Business & Economics

Fostering A Paradigm Shift in Innovation Across Africa

(Photo by Benny Jackson on Unsplash)

By Jephthah Acheampong

From the 18th to 19th centuries, the First Industrial Revolution which used water and steam power to mechanize production occurred. Africa missed it. Between 1870 and 1914, the Second which used electric power to create mass production occurred. Africa missed it. During the 1980s, the Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Africa missed that one too. Since the middle of the last century, the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is often categorized as the digital revolution is building on the Third, where a fusion of technologies is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. For the very first time, Africa is taking part of a revolution that is bringing with it the promise of dramatic changes in the way people live and work, and perhaps even the way people think. Unlike the preceding revolutions, the Fourth can help Africa participate in the globalized economy and improve the quality of life for many. With this revolution comes emerging technologies such a mobile connectivity, artificial intelligence, next-generation robotics, and 3D printing that can be utilized to drastically innovate  supply chains and factory floors. Africa now has the potential to be at the forefront of this exciting change.

In the recent Stern in Africa Business Forum where leaders from various industries convened to share insights on the Forum’s theme: “The Tipping Point: Accelerating Africa’s Agenda,” innovation seemed to at the forefront of each panel. As Keynote Speaker Samuel Alemayehu, Head of Africa & Managing Director at Cambridge Industries Ltd. shared, there are two kinds of innovations on the African continent; (1) Designing for extreme affordability and (2) Designing for extreme survival. One of the most romanticized examples pertaining to Alemayehu’s point is microloans accessibility. In many African economies, microloans have been the most prescribed financial empowerment tool for low-income groups to attain the immediate capital needed to launch a business or to cater for their families. This scenario is analogous to designing for extreme affordability because most entrepreneurs have been innovating around poverty for many years. On the other hand, designing for extreme survival means taking Keynote Speaker Child Liberty’s approach to co-founding Liberty & Justice by directly tackling poverty. As Africa’s first Fair Trade Certified apparel manufacturer, he and his team set out to build a factory that employs a robust women workforce, where a 51% to 49% factory ownership split is enforced. This empowers their employees to feel apart of the company’s vision.

Based on my experiences serving on the African continent, there’s definitely room for both forms of innovation. Africa is the only continent that will experience exponential population growth in the coming decades and unemployment may be the greatest problem the continent faces as a result. Similar to Lu Ka Yew’s approach of taking Singapore From Third World to First World, Africa too can surpass this ongoing problem by using microloans to catapult the widespread networks of small businesses, which are the real creator of good jobs as opposed to corporate giants who are slowly becoming reliant on automation. It’s evident Child’s approach to tackling poverty may be unconventional however, as Keynote Speaker Bisili Bokoko echoed, “to be an entrepreneur serving African markets, you really don’t know what’s next but you have to trust the process. It’s easier to do business now because we are in an economy of generosity. We are in the economy of sharing…” In a new study by McKinsey & Company, titled Dance of the lions and dragons, nearly a quarter African-based Chinese enterprises recovered their initial investment within 12 months, while 50% reported it took them three years or less. Most attribute this success to right timing and their level of expertise, which may definitely be true. However, it will also be sophomoric to overlook three important factors discussed at the forum and projected to play a role in Africa’s economic growth in the next decades: Manufacturing, Infrastructure, and Governance.

Manufacturing in Africa

In the most recent presidential campaign in Ghana, one promise seemed to be at the forefront; One District, One Factory. In this promise, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo gave the assurance that each of the 216 districts across the country would get a factory within the first four years of his government. It comes as no surprise that the country’s Foreign Direct Investment inflows hit 1.3 billion dollars in September 2017, as recorded by the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC). As Liberty shared during his keynote address, “it’s important to really consider manufacturing when doing work on the continent because it’s an investment that will be really difficult for outsiders to make.” Unfortunately, simple commodities such as matches are not manufactured anywhere on the continent however, almost every single household, if not all, own a pack. Microscopically assessing, Angola’s agro-processing is likely to play a particularly significant role, accounting for 48.2% of the manufacturing sector and in Ivory Coast and Ghana, over 2 million small-scale farms produce nearly 60% of the world’s supply of cocoa. Yet, only 3% of Africans are employed in manufacturing, as compared to 15% in Beijing, China.

According to the latest Africa Agriculture Status Report, the continent’s food market may be worth more than $1 trillion each year by 2030 as imports are substituted with high-value locally-produced food. Although this creates an immensely lucrative opportunity for entrepreneurs in the manufacturing sector, most African economies – such as Nigeria – are still fixated on the availability of mineral reserves and oil. This level of thinking is what led Nigeria’s economic expansion to being ephemeral, unsustainable, and extremely unequal, thus resulting in one of the worst recessions on the continent. In 2014 alone, 30% of China’s GDP came from manufacturing, according to the World Bank. By comparison, Nigeria’s share stood at just 9%, Kenya 12%, and Zambia 8%. As summed up by Joe Kraus, one of the leaders of the boom of the late 1990s, the availability of new manufacturing technologies, which diversify production and multiple markets for local producers, makes the shift to a decentralised economy easier than ever. Until we choose to re-construct our wealth creation model by marrying emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with our manufacturing sectors, poverty levels will only continue to rise as we approach a population of 2.5 billion by 2050.


