Thursday, August 17, 2017

The ‘Big Lie’ of Small Business

Many times we have heard the doctrine of starting and running small businesses. Vusi Thembekwayo, a thriving entrepreneur and venture capitalist in South Africa argues otherwise. Read on to find out why. 

For how much longer will we as Africans continue to be happy with the status quo of the past hundred years which puts us as the recipients of all forces shaping the global world. What’s happened in the world over the past few years that we’ve done that shaped the rest of it?
The truth is that because of the narrative that we’ve had, we’ve settled for a conversation that makes it okay for Africans to just be okay. And a part of that dialogue we see in my environment where we finance businesses. There has been all this buzz about small businesses. Just start a business and just get in and it’s alright if it’s a small business. Well, I believe it’s not okay.

This is why. Here in South Africa, we have these great snacks called “kotas” (township slang for a quarter loaf of bread, mixed with all kinds of food items – fried chips, atchar, Viennas, Russians, eggs, polony and burger patties), which do something to our souls that a McDonalds burger will never do. This is perhaps one of our greatest exports, except we are not exporting it. Take Tibo for example who operates his kota business in Alexander township which he established in 2005. He turned over R 53,000 for the year in 2015. Yet interestingly, there is a listed South African company which started a franchise, called KOTA Joe in 2013, pumped in some capital and last year turned over R20 million. My point – we are big business.

So maybe this an anomaly, right? Let’s use another example. What is a bank? A bank is nothing more than a collective investment scheme. People come together and put their money in the central pot. We put it there usually as savings with the idea that when you unlock that money and you need it in the future you can get.
What the bank is doing is taking that money and saying to people – “if you are credit worthy we will lend you the money” and we will price it at a premium. Hence our ability to buy a car or a house. How different is that to the stokvels we have in South Africa? This is usually a group of black women who come together and put money in a pot and at the end of the year they have money and they go to the ShopRite and they buy stuff. And in the next year the cycle starts again right.
Stokvels come in different forms. One investment stokvel operating in the Eastern Cape started a year after we achieved democracy in 1995. Last year, their collective investment was R 300,000. Now imagine bundling together R 300,000 annually over the past 20 years, you can do the maths about the kind of numbers we are talking about. In 1991, four years before this, a bank was formed in South Africa known as ABSA, which does in essence the same thing. The stokvel last year R 300,000, ABSA is a R4.6 billion a year turnover business. My point – our models of doing business are big business.

We need to unlock our thinking and change the conversation – it’s not okay for us to start small businesses. It is not okay for us to be happy to be vendors on the side of the road anymore selling fruit and vegetables. What we need to do is own the farms that produce the fruit, own the road infrastructure that moves the fruit, own the retail infrastructure to sell the fruit and own the banking system the transacts the whole platform. And by the way why don’t we just take the taxes as well.

So the idea here is we need a radically new form of thinking. Now that we are clear on this, let me explain why we are not doing this. Because we can blame colonialism in my country apartheid as long as we want, but there is a deeper problem, and the deeper problem is our inability to understand the ecosystem and life-cycle of entrepreneurship. All entrepreneurs start out as start-ups. Whether you are Bill Gates or Steve jobs you start out as a one-man show with an idea. What makes the Americans and now more recently the Asians really good is that they have created a huge pool of venture capital money. Easy to access, cheap and you can have it as patient money. You can have it forever and never have to pay it back.

That’s why they are building large institutions so it is not a mistake that Jung Lee, a Chinese mobile company started five years ago and is now the third largest smartphone company in the world. Where do they sell their phones? Eighty-seven percent of their sales come from China. The remainder from this continent. We are big business.We all start out as start-ups. How do you know you are a start-up? It is easy. You are one guy.  You go to the customer, you deal with him. You go back to make the cookies, you come back and you give him the cookies. And the month end you phone him and you say “can I please have my money” and then he pays you and if he doesn’t, you go to him and say please I am going to
We all start out as start-ups. How do you know you are a start-up? It is easy. You are one guy. You go to the customer, you deal with him. You go back to make the cookies, you come back and you give him the cookies. And the month end you phone him and you say “can I please have my money” and then he pays you and if he doesn’t, you go to him and say please I am going to klap you until I get my money. And usually you give him what I like to call an AAK, an Attitude Adjustment Klap.

