In recent months, we (Jumpstart and the team behind it) have attracted a lot of attention from NGOs, embassies and donors that want to fund a tech hub in Zimbabwe and would like us to be part of the founding team.
We have said no.
Our problem with the proposed model is that it’s primarily intended for funding “technology-driven projects to bring about social change” in Zimbabwe. I do not agree with this ofcourse because I think business and commercially viable technology-driven projects are key.
When I expressed disagreement with this, it was then proposed that we both compromise and accommodate both commercial and social projects in the proposed tech hub. “Social” partners where identified by the funders and a meeting arranged for us to meet them and agree on how we would work together. This of course didn’t work. I think mostly because we view the potential commercial impact of connectivity and tech differently. Radically so. We also view the role of external ‘social impact’ partners differently. I think they see them as a funding opportunity to finally do this tech Hub thing that’s all the craze in Africa. We see them more as an opportunity for business networking. The proposed funds can be raised locally easily and are not key to the hub. to any hub. Business networks, exchanges, mentorship, relationships, and investment (as opposed to feel good charity money) are more. They are priceless in comparison.
Social impact is just a natural consequence of commercial success. Job creation for example. And as an extra csr -> Microsoft, Google, IBM, Econet and countless others are examples. The consequence of “Social first” on the other hand is aid-dependent individuals whose chief skill is squeezing dollars out of donors through elaborate funding proposal writing and aid-gaming. Plus it does terrible things to their self-worth as individuals.
Our ‘no thanks’ response has mostly surprised our peers locally, some of who insist, “hey, just get the money”. It’s almost understandable why they suggest this; what, with the aid addiction. Just getting the money is something we would never even consider though. So, no.
The funders on the other hand have just insisted from multiple angles why being part of this initiative is progressive. They have cited examples of how they have successfully executed similar initiatives in other African countries with amazing results. By their definition, they indeed have. Still, no.
We think they are just not listening.
They have it all figured out ready to deploy, and they are going to execute as they know best. They are going to empower women using ICTs, they’ll help homosexuals be accepted, help end corruption, poverty, and if they are lucky, maybe change the government and help us choose better leaders in a better way. And these priorities, we should have too.
This has been going on for a few months and we’re actually past the back and forth and multiple angles stage. I decided to share this after reading this interview the HBR had with Rwandan president, Paul Kagame.
Kagame explains that his approach as a leader has been business and investment. He says ordinary people quickly grasp how they need each other and they value each other when they focus on value they bring to each other. He says it’s creating an awareness in society like never before and that this is helping society to move forward. He’s then asked by the interviewer “And it’s your sense that business and economic activity do that?” His response:
I would rank it number one. The rest will follow. At the end of the day we’re just human beings. You want food and you want it for your family. Plus, you really need dignity, to be able to do something on your own and benefit from it. And there’s nothing that does that better than being able to do business.
I encourage you to read the whole interview.
image via HBR