Our team includes George Sadowsky, one of our consultants, Dominique Hazael-Massieux, a W3C staff member doing volunteer work on this project, and Nienke Akkermans, a student of VU Amsterdam, who is working on exploring the potential of W4RA project in Ghana. We are also accompanied by two Vodafone staff from UK, Steven Wolak, and Franco Papeschi.
The objective of the mission is to talk to all potential stakeholders — ICT companies, universities, business sector, telecom operators, professional training institutions, mobile entrepreneurs, students, NGOs, etc. — and refine our plans to fit with the local context and identify promising partners.
The first day was very successful in that regards. On Monday we spent most of the day talking with Vodafone Ghana, and then met with Mark Davies, a very successful entrepreneur in Accra, founder of busyinternet, busylab and esoko project (aka tradenet).
In both cases, the discussions were very fruitful. Vodafone Ghana is very excited to help and support the project. We met three different teams and they are all very enthusiastic about the project, and will be more than happy to help, help us in setting up the project, but also help future entrepreneurs to deploy their businesses.
I had the impression that we are coming at the right time as Vodafone Ghana is just starting to focus on Value-added services (VAS) and is in the process of deploying new platforms, and mainstreaming and easing integration of third parties services. As a follow-up of these meetings, we will develop a white paper on the different type of technologies we have in mind, and the level of services telecom operators can provide to ease the development of businesses and services on these technologies. This will allow Vodafone to tell us the levels of support they want to provide on the different technologies, enabling us to scope a bit better the training program we are targeting.
We ended our meeting with the visit of Vodafone internet Cafes. Vodafone is running 11 internet cafes all over the country. Each has a fiber optic providing 40 MB/s: FOURTY MEGABIT PER SECOND! just incredible ! They are running two rooms at their facilities in Accra and they are full all day long. It is really nothing to do with traditional internet cafe i saw in other countries. This is top-notch classy stores, air conditioned, with high-end computers, as well as slots for laptop. Lots of people are using these cafes as their business place, staying all the day! They are selling in these cafes orange juices… and they became the first orange juice reseller in the whole country!! they might make more money with orange juices than with internet access!!! This is just incredible. The whole story of these cafes are really unbelievable. That said, given the bandwidth, that enables also potential video applications between the different cafes in the country, and that might be useful for broadcasting training sessions in a workable way. This is something i will keep in mind.
The second meeting we had was with Mark Davies. Mark is not only a very successful entrepreneur, but he is also a fascinating guy. We chatted almost two hours with him and that was very fruitful. What we learnt mostly is the need for better communications between the different parties: ICT companies and universities are not talking together, making students not very well fit for employment, the hands-on expertise and problem solving skills are missing. ICT companies and Telecom operators are not talking together, and the lack of easy availability of things like shortcodes are major barriers for mobile service deployment. According to Mark this is the major issue for now, and creating a regular event ala Mobile Monday might help a lot. The technical training would also be useful for companies to send their staff and acquire missing skills.
Concerning entrepreneurs, Mark is more doubtful. He believes that entrepreneurs can be successful after some time in the industry where they acquire some professional expertise. Students are very unlikely potential good entrepreneurs, due to lack of understanding of business (keeping books, etc.). He also believes that access to finance is a major challenges. It is usual to get loans at a rate above 50%, FIFTY PERCENT! As incredible as the Vodafone juice business!! There are business angels, and venture capital firms, but they are not very open to ICT businesses, and even less to students becoming entrepreneurs. Very interesting insights, and facts, that help us understand the context a bit better.
During the next three days we will continue our meetings, and i will also continue this series of posts. At the end of the week, we will work all together on a global report to capture the result of the week, and we will share our views with the community.
PS: Im not yet able to illustrate this post with nice pictures, but will when I’m back!