Infrastructure in Africa

Entrepreneurs can help mitigate poverty when they can leverage already built infrastructure on the ground. However, for African entrepreneurs to be more productive, it’s imperative to increase innovation, apply the latest technologies to implementations, and focus on more value-added products and services. This is where smart introduction of mechanization will be needed, combined with a significant effort in training and skills development. In most African economies, there’s evidently an influx of foreign business women and men bringing in their own workforce; this is seemingly the new face of globalization. As a result, a continent where 200 million people are aged between 15 and 24 end up being displaced from the workforce primarily due to the infrastructure gap across universities. As Speaker Amini Kajunju – Director of Strategic Partnerships at Africa Integras – shared, “there’s currently a $48 billion-dollar gap in providing the appropriate infrastructure in African universities.” Without infrastructure, it becomes incredibly difficult to retain quality teachers. The lack of quality teachers further results in students focusing on scholarly development, as opposed to learning the practical skills needed to excel in the labor force. Foreign companies will be more willing to do business and hiring Africa’s youth once innovators can show predictability in bridging the infrastructure gap.

On the other hand, when we observe countries such as Ethiopia which is on a mission to be a middle-income economy by 2025, China is supplying much-needed infrastructure projects, such as power, roads and bridges, enhancing intra-African trade. Although this is commendable, one integral area in which Africa could benefit from foreign country cooperation and lessons is in the area of knowledge transfer. The jobs and skills gap in Africa is wide and only growing wider as its population explodes. For Africa to take advantage of this potential demographic dividend, encouraging foreign investors to focus on working with universities to bridge the jobs and skills gap is a worthy start. Today, mobile connections are widespread across Africa, making virtual and mobile training techniques a great entry point needed to overcome the lack of immediate training infrastructure. Also, vocational training with a key focus on artisan skillsets is essential because it fosters global commerce, thanks to policies such as The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The main objective of AGOA is to help facilitate the integration of Sub-Saharan Africa into the global economy. Across all industries, there is clear evidence that the technologies that underpin the Fourth Industrial Revolution coupled with the right policies in place are slowly having a major impact on development.

Governance in Africa

When it comes to Africa, entrepreneurs can choose to be dispassionate about politics but cannot afford to be dispassionate about governance. In many countries across Africa, corruption and poverty results from poor governance. Organizations such as Transparency International are working to address this issue by giving voice to the victims and witnesses of corruption. They also work with governments, businesses and citizens to stop the abuse of power, bribery, and secret deals. Despite their commendable efforts, entrepreneurs such as Alemayehu continue to face roadblocks when doing business on the continent due to failed intellectual properties. This is not foreign to many. As he shared, “Africa is a continent that has to live in the limits of the reality of its implementations so we often see a lot of bandages versus cure on the continent.” Therefore to catapult innovation on the African continent, it’s imperative to think as Policy Entrepreneurs. According to Oby Ezekwesili, a Nigerian Chartered Accountant, “Policy Entrepreneurship is using your knowledge of the sector that you are operating in as a basis to engage governments on why it needs to play certain roles and also giving them an incentive to pursue that role.” Businesses fail to be competitive due to poor governance; Foreign Direct Investment slowly begins to dwindle, and tariffs continue to elevate. It’s no surprise Africa’s richest man – Aliko Dangote – shared in an interview that “we cannot get things right unless there is good cooperation between politicians and the businessmen.”

As briefly mentioned earlier, Africa’s population is set to double by 2050 as the continent’s problems with poverty, joblessness and health issues mount. We, as Africans, will be in a more frightful situation than we are already unless we stop doing business as usual. Above all, it is important that African governments, businesses, labour unions and communities work together to develop economic clusters. As Bokoko shared, “…there are two reasons people go into business; to fulfill people’s dreams or to remove people’s frustration.” When it comes to doing business in Africa, the entrepreneurs who start on their own and refuse to develop the policy entrepreneurship mindset will have a hard battle to fight and will also need to have deep pockets to drive consistent innovation regardless of their reasoning. The promising thing is as the physical, digital, and biological worlds continue to converge, new technologies and platforms will increasingly enable citizens to engage with governments, voice their opinions, coordinate their efforts, and even circumvent the supervision of public authorities. Simultaneously, governments will gain new technological powers to increase their control over populations, based on pervasive surveillance systems and the ability to control digital infrastructure.  

Africa currently boasts about 1.2 billion people. To foster a paradigm shift in innovation across the continent is no small task, however nothing is impossible. As Alemayehu posed to participants, “‘Why is it so hard to innovate from the bottom of the pyramid?’ Because they have limitations.” To succeed in fostering innovation, one must work for the majority. Additionally, it’s imperative to first understand the societal structures evident because a one size fits all approach is simply a waste of time when launching a business in Africa. This exercise guides entrepreneurs in designing products and services that will not only be needed but will also better shape development. Steven Grin – CEO of Lateral Capital – shared on the Venture capital panel that, “11-13% of the population in Africa are receiving 1/100 of VC capital….even when South Africa’s Venture capitalists look up, they don’t see Africa, they see Europe.” This creates room for another topic subtly touched upon during the forum; Impact Investing. Impact investing is investing that aims to generate specific beneficial, social, or environmental effects in addition to financial gain. As policy entrepreneurs embark on launching a business in Africa, this form of investing is something to highly consider. The winner of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not yet determined; it could very much be Africa provided we choose to abide by the closing remarks of Founder Adeola Adejobi, which is to connect with like-minded people, to create breakthrough products and services, and to invest in Africa as a collective.



