The fifth annual get together, and the theme this year was officially ‘Hands-on technology: rise of the makers, the dynamic and the disruptive thinkers in Africa’. For me the two stand out themes were around women – both in technology and in business, and entrepreneurs – some success stories, and some common themes as to what was needed beyond funding.

Hosted by the BBC in the new Broadcasting House, the first afternoon was packed out, and the format was a series of panel discussion, where inspiring speakers were introduced and said a few words, then there was lively debate stimulated by questions from the floor.

First panel was probably the liveliest. Its title was: Meeting the challenge – women in entrepreneurship and technology. “Reaching for the Stars”.

Panel of inspirational women

Panel of inspirational women

From left in the photo above: Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock (space scientist), Hannah Pool (journalist), Saul Parker (Nike Foundation/Girl Hub), Rebecca Enonchong (CEO of AppsTech), Jamilla Abassi (CEO of MFarm Ltd) and Vera Kwakofi (editor, BBC Africa).

The line up was amazing, I’d love to have heard each of them talk longer, and could write a whole blog post on the examples they gave and anecdotes shared, but key themes were:

  • inspire women to have dreams and aspirations, and set up the infrastructure so they can achieve those dreams
  • women tend to be invisible. Need to raise profiles and choose people in spaces where African women perhaps are not expected to be
  • women not seen as a business opportunity (see the tweet below which raised applause!)
tweet: give microfinance to the men

Give Microfinance to the men… Tweet from Ruskin 147

And, if you have time, I recommend following the link to Hannah’s TEDx talk.

Next panel discussed: financing innovators, investment in Africa. Members were: Rolake Akinkugbe (Ecobank group), Loren Treisman (Indigo Trust), Tony Burkson (tech analyst), Peter Garrard (Avanti), William Hoyle (Techfortrade) and William Senyo (CEO Slicebiz, Apps4Africa 2012 winner).

Again, enough ideas for a whole post, but key ideas, which came up repeatedly:

  • entrepreneurs have to make themselves ‘investment ready’
  • cash is not the only resource needed – people need information, mentoring, support
  • Barbara James (Founder and CEO of the first independent pan-African private equity fund) appeared by video and said: ” Billions of dollars are available, and millions of people who need that investment for their business. Bridging the gap is the challenge”.
  • Intriguing debate around a comment from @africanpundit, that it was easier for a white man to get funding for a startup in Africa. Lots of cultural and social issues discussed about how people from different cultures market themselves
  • Successes need to be shouted about – that is what will change attitudes

During a short break, we saw a promotional video for the BRCK – excellent example of something invented and being developed in Africa, to solve a particular African problem of internet access.

Third panel centred around disruptive thinking – and talked about the [missing] link between policy makers, grassroots and advocates of change.

Another fascinating group which included: Caroline Kende-Robb (Africa Progress Panel), Yemi Adamolekun (Enough is Enough, Nigeria), Jamie Drummond (ONE), Eliza Anyangwe (Guardian development professionals network), and Rebecca Enongchong (CEO Appstech).

The question asked was whether there is a disconnect between those who are working at grassroots level, and those who have the ear of decision makers.

Key quotes/points made:

  • Development narrative has changed substantially in last few years
  • Policy making process is not simple – its a complex, often muddled process
  • Interesting how problems seen previously as developing countries, are now seen as global – discussions about issues such as extractive industries, land rights, shell companies and tax are now discussed at the highest levels (theme of last weeks G8 conference)
  • What is going to make change happen is information. People need to understand their rights and responsibilities, they need to understand for example how corruption in their local communities is tied to corruption at national level
  • A challenge, when public sector talks to private sector, they mean coca cola, and big business, not local entrepreneurs. They should talk to them too!
  • Social media can break down barriers and can help make change happen
  • Important not to surround yourself with people who agree with you. It may be uncomfortable, but important to find out what real picture is. Need constant mechanism for feedback.
  • Empathy shouldn’t be the sole basis for action

Partway through the discussion, we were introduced to TMS Ruge, on the big screen via skype. He talked about how social media offers the opportunity to reach millions of Africans. Organisations can listen, distill data, and can find out what issues the grassroots are concerned about. He talked about the diaspora perspective. People shouldn’t just lament inability to attract funds, should be looking to each other. He took issue with Marieme’s comment that young Africans are lazy. Some are, but many are hustlers, doing whatever it takes. Need to build mechanisms to make it easier for people to meet their needs.

Just before we finished, we were introduced to Tonisha Tagoe.  She has worked in tv for 12 years, and is now focusing on creating content to document African situations. She has an extremely popular YouTube channel, one of her films has over 10 million views. She confirms there is a big audience out there: when she publishes stuff, she gets reaction, people listen. Young people especially are interested.

Day two was less crowded, and dare I say it, slightly more chaotic? We were welcomed by some wonderful African musicians.

Photo of 2 African musicians

Baba Adesose Wallace & Mosi Conde, playing djembe (drum) and kora (predecessor of the harp)

And while I could have listened all morning, we heard from yet more inspirational speakers. First up was Mac Jordan – introduced as blogger, social media and ict4d consultant.  He writes more about his work on his blog: It was good to hear him talk about Ghana Decides, a project to monitor and report on elections in Ghana (and part funded by DFID), but even more interesting to hear about the evolution of the tech scene and blogging community in Ghana. From the days when iHub in Nairobi was the only example people quoted, Mac described the 5 networks in Ghana and the many new businesses that are emerging form them. He also showed a great infrographic credited (I think) to I haven’t been able to track it down – so if anyone has a link, please share in the comments!

Second speaker was Jamilia Abass from Kenya. She’s a software engineer who is one of the co-creators of MFarm (also – simple idea on the surface, but only happened when Jamilia met two other women with a similar approach and attitude to her – who were able to take a step back and use their collective knowledge to see a solution to one of the problems caused by the rural/urban gap. She is also involved with Akirachix, an IT forum for girls in Eastern Africa – it would be great to hook up the members of that network and the people who attended the teacamp women in tech meeting, bet we’d have lots of things in common!

Mariamme Jamme speaking with Jamilia Abass

Marieme Jamme speaking with Jamilia Abass

Third speaker was Vera Kwakofi, current affairs editor from BBC Africa, who spoke briefly about the wide range of services they offer, which include monthly debates held in different cities, a daily programme called Focus on Africa, and two series: Africa dreams which is about entrepreneurs, and Africa beats which features young musicians.

There were lots more speakers lined up, and while I would have loved to have heard from Edward Tagoe, the founder of nandimobile, and joined in sessions on following up the MDGs, or hearing more thoughts from digital women and entrepreneurs, my head was already swimming with all the ideas heard and conversations had, so I sloped off early.

Many thanks to Marieme and her team for organising yet another Africa Gathering – long may they continue!