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.

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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

No. 37 – 3AMReads: Upside in African Financial Services | Lonmin Moves Ops to Marikana | China Pledges $100B

Investor Highlights African Financial Services Opportunity Despite Headwinds

Kurt Davis surveys the financial services industry across Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cote d’Ivoire as ones where investors will find an upside though the current state of the industry isn’t the prettiest to look at. His projection of Cote d’Ivoire becoming the centerpiece of regional financial services action in West Africa is a really interesting that makes sense given the countries growth trajectory so far. Before that happens, I’m going to need the military to improve its operations, find money to pay soldiers, and decrease the specter of mutiny.

Lonmin Moves to Marikana

My mind immediately went to the Marikana Massacre a few years ago when I saw the news that Lonmin was moving it’s Johannesburg office to Marikana where dozens of Lonmin workers were killed by South African police during a wildcat strike. A couple years after that, the company along with the rest of South Africa’s platinum miners went through a very long strike that really put a dent in South Africa’s already struggling growth rate. Lonmin CEO Ben Magara got his start working in the mines and says that he wants to be closer to the company’s operation. Relations between the company and its employees aren’t getting any better with workers protesting last week. Hopefully this move helps improve relations.

China Pledges $100B to Finance Projects Globally

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted several global leaders for China’s One Belt, One Road Forum. A year or so ago, China launched this effort as part of its aims to connect 60+ countries through a vast transport and logistics network to drive trade. Kenya and Ethiopia’s presidents were in attendance, and both have already seen hundreds of millions of dollars in investment as part of this effort. China’s trade with African countries is already sizeable at $39B for Q1 2017, and we can expect that number to grow significantly in the coming years if China is able to execute the projects it targets and gets paid back. If not, there could be a lot of debt floating around the world. African countries, particularly the ones that have issued large bonds in recent years, would do well to really ensure they have revenue streams to cover more debt should they pursue it.

How Does Africa’s Innovation Economy Tap Into Africa’s Wealth?

Yesterday, I had lunch with a friend who is raising a fund for her Lagos-based startup. At one point in our conversation, she shared the effort she has had to go through to get people she has met with in Silicon Valley up to speed on what is happening in Nigeria’s tech space.

This has been a refrain from a number of entrepreneurs and investors who are already tuned in on what is happening in Africa’s innovation economy. Fortunately, the tide seems to be trending towards Silicon Valley getting more hip to what is happening in Nigeria, Kenya, and to a lesser extent South Africa (Cape Town-based Naspers has led some massive investments that I am sure Silicon Valley investors have noticed.)

While we chatted, my mind went to some research I saw this weekend on Africa’s high net worth individuals. Capgemini’s annual World Wealth Report pegs the wealth of the 150,000 high net worth individuals across Africa at $1.4 trillion for 2016. These are people who have at least $1 million in investable assets, excluding primary residence, collectibles, non-durable goods like sweet potato pie, and durable goods like automobiles.

This is serious capital. I wonder what percentage of this wealth has gone into Africa’s innovation economy since 2009. The Capgemini report highlights three industries that are going to drive wealth accumulation globally through 2025 – financial services, technology, and healthcare. There are startups across Africa doing interesting things in all three of these areas, yet the challenges of getting Africa’s wealthy to invest in the continent’s startups has been a conversation for several years now. I think we’re trending to those conversations being fewer and fewer.

There are several people working to build a critical mass of wealthy investors across Africa committed to investing in Africa’s innovation economy, and these initiatives are gaining real traction. Further, some African governments have developed initiatives to support innovation economies within their borders. Two years ago, I watched Something Ventured, and it really got me thinking about how African governments could level up their involvement in Africa’s innovation economy. I’ll share where I’m at on that at some point.

In the meantime, what is your assessment of Africa’s wealthy investing in Africa’s innovation economy?

Osiakwan: Africa’s Time is Now

Eric Osiakwan stated this at the Africa Technology Summit a couple weeks ago, and from what I hear the Summit was a great success. Something of a debate broke out on what sub-sector of the technology industry was the next big thing in Africa. Eric pointed out communication, content and commerce and their impact on health, markets, and education. Another panelist, Pat Wilson, argued for trade finance, supply chain finance, agriculture, and women’s content (would be interested in hearing more about this).