Jephthah Acheampong a contributor to ZNews Africa.

He is a Social Entrepreneur, Connector, and Writer. As a social entrepreneur, he is the founder of Blossom Academy, Africa’s first Data Science talent accelerator that trains and connects unemployed graduates in Ghana to the world’s most influential institutions operating on the African continent.

Jeph often writes as a millennial voice on a wide range of topics including business, entrepreneurship, and philosophy. He is passionate about the role entrepreneurship and innovation play in shaping the African continent.

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Powered by Passion: An Investment Banker’s Journey to Build Social Good

By Michael Rain

At close to the end of a humid spring New York day, Laurel Djoukeng arrives in Brooklyn full of energy, and fatigue. The investment banker traveled from Midtown Manhattan to Flatbush in central Brooklyn after an already long day, but his workday is not over.

He projects a warm enthusiasm. His eyes are slightly weary, but his smile is bright enough to disguise most hints of weariness. His tie is sharp and his suit is freshly crisp, as he heads into a parent-teacher night at Erasmus Hall High School. He is attending the event to inform students, parents and educators about a free summer program offered by the non-profit organization he co-founded, Catalyst Network Foundation (CNF).

In the midst of an era of Black Lives Matter campaigns, adverse statics about the future of young African-Americans and reports on millions of missing Black men, Djoukeng has built a smart social impact enterprise that has benefitted hundreds of Black lives. His non-profit helps high school sophomores and juniors of color develop academic and professional skills through a variety of fellowships, programing and workshops.

CNF was launched in 2011, guided by the wisdom of experienced African-American elders and powered by a team of young and educated professionals of color. The organization operates in both New York City and Washington D.C. and maintains three cohorts with over 65 Fellowship Scholars who have moved forward to earn acceptance and attend selective colleges and universities.

CNF offers career workshops, SAT prep sessions, and college admissions events by partnering with Ivy League schools including Columbia and Harvard, as well as, top historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) including Spellman, and Djoukeng’s alma mater, Hampton University.

CNF has also exposed young people to corporate careers and industries through internships, company site visits, and special programs provided by financial leaders, tech titans and media powerhouses including, Google, Goldman Sachs, Nike, LinkedIn, HBO, Microsoft, Essence Magazine, Bloomberg, FOX News, BET, and NBC ‎Studios.

As Mr. Djoukeng’s prepares to introduce himself and CNF to faculty and parents, he reminisces about how this all began. This social impact venture wasn’t originally his planned path. His passion for community and several encouraging mentors led toward a journey to build it.

Djoukeng was born in Washington, D.C. His parents emigrated to the United States from Cameroon. They were from the same village, but met in the U.S. as students at Howard University. He moved to New York after graduating from Hampton University.

“What are you doing to help the community?” a gentleman about 60 years old would ask Djoukeng every day for two years as he walked home from work. He answered the man by sharing his contributions as mentor with iMentor and volunteering with other social good programs.

“No, what are you doing for this community?,’” the man would reply, referring to the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn Mr. Djoukeng lived at the time. Finally he asked the man what he needed to do to help out “this” community. He was directed to attend a meeting at Community Board 8, which covers most of the Crown Heights neighborhood.

At the meeting Djoukeng joined a committee and met Priscilla Maddox (whom he refers to as Miss Priscilla) who offered to drive him home. During the ride she asked him why there weren’t more Black professionals, entrepreneurs and famous people involved in community building.

“I think we learn how to give back when we had a base of support giving to us. Most young African-Americans just don’t have that platform,” he assessed.

“Then why don’t you build it?,” Miss Pricilla inquired. She planted the seed. She stressed that there needs to be a platform that gets young people of color from wherever they are to rise toward their goals. Reaching their potential takes a cultivation of a lot of things. It takes guidance, mentorship and a support system from the earliest stages of development.

The two spoke for over two hours and by the end of the conversation Djoukeng promised that he would work to build that platform.
“I just met her that night. I shook her hand and gave her my word that I would build this platform, even though I had no idea what I was committing to build,” he remembers.

Djoukeng assessed his experiences with non-profits he worked with in the past and thought about how he could recruit a committed team. He knew he would need to find people who were naturally passionate about the organization’s mission and their role in making the vision a reality. “I never reached out to someone blindly,” he says. “I engaged people, then figured out what they loved to do and then asked them to do it for CNF.”

The organization has been run by a team of passionate volunteers. There are no salaried employees atCNF. Djoukeng himself holds a full time job while operating the venture, as does his team, who all retain 9 to 5 employment.


