Mdundo wants to be the Spotify of Africa – CNN

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/12/18/business/mdundo-spotify-of-africa-spc-intl/index.html

Interesting links

Prototyping and product development

What Young Malawian Entrepreneurs Need

Draft Template/ Working Document/ Collection of thoughts. Introducing the Youth Development Cooperative (YDC).

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Overview

unemployment-africa

Young people across Africa are hungry for success. From the technology clusters currently popping up in Kenya, to those in Ethiopia young Africans want to do well.

As a small landlocked country, Malawi is disadvantaged in many ways. But those geographical challenges also present the country with an opportunity. It means we must work smarter than our neighbours to not only survive, but to thrive. It means we must innovate.

Thus, there is hope in that the government can enact several laws, pass executive orders and generally assist in creating a climate which would improve the business environment for many young people, as long as they have a desire to succeed, and are willing to work hard for it. I hope Peter Mutharika’s government does this because such will in the long-term stimulate growth, employment, and contribute to poverty alleviation across Malawi and neighbouring countries.

The text below is a collection of thoughts, ideas and inspiration from multiple sources, and should be understood to be a working document, or template that can be improved, and not a perfect suggestion. Any critique is welcome.

Firstly a public body [Youth Development Cooperative (YDC)] would need to be created that has:-

  • An executive branch made up of seven salaried senior positions (Director, Company Secretary, a Commercial Director, a Business Development Adviser, a Human Resources Director and two Administrative assistants) each on a 3 year once-renewable contract. They will be appointed on merit based on their qualifications.
  • They will be the face of the organisation, and in charge of management and other functions as outlined below, including employment (each of the centres described below will need a Manager, a Business Adviser and five or six employees to work shifts in running the centres).
  • The YDC will have a Board of Governors made up of nine people (for example 3 from CSOs, 2 from clergy, 2 from the Business Community, and 2 diplomats from foreign embassies) who will serve an unsalaried maximum term of 3 years. While this may seem like a random and unusual collection of people, the thinking behind is to create a board that is resistant to ‘interference’, or as resistant as can possibly be, and that is truly interested in the development of the youth, as opposed to financial gains / allowances. From my experiences, and close observation of boards of parastatals in Malawi, patronage can disable / destroy an organisation which would otherwise thrive.
  • The Board of Governors will have the power to make appointments of the executive of the cooperative (by vetting & voting). They will be responsible for reviewing the individual performances of each of the members of the executive, and decide whether to renew their contracts or not.
  • The seven members of the board of Governors (excluding the diplomats) must be selected by a public vote (on a district majority basis) in which any Malawian aged 16 years and above can participate. No more than one candidate may be selected from each of the 28 districts of Malawi AND no more than 3 people can be selected from each region (South, Central, North).  The 2 posts offered to diplomats will rotate among foreign embassies who elect to take part, and they will be free to send a person they choose.

The importance of such an arrangement is to ensure that the organisation is truly independent, and not be politically aligned. In this case,  it is in the interests of all Malawians for young people from across the country to thrive irrespective of  political party affiliation, thus the board should be representative of the country.

The organisation will be created to tackle five primary areas in which the Malawi government can intervene in stimulating growth, and helping young people thrive.

1. Lower barriers to entry for Malawian Nationals

barriers2entry

The government must ensure that they lower barriers to entry for young people in Malawi:-

