My Book Review of Rwanda Inc.

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"Compared with the embarrassing parade of leaders in Africa since independence, Rwandan President Paul Kagame is clearly intelligent, disciplined, and principled. It is inspiring to read about the economic gains he has brought to the long-suffering people of Rwanda. In light of Kagame's unquestionable achievements, it would have been even more satisfying if Rwanda, Inc. had either shown us Kagame warts and all or definitively exonerated him from the most damaging charges against him. Instead, we are left to wonder: Is Kagame great only with respect to economics? Or might he be a truly great African leader?"

This is excerpt from my book review of Rwanda Inc for Barron's. The Full review is available here (scroll at the bottom of the page)

Where were Branson's big hairy ones?

I am just now back from Nairobi, Kenya where I attended Convergence Africa and led a Master Class on the notion of   "Executing on that Big idea".

My session was sold out and the room was packed with people eager to learn more about entrepreneurship and how to overcome challenges specific to the region.

This conference was quite well done and to the point. It's goal was simple and right on: doing business in Africa. You can see here all the reasons why I was looking forward to this Convergence. And I am most happy to report that it turned out to be everything that I was hoping for from its format, to the quality of the speakers and audience, as well as the companies that won the entrepreneurship awards at the Gala Diner.

But one thing bothered me: the Richard Branson's part. It is important I disclose my admiration for the real Richard Branson, the charismatic, flamboyant and full of sex appeal entrepreneur who built the amazing Virgin brand.  To me Virgin is Richard Branson and vice versa. You may like or dislike Virgin/Sir Branson, but you can't be indifferent. Steve Jobs is my ultimate hero when it comes to entrepreneurs, but Branson has not been far behind.

So what bothered me about Sir Branson this past Thursday? Many things. At the top is the fact that when he was asked about his attraction to Africa he basically replied that he has been spending the past 5 years on philanthropic ventures across the Continent, the biggest of them being The Elders. He made it clear that his people handle the business part.

I thought to myself "are you freaking serious"? My admiration for Branson stems from the fact that he is a superb entrepreneur first and foremost. And he accomplished it all despite his modest background and dropping out of school when he was 15, the reality of so many young Africans today. So what I needed from and wanted for him to speak about on Thursday was exactly that! Great entrepreneurs have big, hairy, audacious goals. And at this point of his career,  I expected Branson's would be bigger and hairier than anyone's. He missed out on an outrageous opportunity to inspire an entire audience enamored with entrepreneurship. THAT is what Africa needs more than freaking philanthropy! For a similar account on Branson's disappointing performance, see my friend Andrea's description here.

Transcend negative stereotypes with real value and cool fun

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuYyq_7KhjA&w=560&h=315]  

I command her talk and the questions she finally decided to ask herself. But at this point, the only way to transcend this massive, negative and reductive view of "Africa" that the world has of her and her people, is for a critical mass number of "Africans" to step up to the plate and dazzle with their actions and accomplishments. For that my personal strategy remains branding. No need to patronize people, even if you are preaching the Good. Offer real value, make it fun and cool and they will join in :)

World Biggest Micro-Entrepreneur: the best an African can do, really?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Uz1zkzcmtHQ]  

More here. My point is if we, Africans, want to be taken seriously in this world, we have to step up and speed up, right now. Let's establish our own standards and they better be world-class standards or more, nothing less. And let's leapfrog from there.

I encourage you to check out PovertyCure.org (and make sure to "Watch their promo"), for it is an organization that has a great understanding for sound economics. I also like that is a network of partners and people who truly understand the most basic need of ANY human being for dignity and pride, including the poor people. Then that is no wonder they support entrepreneurship as the best path to escaping poverty with superb dignity.

The newly rich and inventive Africans

"Think of technological change this way. Even if you time-travelled back to 1980 with your modern salary, and found yourself far richer than most people, you still could not find wheeled suitcases, mobile-phone signals, hepatitis C vaccines or decaf mocha lattes on the high street. Likewise, time-travel forward to a prosperous 2040 without a wage increase and you might find yourself relatively poor. But think of the products you could find there, some of them supplied by newly rich and inventive Africans. Other people getting rich means other people working to invent things for you." ~ Matt Ridley from "The Rational Optimist"

You can read more here.

Ch… Ch… Ch… Changing…

When I was growing up in France, I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I knew that I wanted to go to America because I knew that it was the land of entrepreneurship.  In business school in France, I very much identified as right-wing because in France the left is so insanely anti-capitalist.  Moreover, my parents had always been right-wing, so it was natural for me. When I came to the U.S. to start my career, I was completely apolitical.  When I moved to San Francisco and got married to my late husband, a French entrepreneur, we were naturally repelled by George Bush, the invasion of Iraq, and Fox News.  But we were still mostly apolitical.

