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Social Entrepreneurs Talk of Unprecedented Opportunities at Africa Gathering in Nairobi

Business leaders and innovators spoke of “exciting” prospects in Africa, especially the growth of social media, at a technology and social entrepreneurship conference supported by LIDC. At the event the mobile phone was hailed as a “game-changer” and Twitter and Facebook were credited with helping to democratise the spread of information. Today’s opportunities in Africa were compared with the industrial revolution and delegates at the iHub – a centre for technology and innovation in Nairobi, Kenya – were urged to “seize the moment.”

Africa’s growing economy
Aly-Khan Satchu, an investor and commentator on the Nairobi Stock Exchange, delivered an upbeat message about Africa’s economic future at the Africa Gathering conference held on 10 and 11 December. He told the audience that the continent is experiencing momentous change and uncertainty – an “exciting” moment to be an entrepreneur. Satchu emphasised that Africa has recently delivered the highest returns worldwide, and spoke of how people are increasing intellectual capital by sharing information via social media. He predicted that the rich list in Kenya, traditionally dominated by political figures, will change in the coming years as politicians are replaced by innovators and entrepreneurs. Satchu said: “Thousands of flowers are beginning to bloom where there was on blossoming before. The mobile phone is a game-changer, and this moment is not unlike the industrial revolution.”

Social media
Mariéme Jamme, co-founder of Africa Gathering, and Mark Kaigwa, marketing and social media consultant, described the unprecedented impact of social media in Africa and its growing popularity; Facebook now has 21 million members from the continent. Jamme explained how the trust, interactions and opportunities gained through using social media can enhance the visibility, credibility and profitability of start-up companies. Jamme said: “I am tired of listening to people saying Africa is poor. There are amazing opportunities. Africans need to seize the moment.” Kaigwa added: “Social media is the new way of sharing information as never before.”

Sharing ideas
Erik Hersman, co-founder of the crowdsourcing platform Ushahidi and the iHub, continued by describing the philosophy of the iHub – a space for techies to collaborate and produce innovative solutions for a range of problems and challenges. He emphasised how working together is mutually beneficial. Hersman, well-known for his White African blog and Twitter updates, said: “It is not a zero-sum game. Just because someone else is succeeding it does not mean you are failing.”
"Patient capital"
New ways of co-operating and investing were stressed by Biju Mohandas, head of the Acumen Fund in East Africa. He explained how the non-profit fund invests in leaders and sustainable, scalable projects that have social impact. Its principles also include pursuing “patient capital” – the willingness to wait for 10-12 years for returns. The fund’s investments include supporting a Tanzanian mosquito bed-net manufacturer and the building of public toilets in Nairobi. Mohandas said: “I have been inspired by the stories of positive hope. There is a surge of optimism in Kenya."
By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer at LIDC