Gratitude

There’s so many incredible things on my mind for which I’m grateful:

1. My daughter is this incredibly sweet, hardworking, funny, disciplined little person. Just incredible to watch.

2. Hosted friends at my place twice this past month and got so much joy out of it. Grateful for the people who have invited me into their world.

3. 324 people are signed up for Black People Things and 30-40% read the words I type in each issue. Amazing.

Grateful for it all.

Guest Post: Rethinking Old Practices of Learning

This guest post is by my friend Ifunanya Nwokedi. I’m excited about her starting to put her point of view out in the public square.

While Africa needs a well-educated and experienced graduate to drive change and development, these are not the experiences students receive at universities. In their Quartz article, Seth Traudeu and Keno Omu detail the disconnect between market place skills needed to drive an economy and the experiences African students receive at institutions of higher education. Many African graduates find themselves too inexperienced for the global workplace. They cannot compete internationally, and as a result neither can African economies.

To address this need, corporate employers, African universities and students should build partnerships aimed at developing an experienced African graduate for the 21st century. Traudeau and Omu illustrate that human capital, infrastructure constraints and a disconnect between skills and the market place are major reasons why many African graduates are too inexperienced for the global workplace.

Moreover, many higher education institutions have developed poor learning cultures and lack the infrastructure for knowledge transfer that would prepare African graduates to compete internationally. For example, many students learn through handouts (an abridged version of actual coursework), because a large number of university faculty are on strike – more than 50% of the academic year.

This precise disconnect between the state, higher education institutions and employers is the problem. When university professors are not paid regularly and have to go on strikes to receive attention from state actors, it becomes impossible for these universities to produce graduates capable of dealing with the challenges of the 21st century.

Furthermore, many African ministries of education rarely review academic curricula, if at all, to ensure that they are aligned with skills needed in the market place. Likewise, the decline in state support has led to problems of access, quality and an aging faculty in African universities (Akilagpa Sawyerr, 2004).

In 1995, the World Bank noted that a severe decrease in university funding across many African states has resulted in weak institutional management capacity. For example, the absence of accountability mechanisms has led to the mismanagement of resources and much more. According to an Economist article, administrative leaders at many African universities resort to over-recruitment in order to manage resource constraints. As a result, opening new universities to meet growing demand has worsened the problem.

Institutions of higher learning are supposed to represent communities of scholarship, where ideas are nurtured, refined and critiqued to develop a more accurate conceptualization of the world around us. However, without regular pay, improved infrastructures and increased resources, such an environment ceases to realize its full potential and instead becomes an arena for organized crime, and mismanagement of labor, human capital and resources.

To be clear, it is no longer just a state problem, but one that involves both state and non-state actors such as corporations. Employers can no longer be identified as by-standers, but also as actors that can collaborate with higher education institutions to produce the appropriate type of graduates capable of accelerating African economies and development into the future.

Some of these corporations seem focused on experience rather than highlighting academic degrees during the recruitment process, which undermines the importance of educational achievements. As a result, many African graduates remain at a loss for how to promote themselves and their academic achievement. Nonetheless, some higher education institutions across the continent such as Makerere University have mandatory internship programs while the University of Cape Coast, and the University of Ghana, Legon are among the best in the continent in driving research and innovation.

With evidence of the disconnection between actors involved in reaching effective higher education goals from Sawyer and others, I insist that higher education institutions should assess their goals and develop a more comprehensive plan to better ensure that they provide educational experiences that can translate into work experience for African students.

African universities must take steps to build partnerships with corporate leaders to meet the demand and supply needs of the marketplace by creating opportunities for students to gain skills during their academic careers. For example, students could conduct and present their research projects at conferences as part of graduation requirements, industries could support universities by building libraries and labs that mirror the workplace; and universities could create knowledge transfer activities that engage students and faculty. The African students could also find effective ways to demand their right to quality education, working classrooms and labs that meet international standards and speak out when leaders deprioritize their needs.

 

Facebook to Get an African-American Board Member…Soon?

Facebook has been on the hot seat as more information comes to light about the role it played in Russia’s meddling in the November 2016 election. The hot seat treatment brought the company’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, to DC for an exclusive interview with Axios co-founder Mike Allen to discuss the situation and what Facebook was going to do about.

While in town Thursday, Ms. Sandberg visited with the Congressional Black Caucus. Apparently, one of the points of conversation was when Facebook was going to appoint an African-American director. CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond said after the meeting that Ms. Sandberg had committed to adding an African-American to Facebook’s board soon. It doesn’t make sense that no person of color sits on Facebook’s board, granted this applies to much of corporate America. That said, the question now is who would be a good candidate to join Facebook’s board?