But how do you know you are a startup? It is easy. If you are the value of the business, you are a start-up. If the customer wouldn’t trade with your business unless you are in it, you are a start-up. Move a level above that you become what I see a lot of happening now and on the rest of the continent. For a bit of context, I run a venture capital fund. In our VC fund we own an advisory business where we advise entrepreneurs on how to start a business and enterprise development business where we help them to get into the supply chains of large organisations and then a fund where we actually finance them, so the entire ecosystem they need to succeed.

We are in six countries in the continent, so Southern Africa, Eastern Africa and Western Africa. I like to call us what we are – the best-kept secret in this continent. Nobody knows about us and I like it that way, because then they can’t see us coming. So we see a lot of start-up as start-ups and then they become these survivalist entrepreneurs.
The problem is a lot of them die at the instance in which they become survivalists. What are survivalists? I really need money month end to pay my bills. How do you know you are one? It is usually one person with three, maybe four people in his team. He is operating in a small office and is just barely making it. Every month you must make money to pay for that month’s bills. A level above that is that you then become a success. As a success, you are one guy and you have a core group of people who manage people in the core group of people who deliver the work. And then where we should be at growth level. Here is the question: how do we move from start-up to growth in as fast a time as possible, minimise the risk and develop our own industries. The mindset has to change.

Perhaps the deepest thing about this is this…so complex. Entrepreneurs need six things to succeed just six. You need an infrastructure. And what is the challenge we have on our continent? If I manufacture something in Joburg, South Africa, how do I get it to Nigeria? How do I get it to Luanda in Angola? It still persists in our own continent that I can’t put it on a single rail track and move it to their part of the world.

So we need an infrastructure that opens up our markets. We need capital, money, funding. And dear governments, here is the point. The money doesn’t have to be cheap, but it does have to be patient. It’s not okay anymore if our entrepreneurs fail on our continent. We bank them and after that we then put them on these things called blacklists and the can’t access credit anymore. Because what you’ve done is – you have taken somebody who has failed and learned from failing and you have now made him that he can’t operate economically for the next five years. So they need assets, they need access to markets, strong administration and then people.

And here is the thing about the people challenge. What is the first thing top talent does in Africa? It leaves! Think about it. If you think about the top Africans shaping the rest of the world today, they are not likely doing it in our own continent. They are somewhere else doing it. And a part of the narrative we need to reshape is how do we bring them back here to build what is jointly ours? There is a huge mass of knowledge in the African Diaspora. We need to bring them back in here and this is how we reshape it. So as really four reasons people start businesses; to live well, to leave something for your kids, to sell it, or to change the world.

So what does Google say? Google says we exist to do no harm. Apple says because the people who are brave enough to think they can change the world – are the ones who do. So they live on a philosophy space where it really is about changing the world and the reward is much much higher. Here we live lifestyles. We get access to public sector opportunities we call them tenders. And here is the thing about tenders – people must know.  So the first paycheck goes to getting you that Ferrari and because we don’t have Ferrari dealerships, what we do, we import them in. and not only that we must be seen to live in a certain suburb, so what we do is we encumber our ability and opportunity purely by wanting to a fancy lifestyle.

The Asian people are different, specifically Indians. We see a lot of this in my country. They build legacy businesses. The great-grandfather gets a corner shop and he opens up a dry cleaning business. The father opens up a fast food joint. His son opens up a hardware store. And your son will then open up something else. But here’s the thing – generation on generational on generation, they don’t close these shops down. They keep them running in the family as legacy businesses.

The environment I work in is where we sell business. We build them purely for the purpose of selling them. Why? Because if you build to sell, you build for value. It means you are going to live scrappy. You are going to keep costs low. You are going to take a long-term view because you’re building this thing generally to create enough push pressure in the market that you can sell it.

