Editor’s Note: This is part four in an ongoing series on Rwanda’s rise. Follow the series here.
They say that home is where the heart is. For many of us, the idea of ‘home’ conjures feelings of comfort and convenience — the good life. But what if home is where heartache is?
After residing in Uganda for most of her young life, Clarisse Iribagiza returned to her home in Rwanda kicking and screaming. “When my family moved back, I had no choice,” she reflected. Like many young Rwandans, Clarisse believed that she would only achieve her dreams away from home.
As a small, landlocked country with limited natural resources and a tragic history, Rwanda is often regarded as a place of little opportunity, especially for its youth. Rwanda currently registers a 42 percent youth unemployment rate, and 67 percent of the population is under the age of 25. For years, Rwanda’s youth – alongside neighbors throughout sub-Saharan Africa — have scrambled for opportunities elsewhere, many thirsting to further their education in the U.S. or Europe.
This ongoing exodus is popularly referred to as ‘brain drain.’ In 2010, the total diaspora of Africans living outside of Africa totaled 30.6 million, according to the World Bank. A hefty percentage of Africa’s diaspora is highly educated, as demonstrated by UNESCO reports. In the U.S. alone, 50 percent of the African diaspora possesses at least a bachelor’s degree.
Yet a shift is underway across young Africa. According to a 2012 survey by Jacana Partners, a pan-African private equity firm, 70 percent of African students studying at top 10 American and European business schools plan to work in Africa following graduation. No place does the yearning for home seem greater than in Rwanda, thanks to a generation of innovators like Clarisse.
Editor’s Note: This is part three in an ongoing series on Rwanda’s rise. Follow the series here.
Rwanda’s emerging reputation as a “rising star of Sub-Saharan Africa” is embodied by its extraordinary economic growth trajectory. One cannot deny the government’s instrumental role in crafting a public policy designed to cater to entrepreneurial growth. Rwanda continues its climb in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2014 Report, up to 32nd from 54th in 2013 (it now takes less than 3 days to start a business).
While government support cannot be understated, it can hardly begin to explain Rwanda’s burgeoning private sector. Having worked closely alongside many of Rwanda’s most talented entrepreneurs, I’d like to highlight several other factors that I believe have helped fuel Rwanda’s economic progress. While economic environments vary drastically across the world, the following are all characteristics which can be replicated to some degree by any developing country or community.
Twenty years ago, Rwanda was the site of what has been called the most hellish 100 days of the 20th century. Today, it is a place of pervasive progress and limitless promise. Visit the shopping malls amidst Kigali’s rapidly maturing skyline, or test the farthest reaches of its country-wide fiberoptic connectivity. Once brushed aside for its seemingly delusional aspirations to become East Africa’s Singapore or Silicon Valley, Rwanda’s message is now loud and clear. Rwanda is serious about its perhaps-no-longer-so-lofty dreams.
But, is it really safe? This is still the most common question I hear from foreigners, not only from the Global West, but from neighboring East Africans as well. Having lived in several major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and now San Francisco, I’m not sure I’ve had a safer home than the friendly hillside neighborhoods of Kigali, Rwanda. But don’t take my word for it – ask Rwandans: A 2012 Gallup poll indicates that Rwanda’s citizens feel safer than citizens of any other country in Africa. The same poll ranks Rwanda second globally in percentage (89 percent) of women who feel safe walking alone at night.
Today, Rwanda is arguably the most peaceful, cleanest and least corrupt country in Africa — not to mention one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Note that this is not just another short-lived and superficial demonstration propped up by the notoriously dysfunctional foreign aid machine. Rwanda has adamantly refused to follow in the ruinous path of its African neighbors. Instead, the country has developed much more organically. Pundits can say what they like about President Paul Kagame, but it’s foolish to argue the success of his rogue philosophy of national development by self-reliance.
Perhaps news of Rwanda’s recent progress is not new to you, but have you pondered its full significance within the context of its tragic past?
Do you need another reminder of what happened 20 years ago in that little hilly nation at the heart of Africa? Every major media outlet already reported this news earlier this year. You read, watched, you remembered. Then you moved on. Just like Rwanda, right? But Rwanda is still remembering. Yes, to grieve the tragedy of those 100 days, but it is more than that.
“Kwibuka” is the Kinyarwanda term for the annual commemoration of the 1994 genocide. For more than four months, the signs hung from nearly every major building on every block of every town in the country. The Flame of Remembrance, the symbol of Kwibuka, traveled to each district across the country. Kwibuka is about remembering the 1994 genocide so that it never happens again. Yet today, it is just as much about celebrating one of the world’s greatest success stories.