“Passion is the only thing that will make you want to get involved and do anything. We have volunteers who stay up until 2 and 3am to get work done even when I tell them not to do it. They go in that hard because they are passionate about it,” he shares with a proud grin.

Djoukeng began by working with his team to design an approach that helps young people identify their strengths and interests. They then receive guidance on how to pursue building a career based on their assessment.

“We feel like the most important thing is self-motivation. Once you’re self-motivated, you don’t need anything but the resources so you can go to where you want to go. We feel like the only way to get them to be self-motivated is to get them to feel like they are pursusing their passion. So we’re doing everything to help them discover what that is,” he shares.

The program gives students a head start to try a variety of interests and discover what they are good at and what they don’t like. CNF then cultivates their youth, provides a base of resources and then partner with organizations to facilitate that exploration.

One example of CNF’s approach is their summer intensive program. It guides the students in the discovery of their passions. They then learn practical steps on pursuing a career aligned with what they enjoy.

Strengths Finder 2.0 is used to assess the student’s character traits and leadership skills. Once the organization has identified what student’s have an aptitude for, the team then figures out which professional sectors compliment them.

Students’ soft skills are developed through workshops improving their public speaking, presentation ability, writing and resource skills in the two-week intensive program. They then work on a special project to hone their practical skills. Their hard skills grow through internships and hands on training.

“We create that ecosystem to help draft that roadmap for them to go from point A to point Z,” says Djoukeng. “It is always going to be fine tuned, because there is no way to do it perfectly.” He stressed, “We as young professionals are still trying to figure it out. We’re just ahead of the students at point F or point G. Going from point A to point Z is a never ending journey, but it’s critical to continue.”

While in college, Djoukeng saw his fellow classmates compromise on their dreams out of consideration of financial pressures and desires. It influenced him to set a framework for CNF to encourage students purse their passion and become aware of innovative ways to monetize on it. The goal is to provide them with the necessary recourses so they don’t have to conceed when they leave college.

Djoukeng just happens to love capital allocation and business development so he works in the sector that aligns with his interests, but “I’ll be damned if somebody told me I better learn illustration because what I love to do doesn’t pay the bills,” he says with a defiant eyes and smirk.

Much of what motivates the volunteers and partners of CNF is their sense of community, particularly as African Americans and people of color globally. This is something Djoukeng feels is prevalent but underreported and remains largely unacknowledged.

“Blacks want to see other blacks succeed. It’s not highlighted enough but they do” he shares as he remembers the support he received from Community Board 8. One board member was an attorney who helped him file a 501(c)(3) for free. Others donated their time and money to get the organization off the ground.

“The elders in our community have the wisdom and they want to help. They know where the bones are buried, but they don’t have the energy to execute anymore. Young people have ideas, but lack the capital. We need to keep that bridge together,” he says in a hopeful tone.

The public high school Djoukeng attended was predominately filled with Black and Latino students. There was a magnet program so the school had an influx of student from wealthier areas, which guaranteed that there were college prep resources available. He took AP classes and other challenging courses that helped him get into the schools of his choice when he became more serious about college.

“I was a jokester in high school. Some of my Black teachers saw me as that but once they found out I was applying the college they were some of the first ones to offer to write my recommendations and assist me through the process. These were teachers who had kicked me out of class or sent me to detention for being a jokester, but they became some of my greatest champions,” he shared.

Djoukeng’s assistant basketball coach, a proud Hampton alum, took him and a teammate on a tour of the University. They connected with a current student who was a senior and whom his coach took on the same tour of Hampton a few years prior. His coach then pushed him to complete his college application and get his recommendations in on time. “I didn’t know how big that was until now, when I’m doing the same thing for CNF students,” he says.

Between a finance driven day job and his social good organization, it might not be clear what Djoukeng’s passion is in his life. “I love to bring new ideas into fruition,” he says with a childlike smile. “I love coming up with new ideas and then working with people to make something that wasn’t there before exist.”

Djoukeng thinks back to that two-hour conversation four years ago with Miss Priscilla and says, “ I didn’t even know what I was committing to, but you don’t always know where things will go.”

He adds, “I always thought I would be the person who allocated capital to non-profits when I got older for initiatives that I liked. I never thought I would be running one. Never. You never know where ideas will lead you, but as long as you are still be pursing your interests, it will be a good place.”


Michael Rain is the editor-in-chief of ZNews Africa. He communicates ideas through written and visual stories and has an ardent interest in expanding the perception of people of color. His editorial intrigue includes design and technology, and their relationship to culture. Say hello on Twitter @michaeljrain.

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Africa’s young entrepreneurs seek to inspire its leaders

Africa’s enterprising youth champion a new development model that will generate prosperity while fostering stability and promoting security. The ethos they embody may be the inspiration that challenges African leaders to re-discover the buccaneering zeal of their forebears who led the independence movement.

There was change in the air in the leafy suburbs of Ota, Ogun state in Nigeria a fortnight ago. The first cohort of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs Program gathered together to embark on one of the more exciting challenges of our times – an ‘entrepreneur-led development’ model that seeks to create sustainable businesses that will generate $10 billion in revenue and create a million jobs in Africa over the next decade, all the while addressing social issues that will foster stability and security.

