projects.”

Boniface Mwangi with graffiti
Boniface Mwangi with graffiti

The TED Senior Fellow applies an artistic voice through Pawa254 to revolutionise journalism by standing up to Kenya’s political elite, and fostering dialogue in Kenya through a platform known as Picha Mtaani.

He is currently working on ‘Boom Twaff. Boom Twaff, a book which documents his work from 2005 to 2015 and summarises his journey into photography.

A Co-Creation Hub Hackathon set the stage for public finance analyst, Oluseun Onigbinde, to launch one of the best ideas that Nigeria has seen in some time – BudgIT. Because of BudgIT, Nigerians now have access to federal budgets while they are being drawn up.

BudgIT uses SMS, infographics, interactive applications and games, amongst other tools, to bring transparency and accountability to civil society while aiming for a more socially and economically evolved Nigeria. According to Oluseun, BudgIT simply aims to provide budget access, which both he and his team believe is the key to civic engagement and institutional reform.

Oluseun is presently working on international partnership to advance BudgIT’s vision. The Africa Transparency Initiative, a Pan-African initiative, USAID, Ford Foundation, and the Knight Foundation are some of the partners that the company has managed to make progress with over time. Additionally, BudgIT has developed tools such as ‘Tracka’ and ‘Fitila’ to monitor local community projects.

 

The idea is that rather than having reports just being entirely narrative, we want them to be backed by data. We don’t want 1000-word opinion pieces not backed with data guiding the thoughts.

BudgIT currently employs 22 people and has future plans to build “sustainable cities” that are data-driven. To do this, Oluseun is ready to “pull the old order down and rebuild a new experience for stakeholders” while strengthening access to citizens in digital and offline communities.

“We want to publicise finance data in the hands of citizens, raising their ability to ask questions and demand service delivery. But we don’t want to do this with heavy dependence on donor funding, so we want to ensure that we fully establish a thriving business segment that focuses on private clients and development agencies in areas of data science, visualization and civic technology.”

The Ona Mtoto Wako (See your baby) social initiative was founded by South African Rhodes Scholars, Chrystelle Wedi and Kopano Matlwa Mabaso. It was developed in order to tackle the leading causes of maternal and newborn deaths in rural and low-income areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by identifying high risk pregnancies with the use of mobile clinics offering ultrasonography and health screenings to expectant mothers.

The aforementioned exercises are aimed at drastically reducing the numbers of preventable deaths in mothers caused by complications such as pregnancy-related anaemia, hypertension, HIV and malaria. At the screenings, the phone numbers of these ‘high risk women’ would be collected in order to stay in touch and connect them to healthcare facilities in their area.

This thoughtful initiative won the first ever Aspen Idea Award in July last year with a cash prize of $25,000 to bring the idea to life. Dr. Mabaso is an award-winning author, a pioneer of the World Economic Forum Global Shaper – Johannesburg Hub and a 2015 Fellow of both Tutu and Aspen New Voices.

Dr. Wedi is currently the Secretary General of Vandelo NGO and co-managing partner of Watoto Hospital & Karibuni Hospital, based in the DRC, as well as a 2016 Aspen New Voices Fellow.

“I am passionate about issues affecting the African continent especially those relating to socio-economic, public health and gender inequalities. I hope to play a significant role in improving quality and accessibility of healthcare for women and children in Africa and plan to coordinate research which can be translated into effective and efficient health policy in African states.”

‘I collaborate with craft.’

Beninese artist, Meschac Gaba, disrupted the international art scene with a conceptual five-year-long, 12-part project entitled The Museum of Contemporary African Art which commenced in 1997, following his relocation to Amsterdam to further his studies. Gaba’s nomadic museum, which explores globalisation, consumerism and the ‘Western museum’ (just as his other artistic endeavours do), fuses art with daily life and serves as a contemporary biography of the artist himself.

Meschac Gaba’s Le Monde en Miniature et la Mode en Miniature
Meschac Gaba’s Le Monde en Miniature et la Mode en Miniature

Gaba uses braided hair extensions, sugar, banknotes and other unconventional materials to make sculptures and artistic objects.

Since his emergence, Gaba and his gallery have received global attention which led the high profile London art institution, Tate Modern, to purchase most of his work. However, Gaba still holds on to the Library room in his ‘museum’ with plans to keep it in his hometown in Cotonou, where he currently resides.

Dr. Thumbi Mwangi’s research focuses on the link between livestock health and human health. His research in East African rural households helped to inform the 300 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, at risk of falling ill following the consumption of sick livestock.

A trained veterinarian and member of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Dr. Mwangi carried out a study which tracked 1,500 households and their livestock in Kenya in March 2015, and has since been documented in an open journal Plos One.

Thumbi Mwangi about to examine livestock in Western Kenya
Thumbi Mwangi about to examine livestock in Western Kenya

Presently, Dr. Mwangi is focused on researching the human-animal interface in East Africa and investigating the relationship between livestock health and productivity, human health, nutrition and welfare in order to improve health and welfare among livestock-dependent households by improving animal health and productivity.

Ghana and Nigeria combined forces to provide a basic service to black women- hair styling. Priscilla Hazel, Cassandra Sarfo and Esther Olatunde created Tress – an application which provides Black women with information on how to style their natural hair, where they can find salons, and what products to use for various hair textures.

Hazel, Sarfo and Olatunde met at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology in Accra, Ghana and instantly connected based on their shared frustrations with their hair and options available to them. Last month at the Lagos Social Media Week, the three friends launched Tress amidst rave reviews.

Illustration by Dimeji Ezekiel @knuckleheroes

CEO Priscilla Hazel agrees that it can get awkward for women to approach strangers and inquire about their hairstyle and this is a barrier that the application is helping women overcome.

 

‘For us at Tress, after identifying the challenge that we faced we wanted to find an easier and convenient way to solve the challenge of finding details of amazing hairstyles we constantly see online.’

Tress is available for download on the Google Play Store with more versions to come. The founders have disclosed plans to expand into e-commerce, as well as make Tress active on various media platforms by partnering with “likeminded organisations and individuals”.

“We envision that in the near future, Tress will be the go-to app for black women looking to find hair inspiration, hair-stylists and high quality hair products. We believe that Tress will continue to evolve and grow into a multi-faceted global brand.”

Ozoz Sokoh’s passion for food in all of its ramifications can probably be rivalled by only a select handful of individuals on the continent. From her vivid descriptions of food and her love of it, to her artistic and mouth-watering – also beautifully photographed – expressions in the kitchen, her culinary brand, Kitchen Butterfly, is constantly evolving and exploring a variety of ways to amaze even the most accomplished foodie.

Sokoh is an Exploration Geologist ‘during the day’. Her affair with food and Nigerian cuisines began while she was living and working in The Netherlands, where she became more aware of Nigerian food and developed a deeper appreciation for Nigerian ingredients and techniques.

Ozoz's interpretation of puff puff, filled with mango and chili, rolled in cinnamon sugar. @kitchenbutterfly
Ozoz’s interpretation of puff puff, filled with mango and chili, rolled in cinnamon sugar. @kitchenbutterfly

“Whether with geology or food, I use the same skills – curiosity, data gathering & observation of the facts, synthesis and concept selection, experimentation and documentation. I’m an explorer, through and through.”

Ozoz, who would rather “shop for veg than shoes,” never restricts herself to the provisions of a recipe and loves to create colourful and pretty dishes. Her successful gustatory experiments involve using ‘unusual’ foods, fruits, and vegetables such as sugarcane and agbalumo to create never-before-seen-nor-imagined cuisines and drinks.

The ‘Traveller by Plate’ sees the world through food, which for her is “for more than eating.” One of her dreams include going to a Nigerian restaurant in Paris and stunning and interesting people with Nigerian innovative culinary skills.

‘In future, I would like to establish a Culinary Institute focused on the entire value chain – from agriculture to the table, finish writing my first cookbook and host a TV show.’

Kitchen Butterfly is on a mission to create awareness of Nigerian food, at home and abroad. Ozoz calls this ‘The New Nigerian Kitchen’ – redefining Nigerian cuisine to showcase the colours, flavours and textures.

Eco-friendliness takes an amazing architectural form in plastic bottle houses, constructed by the Developmental Association for Renewable Energies (DARE) in Nigeria. DARE constructed these homes from thousands of recycled plastic bottles which are filled with sand, cement, and mud. These components form a highly formidable wall which is 20 times stronger than brick walls, fireproof, bulletproof, and earthquake resistant.

DARE CEO, Engr. Yahaya Ahmed, co-founded the Kaduna-based non-governmental organisation, which seeks to promote the understanding and use of renewable energy resources as well as promote clean indoor air through energy autonomous plastic bottle houses and other environmental projects. The houses are fitted with energy saving stoves with little or no emissions which mitigate desertification and climate change, urine filtration fertilization systems and purification tanks.

DARE homes - Yahaya Ahmed

Yahaya Ahmed’s environmental projects seek to aid Nigeria’s issues with deforestation and pollution, in addition to other forms of environmental degradation. The energy efficient kitchen stoves were recently made available for purchase in Kaduna and plans are in the works for nationwide availability.

DARE currently trains young people in Kaduna to assemble the stoves in order for them to become future entrepreneurs. Additionally, the organisation is training local masons in the bottle building technique with the help of Andres Froesse, the founder of Eco-Tec Soluciones Ambientales.

Igoni Barett is a Nigerian author who explores literature through a dynamic lens by writing stories about Nigeria and race with an intent to stimulate fresh conversations around how they are perceived and challenge the norms surrounding them.

In his most recent piece of work, Blackass, which is also his first novel, the author demonstrates his astuteness around unearthing critical and complex debates surrounding race in Nigeria, a topic largely suppressed in mainstream conversations.

igoniBar

Born and educated in Nigeria, Igoni’s widespread acclaim was cemented with Love is a Power, or Something Like That, a collection of short stories published in 2013, which explore contemporary life in Port Harcourt. Igoni is also lauded for how he uses local dialect, without translation, further emphasising that he is more focused on the craft of language, than explaining things for a western audience.