My grandfather worked as a plant manager at Ford Motor Co. for 34 years. When I ask him about his experience, he does not refer to Ford as a company, but as a family. Since his retirement, Ford has remained an important part of our own family. F-150s have served as the toolbox for our family farm for years. Ford minivans have transported us on exciting journeys to faraway destinations, albeit fraught with epic battles between siblings in the backseat. I learned how to drive behind the wheel of a Ford and emerged unharmed from a Ford following a nasty collision. My family has never purchased a vehicle that wasn’t a Ford. I would venture to say that Ford has left a far greater influence on the lives of my family and I than any large corporation in the world.
As I toured the factories in Dearborn, Michigan during last week’s annual Ford Trends Conference, I listened to today’s employees echo my grandfather’s talk of the Ford family. The same employees glowed with pride about the recent announcement of Ford’s No. 1 ranking on Interbrand and Deloitte’s Annual Best Global Green Brands list.
Throughout the conference, I couldn’t help but ponder the intersection of these two sentiments. What does family have to do with a company’s commitment to sustainability? The answers are probably most obvious in smaller, family-owned companies. However, I might argue that many of our most recognizable brands represent even more powerful testaments to sustainability of the family legacy through cultures that endure for generations despite the added pressures of public ownership and attention.
“I would buy more sustainable clothing, but…” Sound familiar? Even in the middle of the green bubble that is San Francisco, we at TriplePundit hear this phrase all too often, usually followed by a series of hurdles including accessibility, price, information and lack of variety in clothing styles.
Over the past two months, TriplePundit’s sustainable fashion media channel has uncovered emerging solutions to each of these obstacles. While we’re encouraged to see that large mainstream brands are at last moving in a more responsible direction, it has been the smaller pioneers who have conceived of the products and models that are revolutionizing the industry.
Companies like NAU, Threads4Thought and Patagonia offer diverse product lines appealing to a variety of consumer preferences. Websites such as Modavanti and apps like Orange Harp enable people to make responsible purchasing decisions at the tap of a button or touch screen. Brands like OSMIUM and Appalatch have cracked the nut toward selling clothing made in the USA at reasonable prices. Indigenous’ Fair Trace tool tells the story behind each of its products by connecting the consumer to individual artisans with the simple scan of a QR code.
Unfortunately, most consumers are not yet familiar with these breakthroughs, and so, continue to shop as they always have. At the same time, more consumers every year report that they are willing to shop more responsibly (and even pay a bit more), if given the opportunity. In a world where most closets are filled with the likes of mainstream “fast fashion,” there is a cavernous gap between these reports and actual behavior. This begs the question: What do consumers mean by “opportunity”?
At last, Sub-Saharan Africa is making headlines for reasons other than war, disease, humanitarian crisis or corruption. Registering seemingly inconceivable GDP annual growth rates – ranging from 6-12 percent – while the rest of the world has been bogged down by a global recession, countries from Nigeria to South Sudan are now discussed as serious players in the global economic conversation. As I argued nearly a year ago, the continent is now home to some of the most promising investment opportunities in the coming years. There is no doubt that Africa has achieved significant progress in recent years, but could we be deceiving ourselves by relying too heavily upon these all-conquering measurements for economic growth?
The first-ever World Forum for Natural Capital in Edinburgh, Scotland, unveiled the full story behind these numbers. As UK Shadow Minister of the Natural Environment and Fisheries, Barry Gardiner explained, “GDP has become a con imposed on developing countries by an economic system that regards ecosystem services on which they rely as mere externalities.” According to Gardiner, some of our world’s poorest countries only receive up to 30 percent of the real economic value of natural products like timber.
In an age where public distrust of big business is at an all-time high, corporations worldwide are seeking to improve brand image by ramping up their efforts in CSR, sustainability and even supporting the nascent social enterprise space. However, far too many companies seem to be missing out on their most promising (and intrinsic) potential for creating positive impact: unleashing the entrepreneurial power of their own labor force.
Meanwhile, scores of ambitious but exasperated employees are leaving their companies to pursue innovative visions seeking to make the world a better place. Yet they face many formidable hurdles related to funding, exposure and economies of scale – areas where large companies have the advantage.
This story is so common that it has captured the curiosity of researchers and investigative journalists at TriplePundit and elsewhere.