  • Information Technology – We live in the information age, and IT is critical to the growth of our country’s economy. So the government must establish Public IT Centres providing free internet (satellite or other reliable service with minimal outages) and hot-desking facilities to support any Malawian under the age of 35 who wants to start a business. It should be a place where young people can receive free advice and teaching on web technologies and other subjects. It should be a place where young people can go and exchange ideas, a place to read national and international newspapers, and get exposure about what is happening across the business world across Africa and internationally. This will help in inspiring young people of promise about where the opportunities are, and how to take advantage of such opportunities locally. It will also be a place where they can learn how to code and write software, including networking with other like-minded folk. Each YDC centre must be equipped with 2 or 3 classrooms, 3 meeting rooms, an IT room with at least 30 desktop computers in it, printing facilities (a paid service), a canteen (to sell drinks and snacks), a common room stocked with everyday newspapers in English from Malawi and from across the world, a news room with 3 or 4 TV sets showing different channels, a storage basement, and toilets.
  • Following a successful pilot run in 3 centres, (Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu), if 7 additional centres can be created across the country (one in each of the following towns/ cities: Chikwawa, Zomba, Mchinji, Salima, Kasungu, Nkhotakota, and Karonga) to begin with, that would be a promising start.
  • Such centres would create direct employment, initially for around 77 people, and could later be expanded to include specialist science and business libraries (to encourage reading and for dissemination of information, and to teach modern technologies).
  • They could be used as bases for visiting foreign health specialists to hold community clinics. Additionally, the classrooms can be let out to Aid Agencies (for a fee) for community work or rented out to others needing space to hold meetings.
  • Software will be installed to block social networks, and ensure the facilities are used for educational / business purposes, and critical bandwidth is not wasted on downloading entertainment videos. Wi-Fi would be provided for free for those with laptops / smart phones, although depending on bandwidth, computer time will be capped to only 6 hours per person each day to give access to moree people.
  • In order for each centre to be functional, it must run on both the energy grid, and eco-friendly energy like solar panels, and have backups in the form of diesel generators, so that services should be up and running even when ESCOM  power supply is down.
  • Business Support – Many young people in Malawi feel powerless and disillusioned. They leave school only to find there are no part-time jobs for them to do, nothing to help them in their quest to get independent and be part of the economy. Most live at home years after graduation, doing nothing. They end up wasting time, in gangs, mixing with the wrong crowds, committing crimes, drinking their lives away, or being an expense and source of shame and worry to their parents and neighbourhoods.

This vicious circle is unsustainable for a country in which ~45% of the population is less than 16 years old.

What is needed is a pipeline where those young people aged between 16 and 35 years, who are interested in entrepreneurship and business, can be tutored, guided, mentored, directed, and empowered. For those still in school or undertaking exams, YDC centres can contract local teachers to provide tuition for students who need more help with their studies, benefitting both teachers and students.

For those who want to start a business, gain additional knowledge to improve their lives, the YDC centres could offer classes and guidance on

  • (i) Venture Capital
  • (ii) Business & Revenue Management including book-keeping and such daily tasks
  • (iii) Advertising
  • (iv) Saving
  • (v) Taxation
  • (vi) Legal compliance
  • (vii) Managing Debt, and
  • (viii) Customer Service.

Using the YDC centres around the country, such type of instruction can be provided to young people to enable them to be entrepreneurial and support them in being productive citizens. This will also create employment, and Public Private Partnerships could be utilised to communicate such knowledge.

Capital23

  • Business Loans / Venture CapitalThis seems to be the biggest challenge/ barrier to entry for young people in Malawi. Most are willing to learn, to venture out and have a shot at a business, but many have no source of capital.

A system should be created where low-interest loans (not more than 10%) as low as $500 to upwards of $5000 are extended to young people with promise, without the stringent collateral of land /property required by banks ( most young people don’t own property or land…). In order to safeguard against abuse, eligibility should be tied to an examined course spread over 3 – 4 months designed to test certain competencies–with classes which every applicant must attend, and an exam which they must pass to be eligible. A criteria should be formulated which ascertains the merits of each business proposal. And once an applicant is successful, the funds must be disbursed in phases, and primarily be used for:-

  • procurement of goods or resources for use or for sale by the new business, including for example buying a service online
  • for logistical support, such as ordering goods abroad.
  • for payment of business costs such as company registration, marketing, or transportation
  • to pay for educational courses, or web design, web hosting and such like.
  • for minor expenses not exceeding $50 each.
  • possibly for start-up wages to employees (strictly from month 1 to month 3 only) depending on the monthly turnover.
  • And to pay for specialist expenses (for example a young man who wants to start a butchery, or a takeaway restaurant will need to rent out a building. Their needs and requirements will be different to those of a person running a removals / commercial cleaning business, which will be different to someone who wants to establish a call-centre/ video game development company.