Some would immediately think of Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. He has been the flag-bearer for the internet and television industry for the past several years. Before that, he was a member of the FCC, and chaired it for four years. He has a wealth of knowledge on navigating the regulatory landscape and would add a ton of value to Facebook in this vein.

The problem is that Mr. Powell serving on Facebook’s board while heading up the NCTA would be a conflict of interest, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t step down from his super powerful position just to be able to join Facebook’s board. Further, Mr. Powell doesn’t have the experience leading diversity initiatives at the scale with which Facebook needs experience. So, Mr. Powell’s not a fit.

There are two things this director needs experience with to move the needle forward at Facebook:

  1. The director needs to understand the media landscape and the regulatory system around it. Increasingly Facebook is being looked at as a media company rather than a social network. Because of that and the outcomes of the Russia-Facebook issue, Facebook could find itself facing increasing regulation to align the company with the rest of the media industry, so they will need someone who knows how to navigate that.
  2. Facebook needs someone with experience pushing diversity at a large organization and who can guide Facebook’s management as it continues diversifying its workforce. Facebook’s annual reports on its diversity numbers show that the company has quite a ways to go and having someone in the boardroom who knows how to get that done is key.

Payne Brown would be a strong fit to join Facebook’s board. He’s currently a managing director at Highbridge Capital Partners, which is a minority partner in Diddy’s RevoltTV. Mr. Brown was a vice president at Comcast where he led strategic initiatives, while overseeing program content, managing relationships with industry counterparts and governments, and standing up the company’s diversity council and leading the development of the company’s diversity philosophy.

While there is government experience on the board in Erskine Bowles, having someone like Mr. Brown who has been successful on the lobbying side of the table in dealing with Congress would be helpful as Facebook’s dealings with Congress on Russia’s election meddling and whether it needs to be regulated like a media company increase.

A counter to Mr. Brown joining the board could be that he’s not a household name and could perplex investors who are trying to put a value to the impact he could have on Facebook’s business. Well, Payne has worked on Wall Street for several years now and I’m sure analysts would easily be able to ask around and get a better sense of the impact he’s had on the media industry. If they don’t get answers on Wall Street, they could just ask Diddy!

A bit of an aside to all this is that it’s fine that Facebook has made a commitment to adding an African-American individual to its board, and that Congressmen like G.K. Butterfield are focused on getting more African-Americans into executive roles in Silicon Valley. But, we have a lot of work to do to build an ecosystem within the black community that could support my daughter building a $100 billion business.

I believe there is enough wealth within the black community today to do this along the startup venture path – pre-seed, seed, series, A, B, C, D, initial public offering, and beyond. That’s what makes the work the folks at Black Girls Code, Precursor Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, Backstage Capital, Black Wall Street and more exciting because they are more likely to find these folks and get them started along the path.

It would be nice to have a concerted effort from black policymakers, high net worth black people, and black players in the tech space to build an ecosystem around black technology entrepreneurs and provide them with the resources they need to build the future and billion dollar businesses along with it.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Additional Reading for the Weekend:

  1.  Shonda Rhimes Just Became the Third Black Woman in the TV Hall of Fame
  2. Charles Hudson of Precursor Ventures Filed to Raise $25M for the pre-seed venture firm’s second fund
  3. African startup founders can finally start looking for big-ticket funding nearer home
  4. Lightspeed Welcomes Tara Nicholle-Nelson as Entrepreneur-in-Residence
  5. Backstage Capital acquires The Door to continue funding underrepresented founders
  6. Issa Rae Built a Hollywood Career on Her Own Terms. Next, She’ll Build an Empire

Social Capital Hedosophia is Going to Change the VC Game, But Will It Really?

Several weeks ago, Chamath Palihapitiya did an interview with Kara Swisher on Recode/Decode that really got my attention. He was talking about how the venture capital industry was overdue for a shakeup to meet the needs of technology startups. He talked about using data science to identify investment opportunities and scale companies, similar to what he did while he was at Facebook to provide in depth services to these startups.

Further, rather than there being a ton of pressure for these companies to go scale quickly, they would have an investor that would be with them for the long term from the beginning. This sounded really interesting, particularly when he posited that this new iteration of Social Capital was going to surface founders who would typically be overlooked because of the way in which they will be looking at data.

One question that comes to mind is how would they overlooked founders get on his radar. What’s his plan to get data across a wide enough geography in order to capture these overlooked startups?