The ICT industry presently accounts for 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions – the same amount that the aviation industry produces. And this 830 million tons discharged by internet and cloud services is projected to double by 2020.
But there is emerging consensus that this same industry actually represents the greatest hope for alleviating our planet’s most critical environmental threats. Driving this message is the Cleanweb Initiative: a rapidly emerging collective of developers, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and corporations who believe that “the revolutionary growth in mobile, social, sensors, processing power and big data analytics represents the greatest impact and economic opportunity of our time.”
As TriplePundit learned at the Clean Tech Future Conference II in San Francisco, the CleanWeb Initiative is busy preaching this message and building its network across cities from New York and Washington, DC to Rome and Copenhagen. “Anytime in history when energy technology has intersected with information technology, society has been changed fundamentally,” explains Nicholas Eisenberger, Co-founder of CleanWeb Initiative and Managing Partner, Pure Energy Partners. Take the Coal Age, which enabled us to create cheap steam, build railroads and conquer frontiers. Or the Oil Age, which powered the internal combustion engine and brought automobiles to garages across the world. While these technologies have been essential to the development of the human race, they have not come without their costs to the Earth, as we well know.
Eisenburger argues that humanity has now entered its next culture-shifting epoch. Only this time, development will no longer come at the expense of the world’s resources, but as an enabler of the solutions to earth’s resource constraints.
Welcome to the Silicon Age.
The movie, The Gods Must be Crazy, depicts the story of a tribe of Bushmen from Southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert whose culture of sharing is shattered when they stumble upon an empty glass Coca-Cola bottle that magically appears in their village. The bottle becomes a coveted object, which in the end, is “thrown off the end of the earth” to restore balance to the tribe. Director Jamie Uys describes his production as “just a slapstick comedy, with no message,” yet its sustained international popularity is indicative of its perceived deeper meaning as a powerful representation of the destructive influence of Western presence across Africa.
Since the Berlin Congress in 1884 when European powers arbitrarily carved their claims across the continent, the history of Westerners in Africa has been characterized by words like “colonization,” “slavery,” “rape” and “pillage.” In recent years, well-meaning NGOs, nonprofits, missionaries and social entrepreneurs have (in some cases) chipped away at this scathing image, but by and large, multinational corporations remain Africa’s most malevolent enemy. The corporate reputation seems forever stained by gruesome stories of blood diamonds in Sierra Leon and the Eastern Congo, child-harvested cocoa plantations of the Ivory Coast and exploited communities of the oil-rich Niger Delta.
There is little doubt that corporations have earned this reputation. Yet ascribing this perception generally to today’s corporations ignores the starkly contrasting partnerships that are emerging between Africa and several of the West’s largest corporations. In fact, such blanket assumptions ignore some of the most powerful examples of both economic and social progress taking place in Africa today. To paint today’s corporations as the modern-day colonizers of Africa would actually slander the mission statements of companies like Unilever and SAP.
Last week, I rode in the center of an extraordinary motorcade of police cars, fire trucks and freedom riders to the funeral of a three-star general of the U.S. Army – my girlfriend’s grandfather, Lieutenant General Caryl Glenn Marsh. Shortly afterward, I returned to my home in San Francisco to attend SOCAP13 – the world’s leading conference exploring the intersection of money and meaning. Both experiences were powerful reminders that life is fleeting, yet capable of leaving lasting impact even after we’re gone. The reach and nature of our impact, however, depends on how we decide to live.
Over the past week, I was humbled by the eulogies celebrating a family man and soldier who “didn’t have a pot to piss in,” yet followed his calling to serve his country to the pinnacle of the U.S. military. I was convicted by the iconic Van Jones as he challenged an overflowing audience of mostly white, upper middle class entrepreneurs and investors to finish the work of the civil rights movement by consciously confronting racial issues (especially with our children), rather than passively welcoming amnesia to blot out our history of racial and gender division. I was awakened by a photographer who dodges bullets through war-torn regions to illuminate the effects of often overlooked conflict on those who are too far removed to feel any connection. Reflecting on the past week, I doubt if I have ever felt as simultaneously unaccomplished and provoked to lead a life that continues to impact others when I’m gone. I also arrived at the realization that had I not answered my own call to work in a mission-driven profession, I might feel merely unaccomplished without provocation.
The world applauds companies who give generously to philanthropic initiatives and we idolize the social entrepreneurs who’ve set out to address our planet’s most pressing issues. Yet people raise their eyebrows the moment they hear of a corporate behemoth that seeks profit while doing good.