Blackass, was inspired by Igoni’s desire to spark a conversation on how Nigerians view race following the incident in Ferguson in the United States, and the conversation around African American perceptions and fantasies of life in contemporary Africa.

Travel Noire (TN) founder Zim Ugochukwu has been listed as one of the “10 Amazing Black Women Changing the Game” by Teen Vogue given her role in dismissing the age-long myth that black people don’t like to travel.

Born in the United States to Nigerian parents, Zim worked as a Biologist and community organiser (she was among the organisers of the Obama campaign in 2008) before her love for travel led her to establish Travel Noire in 2013. In less than three years, her establishment has become the go-to guide for young black people who want to travel around the world.

Zim Ugochukwu - Travel Noire

 

‘It’s challenging but rewarding. As an innovator, you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.’

Travel Noire presently employs seven people who “live wherever they want, are productive and very happy.” The brand offers two major products at the moment; the Travel Noire Experiences, which curates a group travel experience, and the community based product.

According to Zim, the experience is about connecting with the local environment, more than mere sightseeing. The TN experience package is available in Italy for now but will include six to seven other locations by summer this year. Next year, Travel Noire plans launch another product to teach people how to work while on vacation, to encourage people to travel more. Zim believes that “you can be in Fiji or Darfur and still have your ‘nine to five’.”

Ventures Africa

On November 13, 2015 Genevieve Nnaji, the Nigerian actress who some have called the face of Nollywood, premiered her latest movie, The Road to Yesterday, at the close of the Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF). The event took place at the Genesis Deluxe Cinemas inside The Palms, a shopping mall in the upscale Lekki Neighborhood of Lagos. It was a gathering of Nigeria’s most influential film and television personalities who mingled with an onslaught of unknown actors, actresses, and filmmakers hoping to break into the increasingly glamorous and lucrative Nollywood, the world’s third largest film industry. I tried to navigate my way through the crowd of people towards the interview stations along the red carpet, but there was almost no room between the women in long dresses and men in crisp suits. If Hollywood is a well structured machine with actors systematically tiered by A, B, C list categories according to their earning power, popularity and ultimate cultural significance, then its African cousin Nollywood, is an altogether more chaotic but egalitarian affair where everyone is welcome, but you must hustle or shout for attention in an improvised industry that is remaking and redefining itself as quickly as the country that birthed it. This frenetic creativity combined with the Nigerian love of the hustle made for a boisterous environment in which conversations were shouted over the Naija-pop playing through the overhead loudspeakers. I could feel the room’s vibrational energy. An American friend of mine in town to research Nollywood remarked that this was the most fun she had ever had going to the movies.

Then Genevieve arrived wearing an immaculate white, curve hugging, floor length dress with a daringly revealing scooped back and knee high front slit framed by graceful frills. For a moment the room paused as bodies parted and Genevieve floated gracefully from the entrance, down the red carpet towards a VIP section. Her producing partner and business manager Chinny Onwugbenu, the film’s screenwriter and director, Ishaya Bako, producer Chi-Chi Nwoko, and co-star Oris Erhuero assembled around her as she took questions from a hungry media that had been starved of Nigeria’s brightest star for the last three years. The Road to Yesterday had only been prescreened for a very limited audience of media executives and industry professionals. It was under the strictest embargo until that night to prevent the piracy that still plagues Nigeria’s creative industries. Even AFRIFF did not get a screener copy until the moment of the premier. The curiosity was intense, the questioning even more so. What was the world to expect from Nollywood’s leading lady?

The unexpected is a familiar realm for a woman who originally thought she would study law in university and then found herself at the forefront of the completely new world of Nigerian film. The first time I met Genevieve was at the Wheatbaker hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos towards the end of 2014. I had received a random call from Chi-Chi Nwoko, a New York based film and television producer who asked if I would be interested speaking to Genevieve about developing a new television show. My previous exposure to Genevieve had only been through newspaper articles, magazine covers, and the pernicious murmurings that follow celebrities – “she’s arrogant and aloof.” I expected to meet an entourage of aides or at least some security. Instead I found Genevieve and Chinny sunk into the wicker chairs on the outdoor patio of the grill room, unconcerned by the fact that the wait staff was freaking out about her presence. Chinny sipped a glass of ice water. Genevieve was lost in her favorite past time, the game Candy Crush, which she plays religiously.

It is hard not to fixate on her obvious beauty, but the most powerful aspect of Genevieve is her ability to read and control the emotional tone of any interaction. It’s a skill that has been mastered by American celebrities and politicians living in a society where public opinion matters, but unsharpened in Nigeria’s more prominent personalities who dominate an environment where worship is expected, not earned. Genevieve’s emotional intelligence stems from what she calls a strong connection to real people in Nigeria. One need only visit her Instagram feed with its over 1.5 million, mostly Nigerian, followers devouring her posts that capture a mix of the mundane, the glamorous, and the aspirational life. Almost all of her posts receive tens of thousands of likes, engagement numbers that would make even the most global of celebrities jealous. I experienced this power personally when I posted a picture of myself jokingly kneeling down before her in a mock proposal at the Nigeria Beasts of No Nation premier. Within minutes I had received hundreds of followers, and many more comments wishing us well.

“I’m one of the masses, and I’m a Nigerian. I’m self employed. [I] continue to run my own businesses here and there…” Genevieve told me during one of our numerous conversations. “I’ve done something with myself – by God’s Grace – because luckily he gave me a gift and I had the wisdom to discover that gift, and I used it to my advantage.” While it is clear that her acting talent has propelled her rise and will help to maintain her influential presence in Nollywood for some time to come, Genevieve’s assent and continued relevance will likely have more to do with her desire to test limits, especially through filmmaking, in a country that has only just recognized the importance of the creative economy.

For all the glamour and fame that presently surrounds her, Ihunanya Genevieve Nnaji, who turned 37 on May 3rd, comes from a relatively ordinary Nigerian, middle class existence. She is the fifth of eight children born to an engineer father from Mbaise, Imo State in the South Eastern Igbo region of Nigeria and a schoolteacher mother who sometimes engaged in petty trading. She grew up in the Surulere neighborhood of Lagos, which has always been a solidly middle class enclave in a city run by the wealthy and dominated by the extremely poor.

“I was a tomboy. I had three brothers right behind me. My sisters were too busy with themselves – you know how elder sisters are. I played football on the street,” Genevieve told me. She also used to engage in fistfights with the boys who lived in her compound. “I got into a fight with a neighbor of mine who was a boy and I beat him up… I was six years old. We were mates and he was fat. He definitely asked for it and he got it,” she said. She told me her home was a traditional Igbo household where her mother acted as the primary disciplinarian. “My dad was the kind of person you didn’t want to speak to you because you would actually feel the disappointment that you are at that time,” she said. “In fact he had a way of – its not even pleading to your conscience – I think it’s a silent threat to your conscience.” At the same time her household was very liberal when it came to her studies and artistic pursuits. As a child Genevieve participated in plays at school and church. “I watched a lot of TV as a child, so I think I was pretty much screen trained. Of course there was no Nigerian cinema then, so everything was on TV,” she said. As a primary school student she excelled in the arts, painting and even producing a comic book series that became very popular in her school. “I would have my classmates bombard me to write the next one while they were reading,” she told me.

Genevieve’s comfortable, even idyllic, childhood changed dramatically when she turned 12 and her father lost his job at the construction equipment supplier Caterpillar because of tribal discrimination. He also lost a subsequent job at the Nnamdi Azikiwe founded African Continental Bank when it collapsed in 1991. Forced to curtail expenditures, her family moved from Surulere to Egbeda, closer the Lagos, Ogun State border. Where once Genevieve and her siblings enjoyed their father’s assigned staff car and driver to take them to and from school, they now found themselves “trekking” to school and spending their afternoons helping their mother sell provisions to make up for lost income while her father searched for work. “She traded, she sold stuff, she got her children to sell stuff for her and we had to. We had no choice. We were living in her house. We cried,” Genevieve said. “She did things you needed to do at that time. Your friends are not doing it. Why should you be the one to be doing it? You’re embarrassed about it, but I’m grateful for that because I think if I wasn’t even given that chance to be humble, I probably wouldn’t appreciate what I have today and understand that it doesn’t make me better than the next person. And [I] just know that everyone is equal and everyone is entitled to love and respect,” Genevieve told me.

At the same time, in what could be interpreted as push to escape the intensity of daily life, Genevieve began to pay more attention to the acting she saw on television. When she turned 16, Nollywood was still in its infancy. The Chris Obi Rapu film Living in Bondage, which is widely credited with bringing real attention to the new entertainment phenomenon, was only a few years old. “But then Nollywood was pretty new and I was watching one of the films back then—I can’t remember the title—and this was me watching another actress, and in my mind I was criticizing how she was performing: ‘No that’s not the reaction she’s supposed to be having to that line.’ I was thinking ‘Oh, I would have done it this way’ or ‘No, I can do this!’ and it’s deep in your gut that you actually know, you actually believe you can. There’s no doubt about it, no questions about it. That was when I realized that I had interest. Did I ever think I would do it as a profession? I don’t think so.”

Her original intention to read Law or English at the University of Lagos, morphed into a major in Creative and Performing Arts. Then she landed a small part in the film Most Wanted. “My role was to interview Regina Askia, a former beauty queen turned actress who was a goddess at that time. That was major. I had to pull it off as a pro and I did it, and the producers asked me if I had done it before and I said no. They were amazed at my confidence—probably I had some training in church or something— but I remember I enjoyed doing it,” Genevieve told me. After this performance, she quickly landed other roles. At the end of her first year in university, stressed by the triple load of acting, coursework and modeling, and frustrated by the continuous strikes plaguing the university system, she made the decision to leave school to pursue acting full time. “My dad didn’t find it funny,” she said. “He wasn’t happy about it, but I kind of reassured him that I would go back, that it wasn’t over. He was mostly concerned about the amount of exposure film was going to bring me, coming from a very conservative, almost prudish home of a Catholic Igbo family.”