Funds must not be used to pay salaries beyond month 3, nor be used for food, or paid directly to an applicant’s personal account.

Each Centre Manager and his Business Adviser together with the Secretary and the YDC’s Commercial Director (both of whom would roam across the centres as required) must review each request, and properly consider whether such would be the best use of funds for that business.

  • Finally, any assets, property or land acquired by an entrepreneur using funds from the YDC will remain the property of the YDC until after each loan is repaid in full. At that point 70% of the equity stake in the new business will pass to the entrepreneur, whereas 30% will remain with the YDC. This is important for liquidity, although in the event that a funded business turns out to be a great commercial success, the entrepreneur can buy out the YDC on payment of an agreed fixed sum.

A business will be able to begin its operations as soon as it has procured its requirements, thereby allowing use of the acquired assets to service the loans it owes to the YDC. One of the duties of the centre manager and his business advisor will be to monitor the progress of each business registered to his centre, and give advice as appropriate.

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  • Affordable office SpaceThis is also a challenge. However, with the above centres, the hot-desking facility could create casual shared office space for 40 – 50 people at each location. Collectively that’s giving an opportunity to 500 or so young people the ability do something positive with their lives. And should 0.6% of those people (3 people) create ventures with an annual turnover greater than $500,000, the potential of such centres would begin to look significant.
  • Users of the centre’s hot-desking facility would need to book use of the rooms by text or phone beforehand, however the other aspects like the computer room and news rooms will be on a first come first served basis.
  • Affordable Warehousing Space

warehouse1So, you’ve taught them how to run a business, and provided resources such as a business address for them to receive post from, to enable them to seek opportunities. What you also need to do especially for those businesses who will be importing raw materials, equipment or products from abroad,  is provide a secure warehouse space, whereby a person can hire a locker, space on a shared shelf, or a small room, to store and stock their wares and goods at low prices. This way we are reducing the cost of doing business, and removing another barrier.

2. Lower Logistical costs

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a truck with a trailer

It is also important to lower logistical costs for new businesses because this is one of the barriers stopping our economies from moving forward. On this note, more resources should be invested in better roads, and in particular in ensuring that the Nsanje Zambezi inland Port is cleared by the Mozambican Government, so that it opens for business.

In the interim, the cost of importing goods and equipment must be reduced by:-

  • The YDC hiring a 40 foot container, for imports from Europe, (departing from a port in the UK), another 40 foot container for imports arriving from the US and a third 40 foot container for imports from Dubai and Asia (including China), to operate once every two months. The shipping fees must be preferential to Malawians, and at least 35% cheaper than those charged by other shipping operators. This means a number of things.

(i) Malawians in the diaspora can use such a service as a way of giving back to Malawi to send their goods back home instead of using foreign services that do not benefit Malawi.

(ii) Thus, it means additional Forex for Malawi, money which can be used to expand the scheme or donate to worthy causes such as building new schools or hospitals.

(iii) It also means some aid organisations and charities in Malawi could be persuaded to use the YDC’s shipping service, and not any of the others foreign ones.

(iv) Businesses in Malawi, including those under the YDC will have a cheaper and reliable way of getting goods to Malawi.

(v) The YDC will have a revenue stream which it can rely on to pay its employees and finance the expansion, development and operation of its centres.

  • Similarly the YDC could invest in at least 4 heavy goods Trucks (to get the containers from ports in Tanzania or Angola to Malawi), 2 Buses, 3 minibuses, 10 estate vehicles, and 10 vans, as capital assets, and to assist in the functions of the centres. All these assets will be sources of revenue, and contribute in lowering the cost of doing businesses for businesses operating from within YDC premises. To keep costs low, such capital assets can be purchased second-hand at reasonable prices.