I felt like a kid in a candy store listening to members of my cohort oozing with confidence and boundless energy as they begin their noble quests in using business to address pressing social issues. Some of the note worthy ventures being undertaken include ventures that deal with local issues such as waste management to the outright daring – using unmanned aircrafts to boost agricultural yields in the inhospitable Sahel region.

The journey began with a grueling application process in which 5% of applicants from 51 African countries were selected out of a pool of over 20,000 applications.

Participants have benefited from the seven pillars of this program which have included a start-up enterprise toolkit, mentoring, online resources, bootcamp and in the course of the year, an entrepreneurship forum, seed capital funding and upon completion, being part of the program’s alumni network.

The highlight of the program for me was the bootcamp. My objectives going into this event were the opportunity to meet and be inspired by business leaders and entrepreneurs, put a name to the faces that I had been in touch with over the last couple of weeks and build lasting relationships.

The occasion far exceeded my expectations. We were spoiled for choices with a list of speakers, which included leaders in business, civil society, entertainment and public officials such as the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Prime Minister of Benin and the Governor of the State of Kaduna.

Our patron, Tony Elumelu also provided us with a no holds barred opportunity to learn more about him, his successes (and failures) and his expectations from us. He made it abundantly clear that failure was not an option for us. That said, it was reassuring to note that he is willing to do what he can to ensure we succeed.

Not to be outdone, the entrepreneurs also shared their stories with each other, cross-pollinated ideas and when the time was ripe, took to the dance floor with gusto, amidst laughter, drinks and great expectations from each other.

The common themes that appeared to embody the aspirations of these inspired young men and women were a profound sense of mission, customer/people-centric approach, improvisation and tinkering, adapting best practices to local environments and more importantly, a can-do attitude.

If history is any guide, this can-do attitude may be a harbinger of a transformation that could alter the face of the continent in profound ways as was witnessed on the sunny morning of February 28th, 1948 at Christiansborg Castle in Accra, Ghana. Returning ex-servicemen from the Gold Coast Regiment who had fought alongside His Majesty’s army in Burma, emboldened by their exploits in the war, demonstrated against the colonial authorities due to unfulfilled promises.

The agitation of these men created a sense of awareness and a crescendo that emboldened “troublemakers” such as Kwame Nkrumah and his cohort of “uppity” Young Turks of their time to cause even greater mischief that eventually toppled the erstwhile British colonial regime. The rest of sub-Saharan Africa was not spared the remorseless march of this rebellion. Just three years later, another 17 countries, a stunning 40% of previously unliberated African colonies were freed, bringing down the mighty edifice of European imperial rule.

The confidence and assertiveness of the returning service men changed the face of Africa. However, it is far from complete. Almost 70 years have passed us by with very little to write home about since that fateful morning. In the intervening period, have been unfulfilled potential, false dawns and a desperate desire for the continent’s leaders to re-discover the buccaneering zeal of its forebears to lay the foundation that will bring the best out of the continent’s most valuable resource – its people – to create a virtuous path that will generate prosperity, foster stability and promote security. Thankfully in Africa’s enterprising youth, they need not look too far out for inspiration.

The author is a Tony Elumelu Entrepreneur and a Managing Partner of West Africa-focused investment funds, Diaspora Capital and The Heart of Africa Economic Empowerment Fund (HOA Fund).



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Maame, Mama Africa Left Another Voicemail

“Hi Maame,

I see mama today. She tell me sey you no fit pick im call. E no good o. I tell am sey you dey work plenti so you no dey carry your phone. Maame, mama don dey old oh. She no go like am if you and her no relate soon. She dey vex sey some yankee boys dey give her wahala for street. She no fit sleep o. Dem enter yard, dem come comot with the computer wey you leave am but e be surprising dey give am light. Dey call am solar power. You know sey that computer na wetin she dey use to remember the way you dey give am sweet belle. Mama no happy! She feel sey you de only light she dey need…

There is a fascinating parable depicting a lady who once lost a needle in her house and ventured to search for it outside. An old man observing the scenario asked where she had lost the needle. She aggressively responded, “Inside my house!” He continued, “Why aren’t you looking for it inside the house then?”

She scratched her head for a bit and said, “Because the light is outside.” This is the reality of most Africans living abroad today. Africa’s sun has somehow positioned itself to shine to the West while consciously alienating the additional cardinal directions. This is a result of the lack of an impactful educational curriculum.

The educational system in a number of African countries is flawed. Those who attend public schools are usually at a disadvantage due to the gradual absence of ill-paid teachers. As a result, attendance rates decline, diverting the attention of our youth to quick monetary gains on the streets of their respective cities. Education then becomes a lingering thought, as opposed to a necessity.

On the opposite end, those of affluent backgrounds have access to the best-paid teachers and the most prestigious forms of westernized education. This may be positioned as the norm in the minds of many, however; a number of graduates complete school with a limited understanding of their country’s narrative. As the brain drain trend dictates, the youth of the latter demographic pursue their higher education abroad, get accustomed to a prodigal lifestyle, and refuse to return to a continent they never fully understood.