Admittedly, during Chamath’s conversation with Kara, I was unsure of what this new iteration of Social Capital would look like. Well, I got my answer a few weeks ago when Social Capital partnered up with Hedosophia to list on the New York Stock Exchange, forming Social Capital Hedosophia.

What is Social Capital Hedosophia? This is a publicly traded holding company that is designed to take unicorns public without them having to go through the traditional process of going public – roadshows, lockup period, etc.

Initially, I thought that this new model Chamath was talking about could be a game changer for startups run by black people. Perhaps, this new iteration of Social Capital could do like Chamath said and reduce the exclusion of underrepresented groups from taking the next step in building technology companies. But, I’m not sure that Hedosophia has the people it takes to address the pipeline issue.

Beyond using data science, Chamath cannot cut out the human component of how he builds out this new company. He’s got to build a team that has a global worldview that can see into the worldview of folks in Jamaica Queens, Kansas, Lagos, and Bogota. Layer the machine learning on top of that and you’re cooking with grease.

If Social Capital Hedosophia (I’m going to get carpal tunnel if they don’t come up with shorthand for this.) doesn’t do this important work, the company will just do what the rest of Silicon Valley has done, just more elegantly. Removing bias doesn’t matter if you’re pulling from the same pool of folks.

No. 52 – 3AMReads: So. Tired. Need. Sleep.

Ecobank Research: Barclays brand’s exit from Africa could trigger loyalty separation

[Insert analysis]

TechCabal’s African Tech Roundup: Africa-Focused Insights From IoT World Forum 2017

[Insert analysis}

IMF: Tayo Oviosu: Technology Draws More Nigerians Into Banking Fold

[Insert analysis]

No. 51 – 3AMReads: Mozambique and Ivory Persist and Attract Capital | African Development Bank Makes Case for Investing in Africa

Bloomberg: Traders Snap Up Assets of Nation Where Default Is New Normal

I’m not really sure what to make of this article. I wrote a several weeks ago about how I was nervous about hedge funds investing in countries like Mozambique. While the independent audit of the country’s finances seems to have given investors increased confidence in the country, are we certain Mozambique is rounding the corner in being able to make it’s debt payments? I’d hate to see this turn into a situation where investors just have more assets to play with in order to get their money.

Reuters: Ivory Coast says long dated Eurobond raised $1.25 bln, 625 mln euros

Despite the tensions with its military, Ivory Coast continues to attract capital. Good stuff.

African Development Bank: Adesina – Its time to reboot and boost US-Africa Commerce and Investments

The Corporate Council on Africa is hosting is US-Africa Business Summit this week. Is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaking at the Summit a signal that we’re a few inches closer to seeing the US start to roll out bits of an Africa policy?

 

No. 50 – 3AMReads: Moody’s Downgrades Eskom | DRC Asks for Joint Bid | Ghana President Wants More Parliament

Moody’s downgrades South Africa’s power utility Eskom

South Africa continues to face challenges as bad news continues to emerge from week to week. On Monday, Eskom’s chairman resigned. On Tuesday, Moody’s downgrades the power utility’s credit rating.

The question in my mind is what is the path forward for South Africa. President Zuma, who has played a central role much of these recent issues, will be stepping down as leader of the ANC next year, hopefully. He is then to step down as President in 2019. Who will fill that void?

The ANC is still pretty firmly in Zuma’s control, evinced by the ANC voting not to remove him from the presidency a few weeks ago. Who within the ANC could step up? The party’s Youth League has put its weight behind Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, but she is also backed by President Zuma. Who outside the ANC could step up? One of the most high profile political leaders in the country, Helen Zille, just apologized for a problematic tweet about colonialism being good for Africa. I think it’s pretty safe to bet she won’t be getting a ton of votes.

South Africa needs leadership to right the ship over the next several years and it’s not apparent that folks are in position to take on that mantle. Hopefully, someone emerges over these next couple years.

Congo tells consortia to form joint bid for Inga 3 hydro project

The Inga 3 dam has been under development for what seems like forever, something like 14 or 15 years. The Democratic Republic of Congo just asked two massive companies from China and Spain to work together on a joint bid, and it seems like a pretty strange request. Let’s see what more information comes out about this.

Ghana Leader Favors Constitutional Change to Boost Finances

President Nana Akufo-Addo wants parliament to have more oversight of the country’s public finances, which would require constitutional changes. Ghana already has a central audit agency structure. I think a nice addition would be to create an agency similar to the Government Accountability Office, an independent agency that works for Congress and investigates how the government spends public dollars. GAO has already done with staff at Ghana Internal Audit Agency, and I’m sure would be more than happy to help establish a similar organization that works for Ghana’s parliamentary structure.