It was only when I started my first company, Adina World Beverages, that I began to become immersed in the progressive movement in the U.S.  As a female African entrepreneur, the Bay area progressives were very drawn to me and were eager to support the creation of my first company.  I gradually became socially immersed in their culture, as my company had booths at Green Fest, Bioneers, Expo West, and other venues associated with the organic and Fair Trade cultures.  I went to their parties and developed friendships with them, especially after my husband died.

Later, after I transitioned my company into the hands of professional managers, and began my new company, I left much of the world of Adina behind.  I attended an event on women's entrepreneurship held by FLOW, a non-profit founded by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, and Michael Strong, an educational entrepreneur.  I had expected, naturally enough, that I was going to yet another green event - Whole Foods Market?

As it turned out, John and Michael are libertarians, something I had never heard of before.  They are very much do-gooders, as were my progressive friends, but they also believed passionately in entrepreneurship as a solution to world problems - a message which resonated powerfully for me as an entrepreneur who was motivated by the good I could do through my businesses.  (In fact, they now have a book out - Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World's Problems.)

I began working with Michael and gradually became exposed to his network of libertarians with a heart.  Time after time I met hard-working entrepreneurs who believed in entrepreneurial solutions to problems - and who did not believe that government was the solution to most problems.  

The transition was gradual, because some of my progressive entrepreneurial friends who were still no-nonsense business people were very similar to the libertarians with a heart - I now call them progressives with a brain.  But I gradually saw many of the more extreme progressives, who thought that every thing bad on earth was caused by an evil corporation somewhere, as out of touch with reality.  Here they were living in comfortable homes, driving comfortable cars, eating nice meals, and traveling around the world, all thanks to capitalism, while complaining all the time about how evil capitalism is.  What?

On the other hand, I have also met libertarians who are selfish, cold, and heartless much as I had previously stereotyped all Republicans for being.  They are living in comfortable homes, driving comfortable cars, eating nice meals, and traveling around the world, all the while saying that it is good and right to be selfish - with no apparent concern for the cost to other human beings or the environment.

As I continued to build my new company, I became increasingly resentful of the fact that many of the progressives I knew only wanted to support Africa if it was pitiful and poor.  With my new company, my ambition is to create world class products in Africa that are as elegant and well-manufactured as anything on earth.  But when I presented my ideas to progressives, they often responded with a dumb-founded expression:  But where are the wells?  How are you helping people?

WELL YOU DUMB^$%#&!!!!!, MAYBE THE JOBS I'M CREATING WILL HELP PEOPLE!  MAYBE THE PRIDE IN EXCELLENCE AND CRAFTSMANSHIP WILL HELP PEOPLE!  MAYBE GETTING RICH BY CREATING VALUE, INSTEAD OF BEGGING FOR FOREIGN AID WILL HELP PEOPLE!

And I'm afraid at this point, if a progressive still has a dumbfounded expression on their face at this point, I'm done with them.

On the other hand, when I meet libertarians who simply don't care about Africa, or the poor, or the environment, I am creeped out and am done with them.


BILLIONS OF PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING, THE ENVIRONMENT IS BEING DESTROYED, AND ALL YOU WANT TO DO IS TO MAKE MORE MONEY??????  WHERE IS YOUR CONSCIENCE YOU A-#$@)#%!!!! 

There is more to it than that, and I'm still in the process of ch-ch-ch-changing, but this is the start - an attempt to find more people who fit that perfect intersection of libertarians with a heart and progressives with a brain.

Is this what motivates Jeffrey Sachs?

 

 

This past June, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post  titled  Jeffrey Sachs' Misguided Foreign Aid Efforts. A big message I wanted to drive home was the importance for so-called "do-gooders" wanting to "help" Africa to stop thinking about what makes them feel good, but rather start focusing and respecting the needs and desires of the very people they claim to care so much about.

To this day, I am pretty amazed at how this need to have a role is so important for people. Don't take me wrong, I too want to have a role, but there are many ways to have a role other than the patronizing role. 

Below is an insert from  a great article from a unitarian universalist minister that corroborates my own feeling and gives a good analysis why people fall easily into the patronizing role.

"Defining someone as a victim is one of the most brutal and demeaning things we can do to them. This was, remember, the reason liberals lost permission to speak for the Black Power and Women's movements: they wisely chose to define themselves as survivors and warriors. That left liberals without a necessary role to play. It also shows, perhaps painfully, that the reason we define our token groups as victims is so that we can give ourselves a necessary role to play. The salvation story of political liberals requires victims. That's why it's such a dehumanizing myth"