Between one-third and a half of the tertiary educated populations of Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Mozambique and Ghana leave their country. Africa has been in darkness for centuries and the permanent absence of her children – coupled with their past ephemeral presence – utterly encapsulates the drastic lack of development.

“What are you going to do to push the upsides of your continent so it could be open for business?” Adebola Williams – Chief Executive Officer of Red Media Africa – asked participants at the most recent Africa Economic Forum at Columbia University. At this forum, participants had the opportunity to witness entrepreneurs, disruptors, and innovators who took the bold leap to move back home after completing their education or professional servitude abroad to formulate an impact. Themed “Building Bridges, Breaking Barriers,” the forum encouraged Africans to break out of the fashionable cycle in order to make themselves a force for the people on the continent.

The discussion amongst the African diaspora pertaining to moving back home is clearly one that has come to stay yet quite impossible for most to grasp or take seriously. Many philosophers and influencers have said that the only thing greater than failure is not trying. However, when it comes to most Africans, I firmly believed that the trying is not the hardest part. The ability and need to try have been ingrained into our DNA for many years to the extent where it has been culturally positioned as an essential part of our survival. The problem for most is

The problem for most is comfort. As Thabo Mbeki said, “The principal investors in the South African economy are South Africans. And this is something, I think, we should really pay attention to.” It’s no coincidence that when you ask most non-Africans to name a country in Africa, an almost certain answer would be South Africa. Imagine an African with a well-paid job in investment banking, management consulting, or engineering. Logically thinking, why should she bother packing her bags to a land where the odds are portrayed to be against her, even if she is unfulfilled?

The perceived risk factor has been marketed to be exponentially high. As a result, we end up growing comfortable and being caught in the wheel of working to build another individual’s dream. A job is no doubt a blessing, however, it’s evident that ten years or so down the line, you may be replaced with someone younger and astute or by a robot. These ten or so years could have been invested into a goal to potentially transform your country or better yet, our continent.

On the note of transforming our continent, Adebola Williams challenged all attendees to become water to Africa. Water is a major problem in Sub-Saharan Africa where people lose 40 billion hours a year collecting it alone. Although all this time is invested collecting, research shows that 319 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are still without access to improved reliable drinking water sources (Source: The Water Project). This issue, amongst others, deserves to be ameliorated and Africans abroad must devise impactful and scalable solutions accordingly. The reality is if we do not, someone else will because Africa is looking for heroes.

Today, most Africans ironically contribute to the single story of a continent filled to the brim with aids, poverty, and corruption. As Adebola said, “We are all media owners. The West no longer owns the media, the wise owns it.” For our singular narrative to be shifted underneath the wings of a progressive light, it’s of vital importance to cultivate our why as it will be the guiding force to propel us to bear with almost any how. Regardless of our respective realities, our why needs share a common denominator of improving our continent for future generations. A blessing and curse about our continent are that there are so many challenges. Understanding that when our neighbor’s house is on fire, our house is also on fire creates a tremendous opportunity to perspire and become water.

Patrick Ngowi – a Tanzanian Entrepreneur – is one of many success stories, as highlighted by Adebola during his keynote. Patrick started selling top-up vouchers, however; he saw that there were limited mobile phones in his vicinity. As a result, he imported mobile phones from China to address this challenge. He then realized his neighbors lacked the power to charge their phones. This realization challenged him to venture into solar energy. Patrick became the water cycle for his country. Today, Patrick is a millionaire.

Based on Patrick’s story, it’s quite evident that what Africa recognizes and celebrates is a force that doesn’t hesitate to transform, adapt, and execute. Second keynote speaker Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond – author of Powder Necklace – shared an experience where 39 African writers, including herself, set out to celebrate their published books. During their time at the summit, every author present spoke English, except two. This observation goes to show how colonialism has placed barriers in terms of our languages and interactions as Africans. This observation also creates an opportunity for the African diaspora to provide creative distribution models for individuals on the continent to better connect.

In his book, The Advanced Formula For Total Success, Robert Anthony said, “If we divided all the money in the world equally, in a short time the rich would be rich again, and the poor would be poor.” This idea carries on to the realities of our continent. Based on Anthony’s logic, it could be argued that what Africa needs to increase its competitiveness to promote economic equity is skillset, innovation, and access (opportunity). A combination of these three could be the right recipe for growth and development on our continent.

On the Media, Fashion & Arts panel, Lolade Olayokun – First US correspondent for – shared with attendees an experience with her family while in Nigeria. According to Olayokun, the more time she spent in her hometown, the frustrated she grew due to lack of cell phone service. At one point during the trip, they decided to climb a mountain.

“At the top of the mountain, there was service!” she exclaimed with joy. This is a story not foreign to the population living and breathing on the continent. For them, it’s not the issue with their cell phone service, it’s the lack of immediate connection with a neighbor. It’s not about hiking a mountain for an adrenaline blur; it’s about growing to understand that in order to be adorned with the opportunity to serve others in Africa, you have to be at the top. The problem is those who have made it at the top often forget their roots which leads to our stories being mistold.