I was on Dragons Den in South Africa, so invested in myself and the other dragons actually, invested in a business that is fundamentally shaping the entire floral market in the world, not just here but in the world. They created an Uber but for flowers. So imagine a situation where you would go on your phone and you want to give flowers for your loved one. When you pull up the application on your screen it will show you the local florist and what that local florist has available right now and the price. You would then buy from the local florist. He would receive the order and deliver the goods in a split second of a time – why? Because he is closer to you. Does it work? Of course it does. The local forest wants access to the market. You want to get the goods to the customer and here is a business that’s reshaping it.

Why we do it? Because we know it will disrupt not only here by globally and a huge opportunity to sell. So the question really for us is why are we building our businesses? I would argue that we don’t build them for the right reasons. If this is true and I would argue that it is, how do we fix it?

We need to do four things.   
  • We need to change the conversation. The conversation needs to be how do we build a business with a philosophy in mind? It has got to be greater than you. It has got be about changing the very way our very own continent works. It has got to be about bettering other people’s lives and making sure that in the innovations that we bring to market we have something that nobody else has and the rest of the world and they can only get it here. It must be based on a philosophy. Anything else is too weak.
  • We need a strong system of mentorship. Let me take a moment to pause here. So here is the thing about the mentorship. In my family and in South Africa specifically, we come from a deep past of subjugation of the majority of the population, black people, my people. Because of that black people are never allowed to own businesses. So in my family and I imagine is the case of most of us in the room, when I started my business everybody thought I was crazy because you are raising a system when you grow up went to school, got good grades, went to varsity, got the grades, got a job and got married. And when you want to disrupt the system, society doesn’t understand it. What it then meant was when I did start my business, I had nobody to whom I could go and seek mentorship.  Why? Because they themselves didn’t know what they didn’t know. And so incumbent upon us is to create a system in our social spaces where we can access mentorship to think differently. This I would imagine is our deepest challenge socially.
  • We need to start creating a culture of delayed gratification. Fast money was fast in, but it is also really fast out. And here’s the other problem with fast money and this culture of delayed gratification. Let’s be honest here this and this is not political. We also live in a continent where in truth we have two economies. The connected economy and everything else. Everything else is where most of us who live. The connected economies where the Uber elite in the politically connected live. So it is not by mistake for instance that the wealthiest woman on the continent also happens to be the daughter of the president of Angola. I am not by means trying to put any sparages on her qualifications and abilities but I would argue differently – would she have the same opportunities if you were not the daughter of the president.   
In my country South Africa we have seen a huge accumulation of wealth – of family members linked to our own president. Why? – because we created that narrative and we’ve made it okay – the connected economy where if you are ion you are in and if you’re not, well that’s just tough.

So it is about creating a culture of delayed gratification. That says build it. Build it for the next 10 years, next 15 years. Send young people through to varsity. Create innovation, structures and platforms and processes that we allow ourselves to build a different continent. Whatever you do, delay your own gratification. And finally, this is the trick right, how you know somebody is a good entrepreneur? It is very simple – they are very bad at writing business plans. It is true. We see a lot of it in our environment. If somebody has an NBA, odds are they are going to suck at entrepreneurship. If they can write a really well-written business plan, odds are they are going to be really poor at this entrepreneur thing. And in the context of this conversation about the lie of small business, is a part of the conversation we need to have, which is how we take people who are naturally not inclined to writing 60 page business plans and attach an addendum of a 20 page Excel spreadsheet of projections, and by the way, eight years in finance as a venture capitalist, I have never seen an Excel spreadsheet that says the business won’t make money.

The business always makes money. The revenue line is always up, cost is always down and profit is a perpetual quest of cream and water. People who are really good at writing the document are usually very bad in the real world at making the adaptations they need to make. So we need to create a culture that says start, start badly, start scrappy, make mistakes, fail, and start again, but whatever you do just start.