Since then, Genevieve has starred in over 80 Nollywood productions for which she has gained domestic and international acclaim, including resounding praise from Oprah Winfrey. The resulting fame and lucrative endorsement deals on products ranging from makeup to watches, a reported multi-million Naira contract to represent Range Rover in Nigeria and a brand ambassadorship for telecommunications giant Etisalat has lead to enormous financial success. She is often listed as one of Nigeria’s wealthiest celebrities and enjoys the fancy cars, the immaculately appointed house in upscale Ikoyi and the trips to exotic locations that are the trappings of celebrity life. She is also thoroughly allergic to any discussion of her earning power or wealth. “Even the kind of car I drive right now cannot give me that kind of joy that my first ride gave me,” Genevieve told me. “I must have a minimum of my first salary in my wallet — two thousand Naira. I can have more, but that’s the minimum. It was my first salary. It’s dear to my heart. That was my welcome fee into the world of entrepreneurship. It’s just there. I love it. I spent more than that to get the two thousand though on transport faire, cause by the time they tell you to go and come back so many times, you’ve spent way more than that, but that was who I was. I worked for it. I have to get paid for it. I’d probably squander every money that is dashed to me, but the one I would sweat for, I don’t play with,” she said. “I don’t talk money because I want people to focus on work,” she told me as we sat on the white leather couches in her living room. Her fluffy white dog, a Brichone-Frise, Lahsa mix named Prince lounged by her feet on the white shag carpet. “Money is not good for creative people. I don’t value myself materially. Take everything,” she said.

In 2011, Genevieve’s production output slowed to one film per year from a career average of four to five films per year. Many in the industry interpreted this as the antics of arrogant, local movie star with her eyes set on international, Hollywood fame. It is easy to see how that impression formed. Between 2011 and 2014, Genevieve’s on-camera work consisted of a role in the universally panned Hollywood adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s award winning novel Half of A Yellow Sun where she acted with international stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton. She also worked with the American actors Isaiah Washington and Vivica Fox in Dr. Bello, the Nollywood-Hollywood mash up about a Nigerian spiritual healer who cures a dying boy of cancer. Neither production received the recognition necessary to make Nigerian films about Nigerian subjects more accessible to an audience beyond Africans and the diaspora. During that same period, Genevieve was approached by Chinny Onwugbenu, an ambitious young graduate of the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. Chinny and her sister had just launched MUD, a makeup line for African women and they were looking for a prominent celebrity to be the face of a new campaign. Chinny, who grew up in Nigeria before attending university in the United States is an incredibly direct, no-nonsense business woman and entrepreneur with an intense dislike of the spotlight. She often sports a bob and designer glasses with her understated but clearly style conscious wardrobe. Where Genevieve sees the world in stories and images, Chinny sees numbers and balance sheets. She and Genevieve are natural counterparts and behave like sisters, often yabbing each other about everything from clothing to relationships.

Chinny Onwugbenu and Genevieve
Chinny Onwugbenu and Genevieve Nnaji

“It was business before friendship. We became friends during that whole [campaign] process and we share the same values. We want the same things, I think,” Chinny told me when I asked her why her partnership with Genevieve works. “She doesn’t play when it comes to her craft. I respected that from the first time we worked together. She had a 6 AM call for two or three days and yet she was very tired, but there was that integrity with the work, like ‘I don’t play around with this stuff; I’m going to give it my all.’ ” Their initial collaboration turned into a lasting partnership where Chinny now manages what she calls the “business of Genevieve,” helping to create a structure for Genevieve’s multifaceted career. Their partnership also led Chinny back to UCLA to for a short course on the film industry as both a creative space and an economic engine. The two ladies eventually formed The Entertainment Network or TEN, a production company that Chinny calls fundamentally Nigerian first. “We’re embracing the term Nollywood,” Chinny told me. “I think it’s unfair that people disassociate themselves from it. They have to be a part of something. No matter how powerful you are or how rich you are, we all come from somewhere, and I think for Nigerian filmmakers, you are privileged to be a part of Nollywood.” At the same time, during her hiatus Genevieve and Chinny made a conscious decision not to take on more Nollywood projects, many of which they felt did not live up to the creative promise of Nigerian talent. For Genevieve, taking a step back was also a matter of personal and professional growth. “Individually, every artist owes it to themselves to grow and we weren’t getting that,” Chinny told me. “[Genevieve] would be like, ‘If I have been standing my ground for so long, why not leave it till I know somebody out there is going to bring the right platform, the right product and I will gladly be a part of that?’ So I said, ‘Why don’t we create the right product or platform?’ ”

If TEN is the platform, then The Road to Yesterday is the first product. With a reported budget of over 150 million Naira, it was a large gamble for a pair that had acting talent and business acumen but precious little behind the camera production experience. On account of its larger budget and higher production value, the film has been classified as part of the neo-Nollywood movement, occupying a space next to recently released films like Kunle Afolayan’s enormously expensive (by Nollywood standards) 320 million-Naira budget, October 1. Neo-Nollywood is essentially the Nigerian film industry emerging from its adolescence of producing as many stories as cheaply and rapidly as possible and moving into improved storytelling, acting, and more sophisticated production aided by technological advances that allow filmmakers to do much more while spending a lot less. It is an acknowledgement that Nollywood’s global footprint demands more of the industry, especially when the competition is the billion dollar studios of Bollywood and Hollywood.

Genevieve’s The Road to Yesterday is a contemporary story about how relationships struggle with the shifting mores of a globally exposed and frantically changing modern Nigeria. Addressing complicated issues like love, infidelity and gendered double standards when it comes to male and female attitudes towards sex, The Road to Yesterday is in many ways Genevieve’s first foray into feminist commentary and the struggle for women’s equality in a society firmly invested in patriarchal dominance. It could also just be a love story embedded in a thriller set to a timeless journey narrative played out along the thoroughfares of peri-urban Lagos.

“I’m someone who’s dark a lot of the time,” Genevieve told me when I asked about how the narrative developed. “I just wonder a lot. My mind really travels a lot and I think during one of these mind journeys of mine, I was wondering about the thin line between life and death and I was thinking about something my mom had told me, stories in the family and stories from random people about how their loved ones who have passed, have appeared to them, right before they passed or the time they’re passing.” Chinny made Genevieve write the story down, and then the pair began shopping for screen writers who could translate the story into as screen play. They initially worked with a talented Canadian screenwriter but found that he could not adequately capture the nuances of Nigerian life. A subsequent search for local screenwriters led them to Ishaya Bako, a 27-year old, UK-educated, Nigerian screenwriter and documentary filmmaker whose controversial short film, Braids on A Bald Head, about sexual identity in Northern Nigeria earned him international recognition and acclaim. (Note: I have known Ishaya Bako personally and professionally for four years). Ishaya, who runs the production company Amateur Heads, was initially wary. “It was tricky because you have the story from her, and then she’s producing as well, and she’s a star as well, so it’s like there’s [only] so much I can do – just like a lot of control and power vested in her.” Ishaya told me. Ishaya, who comes from Kogi state and often sports a full beard, is a fury of moody creative energy and quick wit that worked well with the informal but results-oriented attitudes held by Genevieve and Chinny. Where a script can take months to produce, Ishaya spent four weeks reworking the storyline and screenplay before the team decided to shift into production mode. The Road to Yesterday was Ishaya’s first full-length feature as both screenwriter and director. He asked for more time to get the script and production prepared but Genevieve and Chinny were anxious to get started.

Ishaya Bako and Oris Erhuero on Set
Ishaya Bako and Oris Erhuero on Set

“It was a disaster. After like ten days we had to call a recess and start all over again,” Chinny told me. She said, “It was tough to make that decision because to make that decision meant to throw away the footage that we had made already. But it was either that or we bring out a shady product on [Genevieve’s] first production, on her own come-back movie. We didn’t want to compromise on any of that and still we still needed to tell the story the right way, so we stopped, took a break, put certain things in place and then we came back and everybody came back in like a renewed vigor and said ‘Let’s really do this.” It was a lot of hard work.”

One of the things put in place was Chi-Chi Nwoko, a Nigerian New Yorker and the experienced production executive who had successfully developed and produced Nigerian Idol, the franchise of the popular international on-air talent show. Chi-Chi has long kinky braids, a disarming smile, and a soft-edged Nigerian American accent that fits perfectly with the modern parenting that she practices (her children call her and her husband by their first names) but that contrasts completely with the reputation of workaholic task master able to optimize a drifting production. Her presence completely changed the dynamic on set. “She really got everyone together, especially during the recess, and [brought] some more hands on deck that we needed. And she was doing this while pregnant, with a two year old by her side!” Chinny told me. “She was like on fire, waking up at 5 AM, calling people, making sure that people are going to be there at call time… and that kind of dedication is rare to see. It just wakes you up…” Ishaya concurred.

Genevieve and Oris Erhuero
Genevieve and Oris Erhuero on set

In March of 2015, I attended a late night script run through for The Roadto Yesterday at the Lekki Offices of Chinny’s company MUD. I arrived just before 11 PM to find Genevieve, Chinny, Chi-Chi and Ishaya all huddled together in a small office with Oris Erhuero, the film’s male lead, who had just flown in from London. Oris, who was clearly the odd man out in this gathering, is a physically imposing man with an action hero’s squared shoulders, a narrow waist and a perfectly kept, unkempt set of twists in his jet black hair. He busied himself studying the script while standing in the only uncluttered corner of the office. An air conditioner struggled to cool the tiny space and an open bottle of wine sat next to a stack of plastic cups on a rickety desk. The team had been awake since 5 AM that morning. They faced at least another three hours of work before another early morning call the next day. Genevieve and Oris went through the motions of a scene where the young couple engages in a lovers’ spat before kissing and making up. Ishaya sat on a low press board cabinet holding the script shaking his head. He was not impressed. “Let’s do this again,” he said. Genevieve began to giggle. Ishaya’s scowl soon cracked into a smile and Chinny began filling the plastic cups with wine. Soon the whole room was a mess of punchy, fatigued laughter as they took a thoroughly welcomed break. Then without warning Genevieve said, “I’m ready,” stepped back into character and said, “Lets get back to work.”

