A face to face with Emeka Okafor from Timbuktu Chronicles

July 14, 2009 at 10:57 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Had the pleasure of meeting one of my blogging heroes yesterday, Emeka Okafor from Timbuktu Chronicles. A self titled venture catalyst, he is the director of TED Africa, an African food imports entrepreneur, and connector of innovators.   Elizabeth from Sustainble Health Enterprises and I tracked him down to discuss all things Africa and entrepreneurship.

He is concerned about the missing links in the chain of innovation in Africa.  In the US we take this chain for granted — the university systems, funding for research, business plan competitions, labs where discoveries are made.   With all these pieces working together, a breakthrough idea can become a business.  But in Africa, many of these links are missing.

One thing he is doing is looking at how to invest in large scale women traders.  In Francophone Africa, these women are “cash madams” — moving thousands of dollars of merchandise through selling basic staples like salt, soap and plastic sandals.   In Eastern Africa they call these women “Dubai mamas“.  Like SHE, he is interested in proving that these are viable business networks ready for investment.   He says what these women are doing is not new, that in many parts of Africa, women have been the traders for centuries, patriarchy as a business model is a product of recent times.

To talk to him was to glimpse a community that he is slowly building – one where innovation and ideas are invested in, and business and creativity drive problem solving, not development aid.   Through him, I learned about a ning site for venture capital in Africa, and he is one of the people behind Maker Faire Africa a celebration of African ingenuity, innovation and invention, will take place August 14-16 in Accra, Ghana.   It was inspiring to meet him, I hope to keep in touch.

Twittering for a cause – what is the potential?

April 4, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I have been a blog-o-holic lately, reading like it is going out of style, trying to find the answer to: how does social media help fundraising? So, as you probably already guessed, it’s a little early to tell, and depends on what you are up to. But there are some great reports out there about how organizations use it best, like this whitepaper courtesy of Nten, the scoop on the money-making  Twestival for charity:water and this study of social media for social causes.  I love this one — it focuses on donors age 30-49 online habits.  This group is looking to give to organizations that they trust and are credible, and the study implies that they trust bloggers and the media, as well as their friends.   In a conversation for my thesis research I learned about an organization that got a grant from a foundation because it was so active on Twitter.

So this tipped me over the edge of curiosity, and I finally  joined up: @emilydavila.  I am still a rookie, but I am excited about the potential because Twitter really is a conversation.  While Facebook keeps you up to date with your friends, wherever they are, and is fun and gossipy and occasionally useful for planning a fundraiser or pimping a new article,  Twitter at its best is a professional conversation.  If you want to join twitter,  join with a point of view.  In my case, I am on there for Sustainable Health Enterprises, a social enterprise start-up selling low-cost sanitary napkins in Rwanda.  

So far, I have signed up to follow other social entrepreneurs, foundations, women in business, general non profit gurus and super bloggers like Beth Kanter, Chris Brogan or Sean Stanndard-Stockton.   For me, twitter is about people I don’t know, but would like to know, like these 6 wonder bloggers, or the communications people at the Skoll Foundation who were going bananas on twitter during their recent world forum.  

So, I jumped in the pool and am having fun.  I would love to hear from others how twitter has helped them accomplish organizational goals.

And interview with David Sasaki of Rising Voices

March 10, 2008 at 12:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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David SasakiDavid Sasaki manages Rising Voices, a project of Global Voices, which starts community blogs with people around the world who are traditionally hard to reach because they live outside of capital cities and speak languages other than English. I caught up with him over breakfast this morning in New York before he heads off to South America to visit Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

Everyday so many more blogs and websites are created, are we really reaching more people— especially people in the Global South?

Every month new people are being reached. But the language barrier is a huge issue, blogs are mainly being written in English. It also depends on a person’s social network, if their family or friends are going online. If you are not introduced to it this way you will never hear about it.

If you could give one technology tool to thousands of young people around the world, regardless of cost, what would it be?

I just saw the XO laptop [the $100 laptop], its really sturdy and easy to use. So I would give out something like the laptop but with a better user interface… or I would give out something like the I-phone.

What is a good website for someone who has just gotten online, who is not yet super web-literate?

It really depends on a regional basis. I work with a young woman from Bolivia who tells me she only goes to colorful websites, she hates the sleek modern ones with dark colors, which is something I would probably gravitate to. Clarity is really important. Information overload is bad.

Studies show that new users go online to use MSN chat, look at porn, dating sites, or play games. How do you make the web a tool for new users?

You can’t really see it is as competition. These things are important to people. It has to tie into the social media elements that make those activities attractive to people. You have to make it fun.

Do you ever run into situations where you worry that teaching about technology and blogging is western or colonialist?

Only Americans ask me that… I never tell people what they should write about. Rising Voices is enabling someone to communicate with a lot of people. It’s hard for me to see this through a colonial lens. What is colonialist about new media is language. If you are going online, after about three years you are going to want to learn English. Putting web content in local languages revolutionizes it for people. It’s also really important to translate local languages into English.

Have their been any unexpected outcomes in communities where you started blogs?

In Colombia I worked with 20 young people ages 14-25 to start a blog, and they were mostly writing about music and their personal interests. But one day the librarian asked them to interview this homeless guy, and when they did they found out that his parents had given all their land away to the town. After this the young people became very motivated around his life so they made a documentary movie about him. They got involved in the mesa de trabajadores, the community leaders committee, and had a dance to raise money to help fix up his shack and turn it into a house with plumbing.

So this is one story about young people helping this one 78-year-old guy. But as a result of the blog, the leaders of the community are taking the youth more seriously because they are representing their community online and internationally. In two months I saw the self-confidence of these young people go up. They became comfortable talking to the leaders in their community about their concerns.

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