Before I close, let me tell you a personal story. So the year is 2014. I have just been kicked out of Wits University for something called financial exclusion. It is like Apartheid but for money. It basically means you don’t have enough money to pay your fees.

So I thought what am I going to do and I thought well I have got this thing called public speaking. It is a gift. I have won the world championship, maybe I could do that. So I started a public speaking business. I get a small office. It is a nice little office. I get a secretary and here’s the thing my business plan said that I was going to make money from month one. The financial model says month three I was cash flow positive. Six months in I have not received a single booking. Not a cent in my bank account. I have used up all the little savings I had up to that point. My secretary then says “listen I am willing to come to work for another month, but after that if you can’t pay me I really can’t come to work anymore”.
The bank is chasing because I have not paid off my car and, if you don’t pay off your car, the bank does the thing – I love the term – it is called repossession. Which means when you signed the contract you thought you owned it you didn’t really. We always owned, we just didn’t tell you. We are re-taking it back.
As for the bank they called to say that if you do not pay we are taking it back so I absconded and went to live in my office. Because the other thing about signing a bank contract is that it has that thing called a Domicilium citadel ET executant which is Latin for where do we find you when we need?

So they had my home address right and I absconded and I went to live in my office and for seven months, I lived in the basement of my office. The only meal I used to have often was driving to my then girlfriend, now wife’s house. Her father hated me so I always went there during lunch when he was at work and I would come back and continue to run my business.

Was it tough? – Yes. Have I been bankrupt? – Absolutely. But ladies and gentleman, I am privileged enough to stand here and say to you I have made more money than I never thought imaginable and I have not done it because I’m particularly more able than other people. I have done it purely because I’ve been afforded the opportunity to start. Yours and my task is the next generation of this continent – is to have a bit of faith and here is what faith is in my eyes. Faith is the ability to see the invisible. To believe in the impossible and to trust in the unknown. You and I today need to have a bit of faith in our own continent.

Thank you!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Yes, Girls Can Code Software in Zambia!

Girls are particularly marginalized and underprivileged in Zambia. They are faced with lack of opportunity due to common preconceived notions that either they are incapable, or, it is not their place to do anything different. However, there are millions of girls across Zambia who are bright, intelligent, and hungry to learn.

Girls Can Code Technology Camp
Girls Can Code! Technology Camp was born in deep rural Luapula Province, Zambia, with a handful of girls who were hungry to learn. This project ultimately seeks to bring equity to girls by empowering them with knowledge, self-confidence, and a network of like-minded peers across the land.
First, we assemble community teams, which include a trusted female community mentor through a competitive application process. Then the technology camp begins at a very basic level and we progress together through active learning.
We introduce computer programming by an interactive game where we act out commands with people on a stage. The result is that the teams become familiar with basic concepts even without placing a hand on a computer.
We don’t stop there. They learn the basics of computer architecture and electronics. They play computer games made by their own efforts. They use a variety of hardware including desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets, and the Raspberry Pi.
In an intensive week, every girl who comes not only learns basics of using a computer, but, they exercise their minds in ways that inspires new, creative ways of thinking about life. As they play games, they learn leadership and teamwork.

Immediate Impacts
Not everyone who attends the camp will become a programmer, per se, but, I guarantee that every girl and every mentor that attends has fun, exercises their brain in a way they have never done before, and learns something new.
Just check out this video gathered from GoPros that the pupils used to capture camp from their unique perspective and from participating Peace Corps Volunteers.
The experience, for everyone at the camp, has a profound effect on well being, sense of place, self importance, self confidence; and, it is empowering. The energy of the camp is high. The confidence and enthusiasm of every participant grows daily.