For Nigerian born but UK raised Erhuero, who began his 25 year acting career in Los Angeles before leaving to pursue independent films because of a lack of positive roles for black men, this was his first time working in Nollywood. Despite the crazy hours and sometimes improvised solutions to problems on set, he found it exciting to work with the industry’s biggest star. “First of all it, was an incredible feeling returning home. I haven’t been to Nigeria in almost 30 years. I was in Nigeria from the ages of five to 13, so she kind of opened this door to another world I never really saw coming or knew existed. I saw the old Hollywood, the reason why a lot of us wanted to act, working with Genevieve – the passion, the joy, the teamwork, just fighting over beautiful moments to create beautiful moments,” Erhuero told me. Having acted in films like Raul Peck’s award winning Patrice Lumumba biopic, Erhuero was most impressed with the work ethic and perseverance of the whole team which he credits to Genevieve’s passion and the synergistic relationship of Chinny, Ishaya and Chi-Chi. Ishaya told me that one of the key facilitators of a smooth time on set was Genevieve’s ability to quickly absorb a script and her staying power as they dealt with challenges ranging from faulty equipment to security personnel trying to shut down their shoot. Chi-Chi told me that working with Genevieve it was “ very easy for you to forget that she’s supposed to be this ‘person.’ Immediately you think you’re just working with a colleague. She speaks her mind. She knows what she wants. She’s not apologetic about it, and from a business perspective, she’s definitely a go-getter. She’s a hard worker. She’s involved. She understands the business, and even though she has the element of ‘I’m the star,’ she’s still very down to earth.”

Genevieve and Chi-Chi Nwoko
Genevieve and Chi-Chi Nwoko

For Genevieve, making The Road to Yesterday was exactly the sort of unexpected, challenge filled experience that has helped to shape her career and her person. “I made this film because I realize people grow and move on. Things change in their life, but they don’t expect things to change in yours. People don’t expect that you are human because you are a superstar. In other words, you can’t grow, learn, and make mistakes. They don’t expect those normal things from you. You are expected to know it all because you are famous,” she told me.

Despite, or perhaps because of the mistakes and challenges, as a test case for the newly conceived TEN, The Road to Yesterday caused quite a stir. At the end of the AFRIFF screening, the audience stood to applaud the cast and crew. As they exited some viewers murmured that this was indeed a game changer. In wide release, The Road to Yesterday received generally positive if somewhat critical reviews but it is unclear whether or not the film was a box office success. For Genevieve, however, the point was not to make money but to forge a new path for herself as an actor, producer and media entrepreneur while also taking the industry in a new direction. The success of the production in this regard has led industry behemoths like DSTV and Africa Magic to take note and express serious interest in the projects TEN and Genevieve are currently developing. Chinny told me that she and Genevieve felt “like we’re making a difference with TEN. We get to work with a lot of young talent—even old talent that has not been given the opportunity. We want to respect everybody that can contribute something to Nollywood, so that just allowed us to do this kind of thing, to open up TEN to bring that on. We have a slate of projects that I’m excited about now… and people are going to get work, and if this our own way of contributing to the economy, then why not?”

It has been a long journey for Genevieve, a nearly twenty-year career that has required her to develop a Nigerian movie star aesthetic and build a path where no one has walked. “Entertainment is new in this country. It was new when I started. The celebrity lifestyle—obviously, there was no blueprint to how things worked,” Genevieve told me during our last conversation at her Ikoyi residence. When I asked her earlier about her role models she said, “I didn’t set out trying to be the next somebody, to be like this person. I just set out to do something that I didn’t understand, but something my heart wanted, something that comes out from within, and I just wanted to be given the chance to let it out and express myself.” Genevieve’s commitment to individuality drives her understanding of her place as a cultural icon and economic force in the Nigerian creative space. “I am me, but I am also conscious of the fact that am being watched. I have a responsibility not just to myself but to young people,” she told me.  “I didn’t set out to be anybody’s role model but you grow up, you grow into yourself and become aware of how much impact you can have on the lives of other people. I don’t take it for granted and I believe in setting an example. That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m not saying I’m a saint or I’m going to be perfect. But I’ve learned that acknowledging my imperfections and my mistakes has enabled me to become wiser and smarter in the choices I make in my life. For me it’s all about being true to yourself.  When you do that you will never be a ‘wanna be’, you will be who you want to be.”

 

Culled from Ventures Africa

 

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It’s the Infrastructure, Stupid.

From North to South and from the East to the West, the dearth of the nation’s infrastructures is unimaginable. Poor roads network, dilapidated schools and hospitals, lack of broadband internet access, dilapidated airports, ports and many more. The infrastructure deficit is alarming. Several figures are being peddled around as the amount of infrastructure deficit we are facing. The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and industry put the figures at $300bn, that’s about 25 per cent of the country’s GDP. In 2015, the institute of Appraisers and cost engineers (IA & CE) said the country will require about $2.9trillioin in the next 30years to bridge the deficit and recently the Minister for transportation Rotimi Amaechi put the amount needed to bridge the transport infrastructure gap alone at $166bn.

Whatever the amount is, the fact is that the nation’s growth and development continues to be hindered by lack of infrastructures and this portends great danger to the economy in the long run.

The current economic slowdown in the country present a huge opportunity for the present administration to invest massively in infrastructures to activate economic growth. The paltry N1.8 trillion (30% of the 2016 budget) allocated for capital projects in the current fiscal budget is like a drop in the ocean.  The present administration should do all it takes to get the funds and build the infrastructures.

In the 1930s, British economist John Maynard Keynes advocated increased government expenditures and lower taxes to stimulate demand and pull the global economy out of recession.  Now known as Keynesian economics, it is now being used by many countries to pull their economy out of recession in the short run.

In responding to the great depression in the 1930s, President Franklin D Roosevelt introduced a set of stimulus program referred to as The New Deal. Major part of the new deal includes construction of new government buildings, bridges, hospitals, airports, schools, road and dams, all in an effort to activate the economy and reduce unemployment. About $3.3billion was spent in two years to build 34,599 projects. These programs together employed about 8.5million workers, constructed about 650,000miles of highways and roads, and hundreds of thousands of public buildings, bridges, parks and playgrounds.

Not a few Americans will agree that Roosevelt’s New Deal was literally stamped on the American landscape.

Just over a decade later, at the end of World War II, then secretary of state in the US, George Marshall initiated the European Recovery program now commonly referred to as the Marshall plan. The initiative saw America spending over $12billion to help rebuild parts of Europe after the war and according to available data, the years between 1948 to 1952 saw the fastest growth in European history.

Although some have questioned how much of the fast recovery should be credited to the Marshall plan , many believed the plan helped a great deal with Belgian economic historian Herman Van der Wee concluding that  the Marshall Plan was a “great success”.

These two instances show that in the short run, Keynesian economics can be applied effectively in time of recession. A major infusion of funding is needed to address the infrastructure gaps in Nigeria. Infrastructure investments’ unique ability to create jobs in the short term and boost productivity in the long term is well known to policymakers.

More recently, Canada responded to the 2008 economic crisis by enacting a stimulus plan in early 2009. Of the total C$40billion stimulus package, over sixty percent of it was spent on building new infrastructures like bridges, roads, schools, broadband internet access and housing projects. Although these investments put Canada in a $56bn red ink for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, it heralded one of the largest building projects in Canada’s history.

In responding to the same crisis, its neighbor to the south, United States introduced the recovery act signed into law on February 17, 2009 by President Obama. The act’s primary objective was to save and create jobs. Of the total $831 billion appropriated for the stimulus package, infrastructure development was a major plank of it. Roads and highways construction was the biggest single line infrastructure item in the final bill.

Now the question is, how will the government finance this?  There are several ways through which this can be done, of which one is through debt financing and Public Private Partnership (PPP). While PPP remain a very available route I will advocate for borrowing.

According to 2015 data from IMF, Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio is 17%, although there are institutions who put it between 11%-15%. With these ratios Nigeria enjoys one of the lowest debt to GDP ratio globally. IMF data currently list Japan as the country with the highest debt to GDP ratio of 237.9% followed by Greece 158.5%, Italy 126.9%, and Singapore is at 111%, USA 106.7%, Canada and UK sits at 87.5% and 84.8% respectively.  With these low ratios nothing should stand in the government’s way in borrowing funds to develop infrastructures. Investing in both social infrastructures such as schools, universities, hospitals prisons, low cost housing, and economic infrastructures such as energy, water, transport, roads, highways, railways, traffic lights, street lights, drainage systems, airports, bridges, and markets will lay the foundation for economic development and growth. Infrastructure lays the foundation for modern economies. When completed these project will help the country grow its wealth while citizens’ standard of living increases.

Investing in infrastructures is a great multiplier, a dollar spent on infrastructure leads to an outcome of greater than two dollars and for a developing country like Nigeria it may even be more. The country will be better positioned to attract foreign investments when we invest infrastructure. Stephen Hayes, the President of the corporate council for Africa submits that “Infrastructure is probably the single most important need for Africa to develop”. He is right. Top performing countries like Singapore, China, South Korea and Taiwan owe their economic successes in part to infrastructure investments. When these countries invest, they do not consider projects in isolation; they consider how each supports their policy objectives, and they weigh it against other projects that might yield better returns.