As Michael Rain – Co-Founder of ZNews Africa – said, “Don’t just focus on who is telling the story, focus on how they tell our stories.”. Ayoinmotion – A Nigerian Musical Artist – echoed this sentiment by shedding light on his observation of African youth consuming entertainment and information through mediums built by non-Africans. We – the Africans abroad – have been equipped with the skills and have been given the tools to build platforms for our relatives on the continent yet we choose to add flame to the flawed narratives circulating the West.

Ghanaian businessman Seth Dei once said, “I realized it was difficult to be poor here (Ghana): there are so many opportunities. You only have to drop a seed and in two weeks you have a plant. Depending on your ambition you can become a millionaire.”

There were 169,000 millionaires on the continent at the end of 2014 — a number expected to rise by 53% over the next 10 years, according to the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2015. These predictions bring hope for most. However, the hope of being a millionaire should not be your reason for moving back to the African continent. Those who are truly impact driven are the ones who succeed.

Hakeem Belo-Osagie – Nigerian businessman and philanthropist – shared that you will find that a lot of successful people at home (Nigeria) have a deep sense of sadness because they are driven, as opposed to being in the driver’s seat. As a result, they subsume their identity into a piece of work. Their personal life suffers since they have overly committed to some work they just cannot do or they have put an importance or arbitrary significance on some work that doesn’t matter.

Based on his personal experience of venturing down the entrepreneurial route, Belo-Osagie boldly attests to having a wife and children who comprehend the true essence of his drive and assist him when the road grows dimmer as the defining reason for his success. He also advised, “You don’t want to have a lot of contacts but very few friends. When things get dark, the contacts disappear.”

This point hit home the hardest because I’ve had the opportunity to explore a plethora of conferences centered around the theme Africa. The majority of the time, the same familiar faces are in attendance, ever ready to be seen, heard, and acknowledged (See Networking Disguised As Transaction). We consume so much information at these conferences yet fail to execute, which leads us to believe there is more to consume before we go on to turn our wishes into goals.

Today, social media plays a revolutionary role in strengthening ties with friends and family on the African continent. During a discussion with Kwadwo Sarpong – Co-Founder of African Research Academies for Women – he shared that social media was a guiding force in building his organization’s team. With access to social media, Africans abroad have the advantage to assess those in their distant circle in order to formulate a vague idea of what they may be passionate about and whether that passion echoes their mission. Social media is one powerful tool that can potentially mere change contacts into friends.

To further drive the point of contacts, Belo-Osagie advised that having founding members with MBAs from top schools is absolutely not the hailed recipe for success. To succeed on the African continent, it’s imperative to find local people who have spent their entire lives on the ground to aid in a well thought out execution. His additional themes during his keynote included the willingness to be bold and to not hesitate, the importance of failure because it emboldens you to plunge ahead and address your mistakes, and the need to cultivate a laser cut commitment when pursuing your desired goals.

To my sisters and my brothers, it’s so important to live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now. Africa has a population of 1.2bn people, and a GDP of $2.8Tn and assuming a compound annual growth of 5%, Africa’s GDP as a continent can reach $30Tn in 50 years. This should be enough motivation to reach out beyond cultures, races, and national borders to break barriers and build bridges for the sake of our continent, Africa.

Maame abeg you dey enjoy with oyinbo people wey you no fit remember mama.You fit dey bold, dey daring. Uncle Bello-Osagie dey tell us sey “if rain dey fall, e no be the reason wey you no go reach anywhere.” The thing wey dey happen for our kantri dey for head. Whether rain or sunshine, me must to move. We must to remember sey na mama born us. Blood dey thicker than water. As you dey with oyinbo people, make you no forget mama. Na the reason all our papa and grand papa dey fight so we no go fight again. Come home, Maame. Do am for us. I dey pray for you o.  

Your bro,



Jephthah Acheampong is an Entrepreneur, Writer, and Storyteller based in New York. Equipped with a background in Economics, Jephthah writes as a millennial voice on social justice, women equality, and education. He currently serves as Director of Sales & Marketing at Esusu. Jephthah also founded Anansi Global, a non-profit empowering youth in Ghana by providing quality education and mentorship.

View his work at or find him on Linkedin.

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Meet the Model and Athlete Launching ‘Tinder for Fitness’

Two-time Golden Gloves Champion, Ngo Okafor poses in his boxing gear.

(Photography by Eric Acquaye)

Written by Michael Rain

Ngo Okafor entered his crowded apartment. It was filled with tall stacks of boxes. The boxes contained thousands of copies of his modeling calendar. His friends encouraged him to produce it but disappeared when it came time to market and promote it.

The boxes consumed his bedroom. They were blocking him from moving forward. They marked a physical representation of failure caving in on him. The calendars were now collections of wasted time.

Ngo went through a mild depression, wondering what he would do. “I said to myself, either you’re going to throw them all out or figure out a way to sell them all,” he recalled.

He decided to sell them. He bought a collapsible table, filled his backpack and duffel bag with 200 calendars and hit the streets. He set up shop in the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, New York, where he offered the calendar for free. He invited people to donate any amount they liked. He gained traction and eventually worked his way over to Times Square, where he would start his day at 5 a.m. doing his best to get people’s attention and to sell every copy.