Long Term Change
Future success as individuals and as a culture of people who believe this kind of development is possible lies in a series of camps, where the participants incrementally master skills and techniques for programming games, software, robotics, and even physical programming.
Building up these girls, leading them to the confidence that comes with handling things previously unknown is the future of movement toward Zambia’s hidden treasure, and more. At the heart of the technology camp is learning new skills; such as, turning problems into solutions, using constraints to inspire creativity, using imagination to find the abundance that every one of us, indeed every human being, desires.
As these young girls show interest and build their knowledge, opportunity will be provided to attend advanced camps, leading to what I call a “pipeline of Zambia’s hidden talent” and what amounts to more intensive vocational training in order to build marketable skill sets.
We have proven that girls can code.
By Daniel Bevington, Peace Corps / Hackers Guild

Saturday, August 5, 2017

OER and Open Textbooks part of solution to the current Higher Education crisis

Principal Investigator Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams reflects on recent upheavals in higher education centring around costs and access to educational opportunities. With the ROER4D project entering the final 18 months of OER research, she considers how OER and Open Textbooks might be part of the solution to what is an impending higher education crisis.

Around the world students are or have been engaged in protests against the current state of higher education in their respective countries. Recent protests in countries in the so-called Global North (e.g. United Kingdom, Germany, Spain) and the Global South (e.g. Bangladesh, India and South Africa) indicate widespread discontent with the current provision and financial models in higher education. This deep unhappiness about the lack of affordable access to relevant higher education has centred around issues such as the imposition of tuition fees (e.g. Germany), high tuition fees (e.g. South Africa), cuts to education spending (e.g. Spain), the imposition of tax on tuition fees (e.g. Bangladesh), the discontinuation of scholarships (e.g. India), transformation or ‘decolonisation’ of universities (e.g.South Africa) and full education reform (e.g. Chile).

The emergence of the ‘Open Education’ movement has been hailed as a part of a workable response to some of these genuine challenges in higher education. Open Education embraces fairly new forms of web-enabled activities such as Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Textbooks, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). OER and Open Textbooks are being promoted as a response to the demand for affordable and current learning materials for students (and lecturers), and MOOCs as a way of providing expert and cost-effective tuition.
In countries in the Global North great strides are being taken at the moment to harness the cost-savings of OER and Open Textbooks in particular. In the past week the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced that they would be proposing a new regulation that would require “all copyrightable intellectual property created with Department grant funds to have an open license”. Apart from potential cost savings OER also allow for the contribution of perspectives alternate to the dominant views expressed in traditional textbooks, offering lecturers and students the opportunity to share their particular curricula standpoints. While the cost benefits of Open Textbooks are already being explored in a number of US institutions (e.g. University of Maryland University College), they are yet to be established in the educational institutions in the Global South. The potential of OER to challenge the prevailing perspectives and offer different interpretations is yet to be fully realised.

Responding to the challenges for more accessible, affordable and relevant in specific contexts in the Global South, the Research on Open Educational Resources for Development (ROER4D) Project has as its main aim the provision of evidence-based research from a number of countries in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia on the use and impact of OER. Amongst others it includes studies on the cost-effectiveness and quality of OER in the Philippines, factors influencing the adoption of OER in higher education in Mongolia, academics’ perceptions of OER contribution in India and South Africaacademics’ practices in creating MOOCs as OER in South Africa, teacher educators’ co-creation of learning and teaching materials in India and Colombiateacher educators’ localisation of existing OER in India and Malaysia, teachers changing beliefs and practices with sustained OER engagement in East Africa, teachers’ engagement with an OER library in Afghanistan,student teachers’ use of OER in Sri Lanka as well as students’ use of OER in Chile. 

All these projects aim to better understand how open education  can make the cost of educational materials more readily available, more economical and more pertinent to the needs of students and teachers.
Investigating how learning materials can be more obtainable, cheaper and suitable to students is part of the complex higher education ‘ecosystem’ that needs to be unravelled to address the growing discontent. While this situation affecting higher education is not new, it is deepening as a result of a range of confounding issues including controversial government or institutional stances on higher education provision within the global economic downturn and is needing more thoughtful responses than ever before. The ROER4D Project will provide some insights into how OER in particular are being used and under what circumstances OER are having an impact on some of the concerns raised by students and educators such as affordable and relevant higher education.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Challenges & Opportunities for Zambian Women Entrepreneurs (Part 2)

In the pre-independence days in Zambia, there were a very small number of businessmen who could be called entrepreneurs. By the time of independence, Zambia did not have businessmen and women who were experienced in handling complex businesses. African businesses only started to grow when a cash economy became the standard for business transactions. Zambia gained its independence with a less than well-developed African bourgeoisie, ill-equipped to administer the economy (Chipungu, 1992:174-175).

