Stéphane and I were in Accra last week, on a trip for the Mobile Entrepreneurs in Africa (MEA) project. This was the second field trip of the project (the first was back in June). MEA is a Vodafone-funded initiative to train entrepreneurs to use mobile and Web technologies. The goal of the project is to assist entrepreneurs to create Web-based services that are relevant to their local community, and which can thus provide them sustainable income.
The objective of this mission was twofold: meet the candidates for the post of local community coordinator, which we advertised recently, and also meet more people with a potential interest in the project, so we can work together on creating synergies around the project.
On the first day, we talked to the few people we had short-listed to become the Web Foundation’s coordinator on Ghana. A few days later, we finally selected Florence Toffa. Florence is a graduate of the Meltwater entrepreneurial school of technology, an entrepreneur herself, and the founder of myfashionAfrica, a site which, among others, provides great advice for make up! Being based in Accra, Florence will be in an ideal position to organize the project locally, run events and ensure coordination between partners.
But during the week, we also met other very interesting people. Dr Nathan Amanquah, a lecturer at Ashesi university talked to us about his plans to set up a Mobile Monday (MoMo) chapter. MoMo is a network of conferences on mobile technologies, taking place monthly in more than 100 cities worldwide. At the Foundation we think that this sort of initiative helps our cause greatly, so we will do our best to help as the Accra chapter begins.
I spent half a day at the Vodafone headquarters, where Nana Manu was very kind to show me around and introduce me people from the Consumer Fixed, Consumer Mobile, Technology and Strategy and Brand teams, who showed great interest in the project. Vodafone wants to help entrepreneurs,and thus are starting various initiatives such as a value-added services platform. Our project fits very much into their picture. I also got to experience the orange juice fueled awe that Stéphane recounted back in June.
Later, I met Derrydean Dadzie, a successful entrepreneur who created Dreamoval, a software development company. Derrydean drives a new Dreamoval-branded car, which is a pretty good indicator that the business is running well. Talking to him, you get to understand why, as he demonstrates great insight on IT entrepreneurship in Ghana, in particular the big problems created by the lack of trust in local technology and the scarcity of venture capital in IT. There is a lot to gain from implementing training programs, he tells us, since it’s one way out of that situation.
The next day I got to meet Nii Quaynor, the Nii Quaynor, and he’s as kind, wise and visionary as I’d been told. I was baffled as, to make a point, Nii showed me an iPhone app he’d written (Oware4x4) and it was the very same application that I’d downloaded to play on the flight. Nii is the one person I’ve met who explains the MEA project best. He understands the huge potential of grassroots movements and the need to channel them as opposed to control them. So many people in Ghana look for IT solutions abroad while there’s huge energy right here, but which is not yet untapped. People also need also to consider for themselves the tools they need, and not be told that from the outside. Prepaid mobile telephony and flashing were invented in Africa for specific needs, and were later exported.
Later I visited the Meltwater Entreprenarial School of Technology (MEST), an institution which provides 2-year training courses on software engineering and entrepreneurship, and later helps graduates start their businesses. I was greeted by Daniel Thalhammer (director of the new incubation activity) and Ylva Strander (managing director), who explained the history of MEST and highlighted a few facts about training initiatives, mostly that there is a huge need for them: whether they take the form of their training or of our own project, there will always be great enthusiasm and good attendance.
This year, MEST hosted BarCamp Accra 2010, which the Web Foundation sponsored. However I was unable to attend. So Edward Amartey-Tagoe, from the organization committee, invited me to take part of an interview on the Morning Show, on CityFM. The two of us, along with Estelle Akofio-Sowah from Google Ghana, sat in the studio and I got to explain how the Foundation greatly supported un-conferences like BarCamp, as they perfectly embody this spirit of grassroots initiatives, which is so dear to us.
Throughout the week, I was also lucky to attend some of the interviews that the Foundation was running as part of the Open Government Data project. Even though not directly related to MEA, I very much enjoyed talking to a different set of people, and who nevertheless had great insight on entrepreneurship and mobile technology in Ghana, and the role that open government data could play to fuel new enterprises and valued services.