Along the lines of the infrastructure-related solutions mentioned by Eric and Pat, I have questions like what are the latest technologies for road pavement so tractor trailers can move goods more reliably? Who is working on oil valve technology that enable oil companies to deal with oil theft a bit better? Who is developing technology to better manage port traffic?

If you have suggestions of folks with whom I should connect who are working on this stuff, let me know!

From my perspective, I think Africa’s time being now will become more tangible when conversations tackling these sorts of infrastructure questions are happening. I’ve been thinking about these questions ever since watching Something Ventured earlier this year. Watch it and let me know what questions come up for you regarding Africa’s technology sector.

Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, posted a tweet that I haven’t been able to track down. It said something to the effect of Silicon Valley is the product tester for the world. I bristled when I saw this, though it may be true to some extent. For Africa, mPesa has been the flag bearer for taking some of that market share away from Silicon Valley, but there has got to be more of this across the continent.

Bright Simons made a good argument in a post from years ago on leapfrogging being a set of tools and techniques that will enable Africa to hack infrastructure. Framing leapfrogging that way opens the door to systematic thinking about this: the end goal is “X”. Here is the road map to get there. Events like the Africa Technology Summit, Demo Africa, among others help get us to that systematic thinking. At least I hope they do.

This was a bit of a ramble, but I am interested in what you think about Africa’s technology sector. Leave comments below or email me.

 

No. 16: 3 Tuesday AM Reads – Davidson Grad Gets a Promotion |JP Morgan Has Plans for Africa | Gabon’s Energy Sector at 30,000ft

  1. I nearly clicked my heels when I saw the news of Amrote Abdella being named Regional Director of Microsoft’s 4Afrika Initiative, an effort for Microsoft to support economic development on the continent while finding new business opportunities. I’m a big fan of Amrote’s. Seeing Davidson alumnae killing it will never get old.

  2. What is getting old is American business news anchors not believing that there is opportunity to do business in African countries. See Stephanie Ruhle’s face during her interview with JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon at the 25:40 mark. At least Stephanie listened. Check out this interview Trish Regan did with McKinsey Director, Acha Leke, last year.


  3. Interesting analysis of market headwinds Africa’s oil and gas industries face and how consistent regulatory policy could help mitigate the impact of dropping energy prices. Speaking of consistent regulatory policy, NJ Ayuk and his Centurion law firm, put out a guide to Gabon’s energy sector, including an explanation of its new hydrocarbons law.

No. 9: 3 Lunchtime Views/Reads

  1. Take a look at the tweet below. If you follow economic development across Africa, you have seen the referenced charts. All I will say about the paternalism in this tweet is that the reasons for optimism about Africa go back further than 60 years. Moving on.

  2. Scott Galloway, a professor at NYU, said that the only reason Marissa Mayer will not be fired from her CEO post at Yahoo is because she announced she is pregnant with twins. Adam Grant, a fellow professor at Wharton, should probably give him a call.
  3. Very interesting profile of Uber and its CEO Travis Kalanick. Warning: It is long. With the ongoing debate around the lack of people of color, I was glad to see that Ade Olonoh runs one of Travis’ portfolio companies. These Nigerians, sha. They are everywhere. Also, I need to read Atlas Shrugged.

What Happens When the Software for Our Technology-Dependent Lives Breaks?

I opened up my Pocket to develop my latest “Reads” post a few minutes ago, and got the message you see in the image. For five seconds, I felt like my world had fallen apart. That’s not good.

There are so many different ways I can access the news, but have built the majority of my news consumption around Pocket. It has been invaluable as I come across interesting articles over the course of a day, but do not yet have time to read them. When I get a few minutes, I can go to my Pocket app and read an article or two.

Andreessen-Horowitz, a major venture capital firm, operates under a thesis that software is eating the world. Do we really want that? What do we do when the software breaks?

I don’t know. I’m going to bed.