To develop at a pace that is commensurable with where we find ourselves now investments in infrastructures must be tripled at the very least or our outcome will continue to be poor while our potential will remain untapped. The African development Bank (AfDB) estimates that deficient infrastructure reduces sub- Saharan Africa’s output by about 40%. The AfDB also opined that citizens of nations who invest in infrastructures “are more likely to enjoy better health care, sanitation and other markings of well-being”.

In her book reforming the unreformable: Lessons from Nigeria. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala concludes that “Without improvements in infrastructure, Nigeria’s economy will not be able to produce the job-creating growth that is needed. In particular, small and medium sized enterprises will not be able to grow, as infrastructure costs and bottlenecks make it difficult for them to be competitive.”

The President and his economic team should roll their sleeves and get to work.  Without massive investments in infrastructures we cannot achieve the kind of growth needed to bring us out of this doldrums, increase in infrastructure spending would significantly boost economic activity and employment.

The recent launch of a $25billion Infrastructure fund is a step in the right direction. During the launch, Minister for Budget and National Planning Udoma Udo Udoma stated that his ministry had developed the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan. ( NIIMP). According to him, NIIMP, apart from being a robust framework for infrastructure development, will also serve as investors’ guide, enhance economic growth, and create job opportunities among other benefits”.

The fund seeks to raise the stock of infrastructure from the current level of 20 per cent to 25 per cent of the GDP to at least 70 per cent by 2043 requiring about 3.05 trillion dollars to implement.

While this sounds like a very ambitious and achievable plan, present and successive governments will require political will to see it through.

For decades, Nigeria’s poor infrastructure has historically held back its development with successive governments paying lip service to infrastructure development. What has been happening is that instead of focusing on the country’s potentials and the economic benefits of infrastructural investments politician focus on the next elections and invest in what can be done quickly, temporary power, quick investments in ill-equipped health centers, hurriedly and poorly constructed roads so they can show visible progress. But those kinds of actions do not necessarily address the broader challenges.

Allocating and investing 2-3% of our GDP on infrastructures will not cut it for a developing country like ours. For China to get to where they are today they have been spending about 9% of their GDP in almost two decades. We must get it right now. This government should use its anti-corruption posture to the country’s benefit by ensuring that funds allocated are rightly spent.

The advice by Dominic Barton, global country manager director of Mckinsey & company becomes apt at this point in time. In his words “Kicking the can down the road, is not a viable strategy for dealing with the world’s infrastructure needs. It’s up to us to avoid leaving a legacy of deferred costs and deteriorating fundamentals for the next generation. The money is available. Let’s put it to use”

Like President Roosevelt, President Buhari needs to stamp his signature infrastructures on the Nigerian landscape not mildly but massively.

id99176_InfrastructureArticle

@Jideolutuyi

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The Top 7 Leadership Qualities & Attributes of Great Leaders

Many qualities have been identified that are important to great leaders…

But there are seven leadership qualities that seem to stand out as being more important than the others.The good news is that each of these leadership qualities can be learned, and they must be learned by practice and repetition.

Here are the seven most identified attributes of leaders and executives:

Vision

Great leaders have vision… They can see into the future.

They have a clear, exciting idea of where they are going and what they are trying to accomplish and are excellent at strategic planning.

This quality separates them from managers. Having a clear vision turns the individual into a special type of person. This quality of vision changes a “transactional manager” into a “transformational leader.”

While a manager gets the job done, great leaders tap into the emotions of their employees.

Courage

“Courage is rightly considered the foremost of the virtues, for upon it, all others depend.”– Winston Churchill

The quality of courage means that you are willing to take risks in the achievement of your goals with no assurance of success. Because there is no certainty in life or business, every commitment you make and every action you take entails a risk of some kind.

Among the seven leadership qualities, courage is the most identifiable outward trait.

Integrity

In every strategic planning session that I have conducted for large and small corporations, the first value that all the gathered executives agree upon for their company is integrity. They all agree on the importance of complete honesty in everything they do, both internally and externally.

The core of integrity is truthfulness.

Integrity requires that you always tell the truth, to all people, in every situation. Truthfulness is the foundation quality of the trust that is necessary for the success of any business.

Humility

Great leaders are those who are strong and decisive but also humble.

Humility doesn’t mean that you’re weak or unsure of yourself. It means that you have the self-confidence and self-awareness to recognize the value of others without feeling threatened.

It means that you are willing to admit you could be wrong, that you recognize you may not have all the answers. And it means that you give credit where credit is due.

Humility gets results. Larry Bossidy, the former CEO of Honeywell and author of the book Execution, explained why humility makes you a more effective leader:

“The more you can contain your ego, the more realistic you are about your problems. You learn how to listen, and admit that you don’t know all the answers. You exhibit the attitude that you can learn from anyone at any time. Your pride doesn’t get in the way of gathering the information you need to achieve the best results. It doesn’t keep you from sharing the credit that needs to be shared. Humility allows you to acknowledge your mistakes.”

Strategic Planning

Great leaders are outstanding at strategic planning  They have the ability to look ahead, to anticipate with some accuracy where the industry and the markets are going.

Leaders have the ability to anticipate trends, well in advance of their competitors. They continually ask, “Based on what is happening today, where is the market going? Where is it likely to be in three months, six months, one year, and two years?” They do this through thoughtful strategic planning.

Because of increasing competitiveness, only the leaders and organizations that can accurately anticipate future markets can possibly survive. Only leaders with foresight can gain the “first mover advantage.”

Focus

Leaders always focus on the needs of the company and the situation. Leaders focus on results, on what must be achieved by themselves, by others, and by the company. Great leaders focus on strengths, in themselves and in others.

They focus on the strengths of the organization, on the things that the company does best in satisfying demanding customers in a competitive marketplace.

Your ability as a leader to call the shots and make sure that everyone is focused and concentrated on the most valuable use of their time is essential to the excellent performance of the enterprise.

Cooperation

Your ability to get everyone working and pulling together is essential to your success. Leadership is the ability to get people to work for you because they want to.

The 80/20 rule applies here:

Twenty percent of your people contribute 80 percent of your results.

Your ability to select these people and then to work well with them on a daily basis is essential to the smooth functioning of the organization.

Gain the cooperation of others by making a commitment to get along well with each key person every single day. You always have a choice when it comes to a task: You can do it yourself, or you can get someone else to do it for you. Which is it going to be?

Most of the time, leaders think about the good leadership qualities and how to apply them on a daily basis.

The most important contribution you can make to your company is to be a leader, accept responsibility for results, and dare to go forward.

@BrianTracy

 

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The email, data and privacy implications of Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn

We all took a collective gasp when we saw the price tag of Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn. Now that the dust has settled a bit, we can pause and reflect on what this means from a data, privacy and email perspective — given that all three are potential strengths, weaknesses and concerns arising from the merger of two giants.

While at a conference recently, I sat down with my colleague and friend, Dennis Dayman, chief privacy officer at Return Path, and discussed how this deal could change the B2B data landscape. Here’s what he had to say.

Len Shneyder: What did you make of this deal when you saw the announcement?

Dennis Dayman: At first I wasn’t sure what their plans were outside of an existing partnership. The more I thought about it, the more I began to realize Microsoft, like Google and other enterprises, really lacks a real social media presence or product. On the other hand, LinkedIn is a company that doesn’t make operating systems or business software, yet they’re at the forefront of enabling the people who do. So then what are the competitive advantages for these two behemoths joining forces? Why would Microsoft want LinkedIn, and how would they use it as a competitive advantage against Apple?

LS: Is that a rhetorical question? At $26 billion, the acquisition is much more than a checkbox. Apple doesn’t have a social platform per se, but some may perceive them as a social enabler: The App marketplace is a kind of social landscape, music is a socially engaging medium, as are movies — these are culturally significant and drive social engagements. But I think I see what you’re saying.

DD: Right now, Google has lots of data on users of their Google Apps product line for B2B clients and Google doesn’t sell or share that out to anyone; on the flip side, we know that Microsoft has lots of data on users in their Office 365 product line… it’s an interesting parallel when you think about it.

LS: Very true, I hadn’t thought of it that way. So what’s in it for Microsoft? Does this help them go toe-to-toe with the social giants or the operating system platforms?

DD: I think it’s more about Microsoft wanting to know you, the B2B user, and how you engage with business productivity tools. Additionally, the connections you make and maintain in the world serve as a kind of social launching pad for the products and platforms you use on a daily basis. From the content side, who you are talking to, and what you are talking about are equally important. Having all that information positions Microsoft better in today’s competitive B2B computer market, B2B collaboration, B2B operating systems market and the hottest market of them all: cloud computing.

LS: So at the end of the day, data is king, it’s always what’s most important and LinkedIn represents a kind of B2B social intelligence that Microsoft only had in the form of usage data through Outlook 365. They knew how people worked with their products, but they didn’t know what they were saying about their products and what those conversations meant in light of their products.

DD: Absolutely! This brings them up to par with Google. Google’s products are free, their email service is free and free is always awesome in my book. Google’s cloud already has an expansive network of users.

LS: How does Google’s cloud stack up against Azure? Or does this even matter?

DD: I’m less interested and concerned about the direct cloud-to-cloud comparison of Azure versus Google. What we have to realize is that the merger gives Microsoft access to a plethora of already involved users with lots of “cloud” data and the ability for those B2B users to easily share their Office 365 work product with many others outside of their company’s user base. It gives Microsoft the ability to know who you might be working with, partnering with or just plain sharing data with.

If you look at what the popular email client CloudMagic has done with their “Sender Profile” feature that provides users a button labelled “Know More” after receiving or sending an email, you can see the sender’s organization, location, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter profiles of that based purely on their email address. Can you imagine the power and ability within any Microsoft controlled email product like computer-based Outlook or the cloud-based Office 365 knowing more about the sender of the message? Taking it up a notch, what could Microsoft do or build if they knew more about what sorts of B2B emails you get daily? What your company needs based on received content? This puts Microsoft RIGHT into the B2B data analytics game that many of their competitors are already in.