Like an A-list Hollywood celebrity’s fourth marriage, these efforts immediately become bright red flags for skepticism. Can a multinational consumer products company really teach us to reduce waste? How can a company that has historically sourced cocoa at the hands of child labor transform into a leader in developing rural farming communities? Does anybody really trust the McDonald’s healthy food menu?
According to Michael Porter, famed Harvard business strategist, profitable business is the only infinite means for creating societal value, and the most powerful force for addressing the most critical challenges we face.
The magic of shared value
Porter has coined the term “shared value” to define a concept by which companies become more competitive while simultaneously alleviating social problems in communities where they operate. Listen to Porter, and you’ll hear talk of magic.
“Shared value is about tackling societal problems with a capitalist business model… When we can get the activity into the capitalism bucket, we create magic because we can scale!”
Can you stand to invest in ways that make the world worse? Mitch Kapor of Kapor Capital and a founder of several household names including Lotus and Mozilla asked this question of an audience of revered angel investors at HUB Venture’s Angel Squared event on May 13th. According to Kapor, nearly all investors have made deals that make them guilty as charged. Even most foundations – the very institutions that are established to do good with our money – “invest 95 percent of their endowments [with professional money managers] to help create problems that the remaining 5 percent [given to program officers] are trying to fix.”
It’s not easy to accept that we may in fact be contributing to behavior that has a negative effect on people and the planet. Yet by simply handing over our money to the stock market or a popular mutual fund, we join the herds to help perpetuate a system that traditionally rewards companies that yield the highest and quickest return. The fact is that many of us who strive to fight climate change and promote values like human health and ethical business are funding big oil, tobacco companies and casinos. Even so, isn’t this a small price to pay for a functioning economic system that provides us with jobs and rewards our investment risks with acceptable returns? After all, what would come of our world if we shifted the focus of our investments from profit to impact?
Tabreez Verjee of Uprising offered the Angel Squared crowd a glimpse into the potential for such a world. Hang onto your hats and turn a minute of your attention to findings from Verjee’s study assessing the performance of recent venture capital investments in companies that are creating positive social impact.
Earth Day was born on April 22, 1970, as the first-ever nationwide protest against the pollution of the environment. Amidst the scores of environmental advocates emerged backlash from an array of parties concerned about the human implications of focusing on the earth. Senator Jacob Javits warned “that the fight against environmental and physical pollution is so popular that it will [detract from] the longstanding and at least equally vital efforts to deal with poverty, alienation and other economic issues.” On the same day, 2,000 low-income residents boycotted another Earth Day rally in Philadelphia, arguing that “the nation’s newfound infatuation with the environment has distracted attention from the misery of the poor.”
Today, 43 years later, social responsibility is considered a fundamental tenet of Earth Day. Even more striking is the role of business in the environmental discussion. On April 22, 2013, both the social and business cases for environmental sustainability were powerfully demonstrated at the first-ever REDD+ Talks. The event was co-hosted by Code REDD and Wildlife Works – organizations leading the global fight against deforestation by taking the earth’s appeal to large corporations, policy makers, and local communities. These partners aspire to protect over 5 million hectares of highly threatened forests, yet their model revolves around people and financial incentive.
Over the past decade, we have entered the Age of Big Data, where digital technology allows people around the world to transmit information at an unthinkable rate – 2.5 quintillion (2.5×1018) bytes of data per day, if you speak the language. I don’t, so I’d rather translate this to monetary terms: In 2010, the industry that has formed around big data management was worth more than $100 billion and was growing at roughly 10 percent a year. The world’s actual volume of data grows much more rapidly, doubling every 18 months according to the IDC.
The numbers are overwhelming, but it’s imperative that we understand what this means for our future. I was privileged to attend two conferences that discussed the potential effects of big data on business and society, respectively.
From data to information
OSISoft, the world’s leading infrastructure for managing real-time data, held it’s annual user’s conference on April 16-19, where corporate leaders discussed how big data is revolutionizing the ways we think about business operations like manufacturing productivity, market research, water management and waste reduction. In industries ranging from paper production to oil extraction, businesses are leveraging software like OSISoft’s PI system to capture data on the most intricate complexities of their businesses. According Jim Crompton, Chevron’s Senior Advisor of Global Upstream IT, there are over 80,000 sensors on each mid-size oil refinery and each one captures data. “The world is drowning in data, yet we are starving for information in many cases.” The great challenge is determining which data really matters. In data speak, this means identifying key indicators.