The Zambian Government has developed a Gender Policy in order to facilitate the process of removing gender imbalances. This is in recognition of the need for equal and full participation of women and men at all levels of national development. Government has put in place policies that facilitate entrepreneurship training programmes for both women and men. Some women are forced to engage in petty trading which is not very profitable. This problem has been exacerbated by women's insufficient participation in the various decision-making bodies of commerce, trade and industry, lack of entrepreneurial skills and gender stereotyping because of negative cultural attitudes and limited access to education (Gender in Development Division, 2000:48, 77).

In the 1990s political and economic transformation in Southern-African countries led to shifts from command to demand economies and dictatorships to democracy. These changes created economic opportunities for women who wanted to own and operate their own businesses. Zambia has developed policies that provide a policy framework for entrepreneurship development. These are the Technical Education, Vocational and Entrepreneurship Training (TEVET) Policy, the Commercial, Industrial and Trade Policy and the Small and Micro-Entreprise (SME) Policy. The TEVET Policy addresses issues of disadvantaged groups such as women, youths, persons with disabilities and retrenches as needing policy interventions in order to undertake entrepreneurial activities (Ministry of Science, Technology, and Vocational Training, 1998:10). The Commercial, Trade and Industrial Policy has a policy objective of assisting domestic firms to increase their levels of efficiency and competitiveness, and therefore withstand increasing competition in domestic and international markets (Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry, 2005:33). The SME Policy 

Women are active participants in the small and micro enterprises (SME) sector throughout the world, especially those running informal enterprises. However, research has shown that women entrepreneurs face particular socio-cultural, educational and technical constraints to starting, and growing their own enterprises (International Labour Organisation, 2003:1). This study differs from the one conducted by ILO as the focus of that study was on enhancing the contribution of women entrepreneurs to the creation of meaningful and sustainable employment opportunities and poverty reduction. This study focuses on enhancing the business management of women entrepreneurs so that they have equal opportunities as their male counterparts in contributing to the socio-economic development of Zambia. The study also seeks to provide policy recommendations for the further development of entrepreneurship in general and women's entrepreneurship in Zambia in particular. Currently there is lack of a strong policy framework that supports the growth of an entrepreneurial culture among Zambians and growth of women's entrepreneurship development.

Gabriel Konayuma
27 July 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Challenges & Opportunities for Zambian Women Entrepreneurs: (Part 1)

A number of articles have been written on women entrepreneurship internationally. Watson (2002:91) has researched on a comparison of the performance of male- and female-controlled businesses and found that there is no significant difference between male- and female-controlled businesses with respect to total assets and the return on assets. Kantor (2002:131) has written on gender, micro enterprise success and cultural context from a South Asian perspective, demonstrating weaknesses in the ability of orthodox micro-enterprise development theory to represent issues relevant to women's success in the sector. Menzies, Diochon and Gasse (2004:89) have examined venture-related myths concerning women entrepreneurs. Their findings were that women do not have the right educational background to start large business and started businesses unattractive to venture capitalists.

Studies on entrepreneurship, finance and gender have been undertaken (Marlow and Patton, 2005:717). This study found that women entrepreneurs entering self-employment are disadvantaged by their gender. Other studies include constraints faced by women small business owners. The study identifies small size, limited prospects for growth and profitability (Coleman, 2002:151). On a more general level, Jalbert (2000:3) has written on women in the global economy as being an emerging force that policy makers cannot afford to ignore. She further states that economic globalisation has encouraged the expansion of the female business (Jalbert, 2000:6).