LS: I think you’re onto something. Google released Inbox by Google, which was an algorithm designed to organize the clutter of your inbox. Email is so terribly personal that I don’t think it ever really took off; we’ve all been using email for a long time and have our own human-driven algorithms. And IBM announced Verse, which was a kind of inbox manager, as well, but it seems to have morphed into a quasi-business/social collaboration tool. Isn’t there a cautionary tale in these two product lines that have seen very little pickup?

DD: Absolutely, but I think IBM had no real foundation in the email space to launch Verse. Inbox management apps are really a B2B tool and probably won’t see too much traction among B2C, so I’m not surprised that Inbox by Google is in a kind of limbo between the two.

The Microsoft deal is much more pointed and focused; it adds a new interesting spin to LinkedIn’s features and would start allowing the app to report your location similar to how the Google Maps app regularly reports and stores location history for the day. Geo-location would add a unique dimension to Microsoft’s data in addition to the social chatter of LinkedIn. Microsoft could ask and answer questions like which corporate titles are traveling more than others? What might be interesting markets that certain people are traveling to? What is being said in that marketplace and what tools if any are being used? What happens if Microsoft’s CEO all of a sudden starts showing up at 37.4233111, -122.0706458 (LinkedIn HQ GPS coordinates). Could it be about a partnership, merger or just plain lunchtime golf?

All this location information makes Microsoft better positioned to sell their products to companies AND opens a secondary data market to sell access to research and analytics firms hungry for this kind of focused B2B data. Airlines and hotels have to be excited at the prospect of learning more about their business travelers. Insights like where to build the next hotel and more information about business routes to add or hubs to build out could be mined and explored through this kind of data. Past travel history, conference attendance, etc. could all be gauged long in advance because people discuss it on social platforms like LinkedIn; smart vendors just need access to a rich source of data.

LS: Not to rain on your parade, but the scenario you described above has all kinds of crazy data and privacy implications. I don’t think half of the rosy future you described above would pass muster in the EU. Privacy hawks are, as we speak, sharpening their talons to sink them into the flesh of any future intel products, don’t you think?

DD: As awesome as it is for B2B marketing and marketers, you’re right, there are some needed product enhancements and permissioning that has to occur before any of the ideas I’ve mentioned can be brought to market. Many security and privacy people will want to review the app as it does change and, as they probably do, all new vendors or applications that are installed on their computers and mobile phones. That’s the easy part. Sort of like how users of Google Apps Collaboration cloud gives users full control of who can view, edit and own documents and more importantly be able to primary share first with their organization and co-workers before outsiders. My company ran through this exact assessment to ensure we weren’t leaking data once we made the jump to the cloud.

I also think that this won’t be an issue for the merger to continue here in the United States when it comes to antitrust issues or more importantly privacy issues. I think the European regulators will want to look at any changes or use of data by Microsoft with a magnifying glass (and maybe even an electron microscope) ensuring that the proper data transfer and use mechanisms are in place and that end users have been given the consent, notice, choice and control over their information that is expected and required. I’m sure Microsoft, being a leader in the privacy space, won’t have many problems ensuring they’ve given the end user the protection they deserve and are entitled to by law. Microsoft declared its support for the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and has been a huge leader and supporter of privacy through the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).

LS: So taking privacy off the table, and the business strategy, what do you think Microsoft is trying to do from an end-user perspective? How are they trying to make our lives better?

DD: Microsoft says they are simply trying to alleviate business people from having to go back and forth between productivity tools and social networks; I believe that to some degree. This may have been where they started, but it’s not a guarantee that this is where they’ll wind up once they all dive into the technology and ferret out the true value of what they have.

LS: Will this merger make LinkedIn more secure? Or let me rephrase it; LinkedIn has lots and lots of data, and now that this data will be exposed and used by Microsoft, does this automatically paint a giant target on both companies?

DD: I’ve said it many times, the increase in security breaches is not about just having the data, but in how hackers will want to use that data to continue sending out nefarious things like spam, phishing and ransomware. The first step in doing bad things with email is compromising users, but if you can compromise a company, then you have more than just an address, you have the means by which to steal an identity.

 

The huge acquisition uptick in the marketing vertical over the past five years is intentional. Data, no matter how it’s obtained or used, is the new gold standard. As the world becomes ever more data-driven, smart businesses look to fully realize the benefits of the data revolution, from streamlining internal processes and communicating more ably with current and potential customers, to lowering costs and creating jobs. However, all of these potential future scenarios have to be tempered with a strict application of best practices security and data privacy.

As far as what you and I do, Microsoft is getting instant access to a mountain of user data, including contact and device preferences, demographics, brand and organizational affiliations and even company-level marketing spend metrics. We know how powerful detailed data can be as market research firms, hedge funds and retailers have all shown great interest in our item-level consumer receipt data. What LinkedIn delivers is data with proven practical applications (sell more LinkedIn ads or messages or whatever). One challenge will be convincing advertisers Microsoft will remain a neutral party (i.e. not muck with competitor ads and recruiting efforts).

Satya Nadella has already said they will not make sweeping changes to the platform and Weiner will retain great autonomy. That’s probably a smart move, and actually would be helpful to the users of it. However, what I’ve said throughout this Q&A is that they will change the underlying data-sharing technologies like GPS tracking or data reporting that the average user doesn’t see or really “care” about. That may be one of the biggest game changers to come out of this acquisition.

@LenShneyder and @ddayman

 

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Sovereign Wealth Funds as Cushion for Lean Purse

The federal government and its federating units are presently facing massive cash crunch due to the sharp decline in oil prices. The country has for decades depend solely on the revenue from oil sales. The federating units send their representatives to the federal capital every month to collect their share of the monthly allocations.

While their monthly trip to Abuja can be excused same cannot be said of the way the allocations and revenues generated have been spent in the last decade.

The situation has become so dire and disheartening as most of the state governments can no longer pay salaries. They now ask the federal government for bailout.

In 1926, George Samuel Clason a former US army issued the first of a famous series of pamphlets on thrift and financial success, using Babylonian parables. These were distributed in large quantities by financial institutions, the most famous being, The Richest Man in Babylon. It is one of most inspiring book on wealth ever written.While the secrets from the book were mostly directed to personal lives they are applicable and transferable to governments too.

In the book, Arkad, the richest man was asked how he has acquired his fortune. Arkad quoted the first piece of advice he received from Algamish, his mentor “I found the road to wealth when I decided that a part of all I earned was mine to keep.” The advice to save no less than a tenth of what Arkad earned was the start of a transformation he said. This is a golden rule and it applies to governments too.

Successive governments over the years have refused to keep and invest a part of what they earned. No individual or government will spend all during time of plenty and expect everything to be fine in time of famine.

Globally, countries as well as states who generate commodity driven revenue have been found to set aside part of their earnings for the future and the vehicle or platform mostly used is the sovereign wealth fund (SWF).

Resource prices are really volatile. They go up and down and if a government is making plans on these prices they should be very careful, a savings plan like the SWF can ensure that when the economy contracts there will be a buffer to sustain that government.

A sovereign wealth fund (SWF) is a state owned investment fund investing in the real and financial assets such as bonds, stocks, real estate or precious metals. They can also be invested in private equity fund or hedge fund. Generally, SWFs are funded by revenues from commodity exports or from foreign-exchange reserves held by the central bank.

It is estimated that there may be a total of eighty SWFs globally holding, holding about $7 trillion in total assets.

Norway, a commodity driven country like Nigeria, established the Government Petroleum fund in 1990, commonly referred to as the Oil fund, the fund changed its name to The Government Pension Fund Global in 2006.It was established after a decision by the country’s legislature to counter the effects of the decline in income and to smooth out the disruptive effects of highly fluctuating oil prices. The fund currently valued at about $1trillion, holding 1.3% of global equity market making it the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund is now a shining example on how SWF can succeed.

Kuwait has the first and oldest SWF in the world.  Founded in 1953, It is the 5th largest sovereign wealth fund in the world with assets exceeding $592 billion. Set up to manage the funds of the Kuwaiti Government in light of financial surpluses after the discovery of oil.

Another oil rich country Qatar, founded its own fund in 2005. The Qatar Investment Authority was set up to manage the oil and natural gas surpluses to strengthen the country’s economy by diversifying into new asset classes. QIA is estimated to hold in excess of $170 billion of assets.

There are other commodity driven countries who also use SWF to save and invest revenues from commodity sales. The interesting thing is while countries are commonly known to own SWF, oil rich federating states and provinces are also now embracing SWF as a way of saving for rainy day.

Alberta, an oil rich Canadian province established its Heritage Trust Fund (HSTF) in 1976 with three main objectives “to save for the future, to strengthen or diversify the economy, and to improve the quality of life of Albertans. At inception, the fund received 30 per cent of Alberta’s non-renewable resource royalties. It was worth $17.5 billion as of March 31, 2014 according to the Alberta government’s 2013-2014 annual report.

Alaska’s Permanent Fund was established the same year as Alberta’s Heritage Fund. At least 25 percent of all mineral lease rentals, royalties, royalty sales proceeds, federal mineral revenue-sharing payments and bonuses received by the state are placed in a permanent fund. The Fund grew from an initial investment of $734,000 in 1977 to approximately $53.7 billion as of July 9, 2015.

Texas’ Permanent School Fund is a sovereign wealth fund which serves to provide revenues for funding of public primary and secondary education in the US state; as of the end of fiscal 2014, the fund had an endowment of $36.3 billion.

After oil started booming from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota, state legislators established a sovereign wealth fund in 2010.The North Dakota Legacy Fund to help save and invest revenue from its oil sales, it is now worth $2.4Billion

Sovereign wealth funds as a vehicle for commodity rich states is an increasing phenomenon

The decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria to establish a National Sovereign Wealth Fund (NSWF) is by far one of the most significant economic policy decisions taken in recent times. The act establishing the National Sovereign Wealth Fund (NSWF) was signed into law in May 2011. The objective of the fund is to invest the savings gained on the difference between the budgeted and actual market prices for oil.

