Event: Mobile Brain Bank Africa – Helsinki 30.9.2010

Mobile Brain Bank Africa

Image by petrasoderling

This week I had the privilege to attend to Mobile Brain Bank Africa event where people interested in doing things mobile in Africa gathered together to network and hear some pretty interesting presentations and pitches on things about the mobile scene in Africa.

What made this really special for me was that I was able to attend the event with my partners and friends from Tanzania who just happened to visit us at Tampere at the same time. Special thanks goes to the organizer Petra Söderling. I hope we can spread the MoBB message further.

But, I’m not writing this post just for chitchatting. I’d also want to share some ideas and thoughts on the event and from the later discussions with my Tanzanian partners (who found the event very interesting and useful).

African + (your country here) Collaboration

I believe that, if we Europeans or who ever who want to do business in Africa and create those awesome mobile or other successes, we ought to listen to more of the people who actually live there and understand the local culture[s]. We should also try to do more joint ventures with people who know the local markets and have real passion for business.

And with ‘passion for business’ I’m not referring to some negative force driven by greed or the need to exploit. Like I believe Esko Aho said so nicely in his presentation (which was actually a lot better that I could’ve thought this kind of corporate presentation could be) “People tend to feel that ‘business’ is always something nasty or dirty, but it doesn’t need be that way”. And I believe this too. The times are changing, for example things like CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) are slowly raising their head and the social media driven openness doesn’t keep people quiet anymore.

I didn’t want to say anything about the aid issues in this post, but these things go together so I have to say this: I believe that international collaboration with local entrepreneurs and developers who really want to do business and have the capability or potential for this, is more sustainable way than any plain aid can ever be. And after what I’ve read and talked with many people, I’m not alone with my opinion.

Africa is (your version here)

I sometimes get a bit frustrated when talking to people who seem to know or have strong opinions what Africa is, even without ever being there.

What is Africa anyway? What is Europe? As there is no one Europe, there is no one Africa. Visit Morocco, Tanzania, Nigeria or South Africa. There are great differences in everything, from culture to business, even inside the countries themselves.

I love the writings of Anver Versi, the Chief Editor of African Business, and advice everyone to read them. Not just people who live outside Africa, but also Africans themselves. You can find many interesting articles from his profile for example the branding Africa – but there’s more in the AB magazine. Like said, perception is many times in the eye of the beholder.

Cross-field Networking Events

In order to create innovative new products which can actually benefit wider public [than just the geeks], we need more cross-cultural networking events like MoBBAfrica. One question from the audience stayed in my mind. It was about “I’d like to see health care apps and services in Mobile”.

This clearly presents one problem we often face: people of same feather flock together. People among us who are not so tech-oriented, don’t often know what’s out there and sometimes developers who have the ability to do things don’t hear about the needs these people could convey. We need more cross-pollinating in this.

Every innovation and creative guru and book out there can tell you this same thing: innovations are often born when different fields, different kinds of people with different interests and personalities come together. This is also a key thing that larger corporations of the modern world should take heed of: if your professionals are grunting to each other instead of talking and creating, you are in trouble.

Here were some initial thoughts that I was left with after the event. If you’re interested in reading more about the event and the topics, here’s the direct URL to the Mobile Brain Bank Africa’s site where you can find more blog posts and interesting links: www.mobilebrainbank.org/Africa.html

The Means of Charity for “Africa”

I just finished reading November’s number of African Business magazine. Again there were many interesting articles, but one particular named as “Rebranding Africa” got me thinking, what kind of help is really best for “Africa” and who’s to decide? There’s quotes because, as there is no such thing as Europe, there’s not a single Africa either.

The article I am referring here was written by Anver Versi and titled “Rebranding Africa”. In general it was about how the image of Africa is usually depicted as poor, uncivilized, corrupted and filled with hunger and how this image is too often done by Western people [sometimes to even market and thus get charity foundations more money], and how this all can be a preventing factor of foreign investments and business not finding motivation to come to Africa.

There are a couple of ideas in the article I’d like to refer to.

“The noisiest branding comes from outside the continent and it’s dominant image has been created by the charity brands”, says Melissa Davis of Truebranding in the magazine. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that many charity foundations have done awfully lot of good work, but isn’t the help a bit single minded and what are the real long term benefits? Sometimes I actually feel that just throwing few coins is an give-get yourself a good feeling-and forget action. But still I want to point out, that I’m not criticizing people doing so and am not that familiar with its outcome.

What I am stating is that could it be more meaningful for Western and for African people if we finally played together, collaborated with each other, gave them our expertise and learned about their culture of making business and start doing actual business with them? And I mean business that benefited both parties, not just charity nor in the other hand getting cheaper labour – I hope [although doubtfully] the West has learned something about China.

I’m writing this because I have always been a bit skeptical of just donating few coins to the oh so many charity companies that nowadays are stopping me in the streets. One reason is because of an article I once read about how many percentage goes to the pay of the people who work in the foundation and how small amount actually finds its way to the target, and other is that I have always considered this as a too easy way for me.

So what I have slowly grown wanting to do was to get an education, to become good in something, and then give from it in a sustainable manner to those who can use it. This certain project in Tanzania I have previously mentioned here, is finally a way to do that.

And also now I can see where the help is going, but it’s not actually “help” as such. It’s collaboration.

Like the social media era has now showed us, people commit better and get more excited about things when you let them participate and listen to their needs. When people consider something their own, they value it more.

And secondly, I’m not doing a one time deal. Most likely this project may have, and already has, more interesting ideas for the future.

I would advise anyone to consider this more often; Could your skills and knowledge benefit someone instead of the occasional coin? You don’t have to go to a refugee camp to help, there are as many different ways as there are people.

I would like to end to an idea stating: Shouldn’t this already be the time to start making valuable business like with anyone else in the world and forget it is Africa? That is the only way to make us meet at the same level.