3. Civic Education

Image from UNESCO
Image from UNESCO

An educated population is an empowered population. So Civic and adult Education is very important not least because when parents are educated, they will emphasize the value of education to their children. Thus, it would be in the best interest of the Malawi government for such to be provided to help increase literacy levels and educate the rural populations. Thus the YDC centres can be used as a way of crowdsourcing resources. So for example, a group of farmers could be assisted by the YDC to procure a tractor for their local cooperative. The YDC could act as a middle institution to identify the need, facilitate the procurement and assist in maintenance or upkeep.

This initiative may also be a way of safeguarding against corruption and attracting investment from donors in that funds are provided to a whole bloc of people with a common purpose instead of being given to individuals.

4. Export Advice

Malawi is a small market and for our businesses to truly grow and survive, we need resources from far and wide. This will also mean selling as many of our products abroad, and making a profit in the process. It means that for our entrepreneurs to create sustainable ventures, they will need to be competitive on the global market.

  • Thus, the education our entrepreneurs receive must be comparable to global standards,
  • Businesses must be encouraged to have a cross-border strategy following proven principles.
  • The YDC can help small businesses to export to our immediate neighbours and even internationally.
  • Export Experts would need to be contracted  to run seminars to teach businesses  about exporting, and why exporting for a small economy is crucial.

5. Tax Breaks

Why should young people in Malawi – who have more obstacles – not get tax breaks when foreign corporations are allowed to do so? For the first 18 months of each new business / company that is incubated within a YDC centre, tax breaks must apply so long as its revenues do not exceed $20,000 a month, and so long as it’s not a subsidiary of a larger company. Tax breaks can help create a breathing space for a new business to be established, before the state’s demand of tax becomes a factor to be considered. In any case, employees will still be paying income tax, so the country will not be losing out significantly. Audits will be required to prevent abuse.

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Supreme Court: Institutional Racism Is Real

First, racists are usually not dumb enough to leave records of their prejudice. They find some other reason to fire the employee, or keep the family out of the neighborhood.

Second, and more importantly, discrimination is often systemic and structural, not individual. Often, not only is there no smoking gun, but there’s often no individual “bad actor.” Even neutral requirements—a high-school diploma for employment, a family-size limit for housing—can have huge de facto discriminatory effects, which may or may not be intentional.

For example, why is it that, even today, there is a 33 percent economic differential between blacks and whites? Is it because corporations are racist and won’t hire African Americans for higher paying jobs?

Mostly, no. Over 80 percent of the time, as Harvard economist Roland Fryer has shown, it’s because black applicants lack the very specific skills to get the better job—and that’s because communities of color are woefully undereducated in underperforming schools. Indeed, the best predictor of one’s subsequent economic success is one’s skill level in eighth grade.

That’s the kind of structural racism that disparate impact reasoning addresses. You might not find any individual racist, but the system is stacked against people of color. That’s how privilege and oppression are maintained—not by villains like Dylann Roof, but by silent, macroeconomic factors that are structural in nature.

More here (Daily Beast)

Evolution of the Bicycle

Even though the majority of useful inventions never see the light of day, forever languishing in some basement or workshop, inventing remains a wonderful if not miraculous activity.

Who would have known that a bicycle would evolve from this medieval and very ugly contraption here:-

ealiest-bicyclesinto this useful gadget carried by this man here:

bicycle-portraits

Take a look at these portraits for example:

1 2Who would have guessed that from such lowly creations, others would improve the device to create machines such as these. Barely two hundred years later? Devices which it must be said have very few similarities with the original two-wheeled instruments, but are nevertheless an evolution thereof?

Therefore, if you have it within your soul to do so, invent.

Take a long critical look at the world around you, and ask yourself why certain things are the way they are.

Why does this thing have to be so heavy? … so costly, so big, so difficult to use, so useless? Why doesn’t it do the job its meant to do properly? Why does it have to break down every now and again? And cause me unnecessary headaches. Why does it have to wear out every month? Why can’t its useful life be 5 or 6 months longer? Why does it have all these senseless limitations? Why the bulk, why the inefficiency, why the annoyance…why the inflexibility? Why is it so daft?