 

Although coming rather late for a commodity driven county like Nigeria, it’s a step in the right direction. At inception the fund was allocated $1billion as seed capital. While the fund is the third-largest in sub-Saharan Africa, after Botswana’s $6.9billion and Angola’s $5billion it still lags behind its peers in oil rich countries. Sadly, the fund has not received fresh funds since the government injected $1 billion in 2014.

Data from the office of the accountant general indicates that Ebonyi, Ekiti, Osun and Rivers states received N35 billion, N40billion, N46billion and N245 billion respectively from the federation account in year 2011. Data for 2012 also indicated similar amounts were received. The implication of this is that if these states have saved between 10%-30% of their monthly allocation they would have something to cushion the effect of the present cash crunch.

State legislators should pass laws that will mandate their various state governments to save a portion of their monthly allocation or revenue for the rainy day. The SWF, originally intended to counteract the boom and bust cycles of oil and commodity dependent economies like ours is a good platform that can help them in achieving this.

Today, as a country we have so much less to show for all the years of oil boom we have had. Our infrastructure gap is huge yet our savings is so lean and in most states there are no savings at all.

At the federal level the national assembly should pass laws that mandates the executive to compulsorily save every month, it is ludicrous that since the establishment of the country’s SWF with the seed capital, no fund has been contributed to it.

To actualize this, there has to be the political will to do it. Erstwhile Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, blamed the country’s present economic situation on the zero political will of the immediate past government to save for the rainy day. In her speech in April 2016 at the George Washington University, Washington D.C. She said “In 2004 we saved $22 billion because the political will to do it was there. And when the 2008 /2009 crisis came, we were able to draw on those savings precisely to issue about a five per cent of GDP fiscal stimulus to the economy, and we never had to come to the Bank or the Fund. “This time around and this is the key now, you need not only to have the instrument, but you also need the political will. In my second time as a finance minister, from 2011 to 2015, we had the instrument, we had the means, we had done it before, but zero political will”.

Nothing should stand in of the way of both the federal and state government in seeing that they put everything in motion to actualize this. The executive and legislative arm of government should see this is an economic issue, SWFs act as stabilization funds during times of low revenue and this can promote economic development.

 

@jideolutuyi

 

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Softbank acquires U.K.-based chipmaker ARM for $32B

Japanese telecom giant SoftBank has confirmed  that it planned to acquire U.K.-based semiconductor chipmaker ARM Holdings (ARM) in a £24.3 billion ($32 billion) cash deal.

This deal represents Softbank’s biggest acquisition since the $21.3 billion buyout of U.S. telecoms company Sprint, and the biggest-ever acquisition of a European tech company.

Founded out of Cambridge, U.K., in 1990, ARM powers the processors in most of the world’s smartphones, including iPhones, and with its low power-consumption and cost the company is also pushing hard into the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) industry.

ARM, originally called Advanced RISC Machines, before switching to its acronym in 1998, was a joint venture between Apple, VLSI Technology, and Acorn Computers, and was chosen by Apple for use in its Newton PDA  device, which was a flop.

In the wake of Softbank’s acquisition, the Tokyo-based company said that it will maintain ARM’s Cambridge HQ, double its employee headcount in the U.K. over the next five years to six thousand, and retain its current partnership-based business model and senior management structure.

Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of SoftBank, said in a statement:

We have long admired ARM as a world-renowned and highly respected technology company that is by some distance the market-leader in its field. ARM will be an excellent strategic fit within the SoftBank group as we invest to capture the very significant opportunities provided by the “Internet of Things”.

This investment also marks our strong commitment to the U.K. and the competitive advantage provided by the deep pool of science and technology talent in Cambridge. As an integral part of the transaction, we intend to at least double the number of employees employed by ARM in the UK over the next five years.

SoftBank intends to invest in ARM, support its management team, accelerate its strategy and allow it to fully realise its potential beyond what is possible as a publicly listed company.  It is also intended that ARM will remain an independent business within SoftBank, and continue to be headquartered in Cambridge, U.K..

This is one of the most important acquisitions we have ever made, and I expect ARM to be a key pillar of SoftBank’s growth strategy going forward.

Today’s news comes less than a month after Softbank offloaded Clash of Clans-maker Supercell to Tencent  for more than $10 billion.

Softbank’s ARM acquisition represents one of the biggest tech acquisitions of all time, after Dell’s $67 million buyout of EMC  last year, and beats out Microsoft’s $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn last month.

Though ARM’s board has approved the deal, its shareholders still have to give the green light — a 75 percent vote in favor of the scheme is required for the deal to proceed.

“It is the view of the board that this is a compelling offer for ARM Shareholders, which secures the delivery of future value today and in cash,” said ARM chairman Stuart Chamber. “The board of ARM is reassured that ARM will remain a very significant U.K. business and will continue to play a key role in the development of new technology. SoftBank has given assurances that it will invest considerably in the business, including doubling the U.K. headcount over the next five years and maintaining ARM’s unique culture and business model. ARM is an outstanding company with an exceptional track record of growth. The board believes that by accessing all the resources that SoftBank has to offer, ARM will be able to further accelerate the use of ARM-based technology wherever computing happens.”

Softbank’s investment in ARM is indicative of the value it sees in the Internet of Things, which is expected to see around two billion devices connected by 2020. We’re already seeing all manner of random connected products, including fridges, doorbells, and beds, and with ARM’s licensing model — which has led to it becoming used almost exclusively in the smartphone realm — Softbank is eyeing a future in which everything is powered by ARM’s technology.

@PaulSawers via @VentureBeat

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Social Enterprises- A Catalyst for Socio-Economic Growth

A country with a myriad of social ills like ours deserve a vibrant social economy that can solve its social problems. Our social economy can only be revolutionized by innovative and creative social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs establish social enterprises which solve a social problem and create jobs at the same time.

Social enterprises are commercial strategies employed to maximize improvements in the society. It is structured in a way that the owners or facilitators are able to make profits from doing good.

I heard of social enterprise for the first time couple of years ago, when I sat on the board of a mid-sized charitable organization in Calgary, Canada. In an effort to raise the charity’s dwindling fund, one of the board members suggested that we set up a social enterprise generate more revenue. Since then I have monitored events within the social enterprise sector and its effect on the economy.

The sector is still developing and as such there exist variations in definition by different social enterprise bodies around the globe. While there may be variations to the definitions, one thing is universal in all the definitions; they are businesses that make community impacts. As the definition varies from country to country so also is the structure. There are different structures for a social enterprise from one country to the other and until recently there have not been proper legislation on the structure of social enterprises. Legally, there’s no businesses form that is called social enterprise.

Regardless of how it is structured, what differentiates them is that their social mission is as core to their business as any potential profit. It is worthy to note that a social enterprise is distinctively different from charities or a social responsible for profit business that engages in corporate social responsibility. The social enterprise business model is unique in its synthesis of financial and social goals.

Social enterprises may be the vehicle or catalyst to change the economy. They produce positive change as well as provide financial gains to the facilitators.

Recently the federal government launched its N500 billion social investment program and the question on every lips was how this will be carried out without a database or a platform. If the country has a vibrant social enterprise sector, some of these funds could be channeled through them. So also is the Federal Government’s school feeding program, this also could be channeled through social enterprises but alas, this cannot be so.

Governments all over the world have used and continue to use the social economy to reach the most vulnerable in the society.  In 1998, funding for the social economy was shared between the provincial and federal governments of Canada, and the dual governments made an investment of $54 million for employing people with disabilities. By 2004 the then Prime Minister Martin’s government announced a social economy stimulus of $100million over five years to support social and environmental entrepreneurs.

There is no doubt that the way out of our current economic crisis and the mono-product economy is to create inclusive sustainable markets. New policy briefs and research point to the importance of inclusiveness for economic development and this is where social entrepreneurship can help translate these policies to reality. Social enterprises provide vital resources to communities and they are visible in areas where public services are poor or lacking.

The dearth of social and environmental ills in Nigeria is alarming. We need innovative social entrepreneurs to facilitate enterprises that will address these social issues.  Drunk driving, discrimination on the less privileged, affordable legal representation, poor healthcare delivery, poor maternal healthcare, Heat wave, waste management, affordable housing, employment for people with disabilities, substance abuse, fake drugs, child care, care for the elderly. Others include environmental issues, poverty reduction, providing services and products to underserved communities, and developing social and cultural capital. All these present huge opportunities for social entrepreneurs. Social enterprise can fill these massive social gaps.These enterprises will no doubt stimulate economic activity and revitalization. Social enterprise can be a key element of economic diversity and development.

Notwithstanding its emerging sector status, there are available data that show how social enterprises create jobs as well as its rating as innovation pioneers.

In the UK, government data estimates that there are approximately 70,000 social enterprises in the UK contributing £18.5 billion to the UK economy (based upon 2012 Small Business Survey, 2013) and employing almost 1 million people.

Another report from the Social enterprise UK also show that close to half (49%) of all social enterprises are five years old or less. 35% are three years old or less more than three times the proportion of SME start-ups. In terms of new business formation in the UK, social enterprise is where the action is.

The report also recognized social enterprises as innovation pioneers and job creators indicating that the number of social enterprises introducing a new product or service in the last 12 months has increased to 59%. Among SMEs it has fallen to 38% while 41% of social enterprises created jobs in the past 12 months compared to 22% of SMEs. The value of social enterprises is indisputable.

 

Governments at every level should as a matter of exigency develop a social enterprise strategy framework that will set in motion the development of the social sector. Recently, the province of Manitoba in Canada launched its Manitoba Social Enterprise Strategy tagged “A strategy for creating jobs through social enterprise”. The 28 page document emphasized the importance of social enterprises to Manitoba’s economy. In November 2014 Nova Scotia, another Canadian province drafted its Social Enterprise Strategy framework. The document highlights the strategy and framework needed to grow the province’s social sector.