In Africa, Fick (2002) and Kiggundu (2002) have written on Entrepreneurship in Africa. Kiggundu (2002:239-240) discusses entrepreneur attributes relevant for success or failure as including demographic variables, psychological factors work behaviour and core competencies. Also discussed are structural weaknesses common to African owned firms and the operational and strategic impediment faced by female entrepreneurs.

Very little has been written about women entrepreneurs in Zambia. Notable studies have been those by Walker (1998:10) focusing on the changes and effects of the macro-economic policy as it relates to indigenous female entrepreneurs in Zambia in the agricultural sector. In another study, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2003:xv) sought to identify ways in which the government, the ILO, donors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the private sector could improve the prospects for women's entrepreneurship in Zambia and enhance the contribution of women entrepreneurs to the creation of meaningful and sustainable employment opportunities and poverty reduction.
                                                                                               ©Gabriel Konayuma,                                                                                                              25 July 2017
(This article is based on a study that I did in 2006 towards my Master of Business Administration degree)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Collaborating Using Technology by e/Merge Africa Planning Team

For slightly over 5 years I have been involved in the e/Merge Africa Planning team. e/Merge Africa is a network of educational technology professionals in Africa who seek to improve their professional practice. e/Merge Africa normally organises online seminars that are conducted by educational technology professionals within and outside Africa. There are at least two such seminars organized every month. e/Merge Africa also facilitates an Online seminar “Facilitating Online” which is held twice a year. The aim of this seminar is to provide knowledge and skills to educators who are involved in facilitating online learning or are planning to do so.

e/Merge Africa Team during a Planning meeting

There is one face-to-face conference that is organized at least once a year. This for the past 5 years has been at the annual eLearning Africa Conference. These face to face seminars offer educational professionals the opportunity to discuss real challenges faced in their workplace with professionals who help them think through their challenges and have possible solutions.  My involvement with e/Merge Africa has been to be country co-ordinator for Zambia. This has involved me telling teaching and management staff in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training sector about the benefits of networking with educational technology professionals in Africa that e/Merge Africa offers through the online and face-to-face seminars. My full-time job involves the promotion of increasing access and enhancing quality in TVET through opportunities such as Open and Distance Learning and eLearning. As such I am able to encourage TVET staff especially those falling under the Ministry I work for: Ministry of Higher Education to take advantage of the opportunities that are offered by e/Merge Africa to gain new knowledge and skills in using technology for teaching and learning.

e/Merge Africa team at the Emerging Technologies Conference in Cape Town, 2015

The e/Merge Africa Planning Team is made up of staff from Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and South Africa. Being scattered in almost all the major regions of Africa, the team has learned to use the affordances of technology in planning for the various e/Merge Africa events. One of the most popular apps used has been Google Hangout. We use this app to have planning meetings. We normally use the text function to discuss various issues and also use the audio and video function to enhance our discussions when need arise. We have a Hangout group for this purpose. We have also used WhatsApp for our discussions. Another app we have used is Google docs when we collaborating on  documents generated by one or a number of us. These and many other apps have enabled us to collaborate across a wide geographical area with different time zones. When we have our face-to-face meetings at least once a year it does help to consolidate the online collaboration we have being doing. I would recommend others e.g. educators with a nation, region or in Africa to consider learning something from how we have used technology to collaborate though scattered across Africa.

Gabriel S Konayuma, 29/05/2017

Monday, January 2, 2017

Attending eLearning Africa Conference in Egypt

Arriving in Cairo
In May 2016, it was my joy and privilege to attend the 11th eLearning Africa Conference in Cairo, Egypt. I was able to attend the Conference with the support of the e/Merge Africa Network of which I am part of the co-ordinating team. Travel to Cairo was almost like the legendary Cape to Cairo as I first flew to Johannesburg using South African Airways and then connected from Johannesburg to Cairo using Egypt Air. Those that have transited through OR Tambo International Airport before will realize that it is a busy airport and has a lot to offer the traveller who would want to shop, relax and eat a good meal before the next flight. I was able to meet my niece and the husband with their kids on my return flight from Cairo at the airport where we had a nice breakfast meal. Flying from Johannesburg to Cairo took a total of almost seven hours. We landed in Cairo at about 04 00 AM and settled in our hotel by about 07 00 AM. 

