It is the first time Kenya’s Amolo Ng’weno has experienced the Tech4Africa Conference. She was invited last year but a misplaced passport prevented her from entering the country and she was unable to attend. However, she did managed to get to this year’s event and, in a quick interview with ITNewsAfrica, she seemed upbeat about the Continent, about emerging businesses and the role that the internet plays in helping entrepreneurs.
Amolo is the Managing Director of Digital Divide Data Kenya, a provider of outsourcing services to local clients in Kenya as well as international companies. The Company has been operating since 2011 and is the for-profit subsidiary of the US NGO of the same name, an organisation dedicated to helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds acquire the necessary skills to establish a career in various sectors, including IT.
On the Tech4Africa website, Amolo’s profile states that she joined Digital Divide Data from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where she served as Deputy Director in the Financial Services for the Poor team.
Internet and entrepreneurship is very close to Amolo’s heart. Prior to her time at the Foundation, she co-founded Africa Online, one of the first ISPs in East Africa.
Sitting in the media room on the first day of the Conference and well before she had to deliver her presentation ICT as a foundation for business opportunity in Africa, Amolo spoke frankly about opportunity in Africa and how the Internet has levelled the commercial playing field.
Can you give us a prelude to your presentation?
Kenya is a recognised ICT hub in the world… in certain countries, and Kenya is one of them (and there are a few others) the population using ICT is growing dramatically. It is the middle class and also general youth population, it is across the board… maybe more than people suspect. And it is a rising income market and you have digital natives in terms of the talent and people who see different opportunities. It is a different market compared to what one would see in the West for example.
What is unique about the market?
A lot of the market in Africa is still using basic phones or has limited Internet access through feature phones or smartphones based on low data consumption products. So that is an open space for innovation. I will be talking about M-Pesa, which is used by 80% of the population. We are a small country so the talent pool therefore is going to be fairly limited – there are things we are going to do better. In Kenya we specialise in mobile apps that small teams and individuals can come up with. We can be world leaders in things, perhaps not everything because of the niche aspects of the market, we do have the incentive to do things.
What excites you about Africa’s growth and technology?
I am a bit of a sceptic on some of the growth figures since many of them are based on exploitation of mineral resources, which can have very negative effects on the rest of the economy at times. But, looking at the positive side with technology, the new generation of people in their lower twenties or late teens are the true digital natives. They haven’t had as many other options of things to do or be entertained by, or resources, so their first recourse is to mobile phones and to the internet. This is what they expect, that the world is going to be digital. I am very optimistic that this will drive a whole new set of business opportunities… we have been dreaming about this for many years, but we can now finally leapfrog over some of the steps in development that other countries or continents have had to go through.
We are focusing on the positive side of technology, but what of the dangers to society pertaining to the abuse of technology?
I was a pioneer in delivery the Internet in a number of African countries and those issues have always come up. It is a channel for facilitated communication and there will always be bad people and bad opportunities, but I don’t think that it is more or less than it ever was. Technology is a conduit. There is abuse of technology but we have to keep this in perspective, to me the benefits far outweigh the negatives and do not justify increased regulation.
Are you excited about the level of startups and the opportunities that exist for entrepreneurs?
It is much easier than it ever was to get seed funding. I think the real test and where the investor market is not yet mature is at that kind next stage where you are moving from being a proof of concept to a real business. Certainly in Kenya, it is still a gap both from an investor and entrepreneur point of view – people have a lot of good ideas and attracted a lot of seed funding, but turning that into a real business is a challenge.
Chris Tredger – Online Editor