In Ontario, a province where social enterprise is thriving, the provincial government has continued to support the emerging sector so they can continue to make impact. Since 2007, the Ontario government has invested more than $6 million in the SIG (Social Innovation Generation) program. This program supports social entrepreneurs at all stages, helping them to develop and deliver programs that accelerate the growth of social enterprises.

 

In 2013, the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment established the Office for Social Enterprise to coordinate and promote social enterprise across the province as well as partner with private and non-for profit sector to expand tools available to social entrepreneurs.

In the spring of 2013, the School for Social Entrepreneurs- Ontario (SSE-O) graduated its first class of students.

In the same year the province launched ‘Impact’ a Social Enterprise Strategy for Ontario which outlines the clear steps the government will take to support social enterprises in Ontario, accelerate their growth and establish Ontario as a global leader in the area of social enterprise.

The Ontario government believes that social enterprises represent an exciting emerging sector, one that creates jobs, attracts investment and helps better the society and the environment.

All these efforts and initiatives has yielded positive results; it has established the province as the leading social enterprise center in Canada. Examples of the social enterprises making impact in the province are JUMP Math, a social enterprise founded in 2002 by mathematician and playwright Dr. John Mighton. Mighton developed a program that gives teachers a radically different way to teach students in grades 1 to 8. The results are impressive. Last year, a random study found Grade 5 students using JUMP doubled their math knowledge in five months, compared to students in a regular math program. Another one is the PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise. PARO means “I am ready” in Latin and since 1995 this social enterprise has helped thousands of women turn their business ideas into reality. The PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise began as a women’s microcredit fund. Today it is one of the strongest peer lenders of small business loans in North America. There is also Impact Junk Solutions, the business concept is simple: create jobs for people recovering from mental illness and provide a better alternative for junk removal services.

Social enterprise is attracting a lot of attention around the world as a great way to make the world a better place. Governments at all levels should see this as an economic issue that creates positivity as well as generate more revenue in form of taxes deducted from employees of social enterprises.

Some of the areas where the government can support the development of this emerging sector are:

  • Encourage the private and public institutions, as well as consumers to purchase from social enterprises.
  • Provide support in the setting up of a social enterprise association that will provide a centralized database and network for social enterprises.
  • Public policy can also help social enterprise development by establishing clear legal definitions of social enterprises in order to govern issues such as their tax treatment or access to public markets
  • Inserting social entrepreneurship within entrepreneurship education activities in schools, vocational education and training colleges and universities, is an important way of encouraging further development of social economy and enterprise
  • Provide sustainable finance to assist social enterprise from start-up to scale-up
  • Appoint Minister of Community Economic Development – assign an office for the social economy which will be responsible for making cross ministerial policy changes as well as being a one stop governmental office for social entrepreneurs.
  • Establish suitable mechanisms for monitoring, impact measurement and evaluation.
  •  Invest and support Social Enterprise Research to conduct cost benefit analysis and quantify the value of social enterprises that employ people

Jurgen Nagler made a strong case for social enterprises in his paper “The importance of social entrepreneurship for economic development policies” to the University of New South Wales, Sydney, he wrote thus “social enterprises should be seen by policy makers as a positive force, as change agents providing leading-edge innovation to unmet social needs. The recognition of Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank with the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 for “their efforts to create economic and social development from below” (Nobel Committee,2006) is a first step towards recognizing social entrepreneurs. Economic development policies should foster entrepreneurship in general and especially when entrepreneurs take on social problems that the private for-profit and public sectors do not address or niches they overlook.”

One of the profound economic development benefits that social enterprises provide to society is that often, its services are directed to the very poor. While the private sector uses financial return on investment to measure its success, non for profit traditionally reports on social return on investment. Social enterprise however measures success with what Jed Eerson stated more than ten 10 years ago, a blended value bottom line. It is not financial or social, it is financial and social and this what makes it more significant.

 

@jideolutuyi

 

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Banks and Fintech- Friends or Foes​?

Despite the vast differences in organizational culture, banks and startups in the field of Fintech are a successful combination, when the main beneficiary of this cooperation is the customer

The steady increase in the number of Fintech companies in Israel and worldwide, raises the issue of the danger to the stature of banks. It is not only the growing number of these companies, but also, and especially, the capabilities of those Fintech companies to act quickly and flexibly and in a more focused way. They enjoy more room for maneuvering, are free of legal and regulatory restrictions, and operate in an inviting eco-system.

But are Fintech companies a real existential threat to banks?
In my view, the answer is – absolutely not. Fintech is an opportunity – perhaps even an historic one – for the banking industry.
Banks are becoming aware of the world of Fintech. Some know it well, and most of them choose to put their ego aside and cooperate. In many areas in the Israeli banking system, there is an understanding that cooperation with Fintech entrepreneurs can create a Win-Win opportunity for all parties, producing satisfied customers as a result of simplifying procedures and reducing costs.
This cooperation between banks and Fintechs is expressed in different ways: from mergers and acquisitions of technologies developed by Fintechs; to accelerators and innovation labs, where products and services for the benefit of customers are developed in cooperation with Fintechs.

Banks are on track
Two decades ago Bill Gates famously said that “Banking is necessary, banks are not”.
It seems that today, banks have been able to demonstrate that they understand banking and focus on customers and their needs, even – believe it or not – if it comes at the expense of profitability. It does not always happen as quickly or as desirably as possible, but banks are already on track, and they are fighting for the customer’s attention. And to draw it, they are willing to go through challenging, questioning, and perception-changing processes. It can be said that the banking industry is currently undergoing an accelerated evolution.
Fintech is one of the fastest growing fields in the world of high-tech and it seems as if everyone around is madly successful; every day someone else raises piles of money, exits are all over the place, and the regulators don’t impose limitations. This is creating a sense that success is guaranteed and all that is needed is to be proactive.
But this is far from reality. The entrepreneur’s road to success is long and challenging. Market penetration, reaching the end customer and the creation of trust are challenges that in most cases create a need for worthy partners. It is true that to be “free” means that you are on your own, but freedom is not always worth the cost.

The way to a successful partnership
Partnership between banks and Fintechs can certainly be wonderful and successful, but may also be difficult and frustrating. As in any partnership, the secret to success is communication and coordination of expectations.
Differences between the parties are significant and pose a challenge to mediation – from ongoing conduct through decision-making processes, organizational culture and not to mention the concept of timetables. These inherent differences may bring the parties to an impasse. Mapping gaps and aligning expectations in advance will result in a fruitful collaboration and shorten the path to success.
Each of the parties usually brings to the table something the other does not have: technology, knowledge, skills, a customer base and more. What’s important is that both parties bring complementary experience.
Banks, on the one hand, bring experience resulting from mileage accumulated with Fintech and innovation units that specialize not only in piloting, but also in implementation.
And Fintechs, on the other hand, bringing experience in finance, whether it is in the background of the entrepreneurs and the employees, or by virtue of the identity of the investor that supports them.

A technology-oriented approach
The first step in the innovation process in the bank is identifying or getting the idea to sprout. There are a variety of ways in which the bank does this: Hackathons; cooperation with accelerators, hubs, academics, technology giants and venture capital funds; participation in meet-ups; relations with banks worldwide; intra-organizational ideas; and the list goes on.
There is nothing better than an example to illustrate this. Two years ago, Bank Leumi identified “Scanovate”, that is engaged in mobile visualization and progressive scanning technology, as a startup with a product that has great potential. As part of a cooperation between Scanovate and Bank Leumi, a ‘Mobile Check Deposit’ service was developed, that allows customers to deposit checks through a mobile banking app, without physically depositing the check itself. The scanning and data processing technology of Scanovate is based on advanced Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithms for processing an image from video in real time, which the company developed. This technology operates on the user’s mobile device and is not dependent on an external server to transfer the data.

Although I have described this cooperation in a few lines, this is still a complex process, integrating innovation, technology, business development, marketing, business lines, implementation and more. Since then, the relationship between Scanovate and Bank Leumi has spawned a real partnership and even resulted in further product development such as “Snap & Pay”. The product allows customers to pay a variety of bills by simply pressing a button in the bank app. They take a picture of the bottom of the bill, select a credit card they wish to pay with and confirm the transaction.

How does it look from the Fintech side? Amir Fishman, CEO and co-founder of Scanovate, describes the cooperation between Leumi and Scanovate as such that creates a synergy which provides a technology and innovation-oriented approach that puts the customer experience and user convenience at the center: “The bank’s willingness to adopt out-of-the-box thinking as well as its capability to embrace a rapid learning process, combined with Scanovate’s technology, created a new and synergetic vision of a truly digital and innovative mobile banking  application, focused on the end user’s convenience and service experience”.

No problem, it’s impossible
Jerry Seinfeld was interviewed after his recent visit to Israel and said that Israelis have no gray areas and that their answer to each question is either “Of course, no problem” or “No way, it’s impossible”; an interesting and accurate insight of someone who knows a thing or two about the human psyche, but not so in our case.
Most of us, who choose to collaborate, shift around in the “gray” area with readiness to compromise, so that we can find a common way to provide the best product and service to the customer. In this context, what seemed impossible at first becomes possible later, even if it may be somewhat different from what we imagined at first. Therefore, it is important for both sides not to fall completely in love with the concept, the product, or the initial conception. It’s true that it’s “our baby” and we imagined it in a very specific way; it’s true that they are our customers and we know exactly what they want; but we must be flexible to changes and adjustments, because we do not have all the wisdom. It is part of growing up, and it is what gives us our ability to move forward to success.

In conclusion, if we return to the question in the title, it seems the answer is clear. Banks and Fintechs can be friends, when the main beneficiary of their friendship is the customer.

Michal Kissos Hertzog, Head of Digital & Innovation, Bank Leumi

 

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