Conference Venue
The eLearning Africa Conference was held at the majestic Royal Kempinski Hotel. I would not be exaggerating to say that it was one of the best Conference venues where the eLearning Africa Conference has been held. Definitely it had one of the best rest rooms I have seen in a Conference venue with a place to hang coats and some warm face cloths to dry one’s hands after their business in the rest rooms. The meals were excellent and the Conference hosts were on point. Those that are familiar with Arabian hospitality know that they go out of their way to make visitors feel at home. This I experienced on the flight, at the Conference venue and at the hotel.

Conference Highlights
The highlights of the Conference were:

  • The Keynote speeches that were delivered.
  • The Spotlight sessions. I especially enjoyed the sessions that were done by Professor Johannes Cronje of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and Dr. Maggie de Beukes of the University of Namibia. Prof. Cronje spoke on how he had taken advantage of the #feesmustfall Campaign in South African universities to engage with students, using technology with social media such as WhatsApp for example, during the students protests this enabling learning to continue uninteruppted . Dr Beukes spoke on how she had managed the change at University of Namibia in the Centre for Open Distance and eLearning so that all staff were on board. 
  • e/Merge Africa Pre-Conference Session: It was a delight to organize this session and lead a discussion where we tackled a Higher Education challenge that some participants were facing using a methodology called “Peer Assist”  
  • Chairing a session on Blogger Skills for Self-employed, Small and Medium Enterprises where two researchers made excellent presentations on: Africa Talks eLearning: A New Online Learning Platform for Journalists by Casey Frechette from the University of South Florida, USA and Facilitating Distance Learning in a Virtual Classroom: UNSSC Success Factors, Tools, Tips and Techniques by Moyomola Bolarin from the United Nations Staff College (UNSSC) in Italy.
  • Viewing the exhibition by Biblica Alexandria, one of the world’s oldest library. The Library uses technology a lot and  strategically through digital museums making it easier to view ancient Egyptian artifacts from various angles which can not be done in a physical museum. 
Exploring Cairo
It was a pleasure to explore parts of Cairo during our spare time and after the Conference. The Conference hosts organized a very powerful dinner for participants outside the Gize Pyramids. The performances and narration of the pyramids during the dinner was excellent. We also witnessed the launch of Sa Wawa an Innovation Company which was done in flamboyant style. 

Together with the e/Merge Africa team, I visited the Police Museum which afforded us a panoramic view of Cairo. We then proceeded to the Size Pyramids as we bypassed the majestic River Nile. Words do not give me justice to explain our experiences as I saw the ancient Pyramids for the first time. Suffice to say I was lost in wonder to notice such majestic construction which was done many hundreds to years ago before most parts of the world had experienced civilisation. We were as it were taken back in time as we rode on camels and horse chariots through the desert to have a clearer view of the pyramids. After this visit we visited a shop where were taken through the process of how painting is done on papyrus with all of us buying governors from the shop and also buying perfumes downstairs made from natural plants. What a historic and educative trip this was to Egypt, one of the leading tourist destinations in Africa! Below is a photo of Jerome, myself and Mohammed at the Pyramids.

Some observations
  • Cairo is one of Africa’s most populated cities. We stayed in New Cairo with a population of 5 million while old Cairo has 20 million people! Imagine that!
  • Egypt has strong family ties. Outside our hotel we would see families coming to relax and have meals every evening. In old Cairo we saw families having tea in the streets as late as midnight when we were returning form the Conference organized dinner.
  • The strides made in ICTs especially ICTs in education were evident during the eLearning Africa Conference. There is much that other African nations can learn from Egypt with regards to use of technology in teaching and learning. 
  • The Egyptians are very hospitable and love to welcome visitors. 

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