“People would just walk by me. Some people would laugh at me. Others would be like, ‘who the hell does this dude think he is?’and all kinds of verbal jabs,” he remembers. “And then other people would come at me and say ‘wow, amazing work!’ And I would sign a calendar for them and take pictures with them.”

When tourists discovered Ngo, that’s when things changed. They’ve never seen anything like him. A 6’5” striking and fit African man selling a high-quality calendar in person. They would buy several calendars at a time, and eventually, Ngo sold every, single, one.

This hustle and determination have helped Ngo garner a range of achievements in fashion, sports, fitness, and entrepreneurship. This Nigerian-American has defied expectations throughout his life, and now he is betting on the success of his startup.

Ngo is a 2-time Golden Gloves Boxing champion, winning at the ages of 33 and 34. He’s graced the covers of top-line publications as a fashion and fitness model for FORTUNE, VOGUE, W, ESPN Magazine and The Source. And for over a decade he’s been the top celebrity fitness trainer in New York, working with some of the world’s best-known beauties, including Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Jennifer Lopez.

FitMatch founder, Ngo Okafor shares a smile on a rooftop in New York City. Photography by Eric Acquaye.

Today, he is focusing his hustle as the founder of FitMatch, a social fitness app that he describes a “Yelp meets Tinder.” The app connects people who are looking for workout partners. Many of Ngo’s clients travel frequently and often lose motivation to exercise when they are away from home.

FitMatch uses geolocation technology to connect people worldwide, giving people the option to connect with someone else anywhere. FitMatch is also a solution for beginners looking for a workout buddy that is at a similar fitness level. Once users have found and connected with each other, they can keep one another accountable on their fitness goals, and provide inspiration and motivation.  

After interviewing loads of his clients and others, he determined that the disconnected offline world needed a simple way to connect with people for exercise and support.

“A lot of people don’t deal with humans anymore. You can wake up and have all of your services done by an app. You get on your phone you order an Uber. You get into work, sit in your cubicle, put your headphones on, you don’t talk to anyone. You order your food from seamless your food gets there. You go to the gym, get your headphones on, you work out you go home and the cycle starts all over again.”

“You don’t have to interact with people if you don’t want to. And when you want to interact with people you have Tinder, you have OK Cupid and now you have FitMatch when you’re looking for someone to workout with. That’s where the world is going. Make it as easy as possible for people to connect, and for people to get what they want.”

Founding FitMatch is a culmination of Ngo’s fitness, sports, and entrepreneurial past. He has a habit of setting his mind on new goals, learning what he can, and working his hardest to achieve success. Following this path has never been easy. As any African-immigrant knows, careers that fall outside of law, business, medicine, and engineering are not met with the most supportive reactions.

“My story has always been if a human being can do it, I can do it. No matter what it is,” he shares confidently. “People laughed at me when I said I was going to train as a boxer. I started boxing at 31, and I won my first Golden Gloves at 33 and won it again at 34.”

Ngo Okafor, founder of FitMatch. Photography by Eric Acquaye.

“So for me, I just focus and I learn. I just read a lot. I read about how other people did it and wonder how I could do it better.”

This approach is what kept a young Ngo together when he arrived in the U.S. from Nigeria, adjusting to hardships and pursuing what made him happy, despite not initially receiving support from his family.

“I left home when I was 18 and came to the U.S. Originally I studied computer science and I worked in IT for a while. I loved computers. I loved technology. But I loved so much more. I wanted to do so many other things. But you know what African parents are like, ‘You have to get that job. Get that insurance. Make money. You cannot make money from entertainment’. And I get it. It’s all they know.”

“I wanted to play sports. African parents don’t support that. I loved the arts. I got into modeling and I was doing pretty well at that. It wasn’t until people started saying ‘oh I saw him on this or I saw him on that’ that they started saying ‘oh you know congratulations’ or ‘you’re doing well.’”

“Before then they were like, ‘what are we going to tell our friends that our son is a model? What is that? Their son has come to America and now he is lost,” he says humorously.

His parents do not completely understand where he’s going with this startup, either. Nor do they understand how it could make him money, or the implications of its success. “They are like, well as long as you’re still training people and making money,” he laughs.

Ngo doesn’t worry about the people who do not support him or do not understand his journey or path. “People are out there waiting for you to fail because it makes them feel good about themselves. ‘How dare you succeed,’ because you if succeed that means they are not taking risks to do their best.”

He’s also not afraid of failure. “You learn from your mistakes. You can’t learn if you’re only winning all the time.”

“Work ethic is what gets me through anything,” he says with conviction. “That’s what helped me with boxing. That’s what helped me with this app. I’m not going to give up until it becomes the true success that I know it should become.”

Even if you don’t have your family’s support, and there is no app available to give you supporters of your dreams on demand, Ngo suggests taking your own journey and focusing on your talents and gifts.

“You don’t have to travel the beaten path. Trust that you have been given a gift that nobody else has. Believe in that gift.”

You can download FitMatch in the iTunes Store

For more about FitMatch visit:

Michael Rain is Chief Editor of ZNews Africa. Follow him on Twitter as @michaeljrain. 

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The Fashion Designers to Watch

By Eric Acquaye It's no secret that there is a new wave of African designers that are making a major splash in the world of...