And to these questions, think up a solution.Yes, come up with something to improve and rectify the problems which you have identified.

And try to implement those changes, again and again, and again, until you succeed. Or until you come up with a better and different solution ( in case the first solution doesn’t work ) that works as well as you think it should.

Whether the problem is with an item in your household, in your garage, at your workplace, or something within your community.

And it doesn’t have to be something complicated, or an entirely new concept. Even modifications can result in wonderful creations. that’s what innovation is all about !

It could be something as simple as a baby bib such as this:

baby-bibIt could be something such as Anti-Malaria soap. Your innovation could be an improvement of something such as a windmill to generate electricity for your village.

It could be an efficient stove, that uses less firewood, therefore helps reduce deforestation and the risk of flooding.

006Or it could be a stove that uses composite waste materials without the need for firewood.

Or your innovation could have something to do with an improved hydrogenerator that produces electricity using the flow of your local river?

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Your ideas could be in a system of collecting, filtering and storing rainwater for use in watering your garden in the dry summer months. Which could come in handy when the water board cuts the water supply:

A UV water purifier tank such as this:-

mightoperIt could be an improvement of farm implements or methods of crop cultivation. It could be a computer Application to fulfill a certain need in your country, or a communication system that lowers the cost of communication in your village…

open-source-radio-linksWhatever it is, if you have the force of character that drives people to find solutions to problems within you. If you sometimes feel like you want to change things. And are prepared to invest time, money and effort to do so. Then go for it. Do it.

You never know what your invention may develop into, a 100 or 200 years down the line.

By the way, bicycles today provide transportation to millions of people all over world.

Another reason why Africans should own their own resources

man-40134_640Last week a well written article appeared on Al Jazeera arguing against the false and somewhat misleading picture of Corruption that is often put out by the western media. In it, it was suggested that over $900 billion a year is lost from developing to developed nations through tax evasion and illicit financial outflows. While this is a major problem for Africa, as was pointed out several years ago by Kofi Annan here, another reason which results in these outflows is that very few major industry (million dollar revenue generating) in Africa is in fact owned by Africans.

The combination of imperialist colonial legacies, poverty, a lack of capital, insufficient education, corruption, plain hypocrisy and other factors has resulted in a state of affairs whereby even capable Africans find it hard to buy into and run their continent’s biggest industries. While there are many Africans doing well in business throughout Africa, they are by far in the minority, and comparatively too few of them on the ground, than say the number of Canadians who own and control multi-million pound ventures within Canada, or say the number of Portuguese who own and control multi-million dollar companies in Portugal.

Thus, this picture inevitably creates an opportunity or gap for foreign corporations and investors to come in, and sweep away ownership of the whole lot – armed with huge amounts of capital. No surprise the profits end up everywhere else but in Africa…

In my view, far from the land grabs of Robert Mugabe (which others have tried to justify – see here and here), another reason in support of more Africans owning their continent’s industry is that doing so could mean that large amounts of money remain on the continent, to be used for education, health  -building hospitals and providing good wages for doctors, eliminating poverty, fighting corruption, policing and security, building infrustracture, improving the plight of women, investment in the youth, creating jobs, etc. It means essential capital is not being wired out to already rich countries. This in my view is a better strategy against poverty, than aid and handouts, whose monies are comparatively miniscule to the monies being siphoned from Africa.

According to the website of Britannia Mining Inc (a US company with operations in Canada and Malawi) here, the Nthale Iron Ore surface deposits which they found before 2009 are estimated from their geological survey to be at least 4.6 million tonnes in quantity. As often happens with these things, especially if we focus on the word ‘Surface’,in practice the deposits can be far larger than the estimate.

Last Friday, on the 7th of February 2014, before close of trading the price of Iron Ore on the international market was hovering around $125 per ton (see latest figures here). Whichever way this price goes (whether up or down) the next few years, 4.6 million tonnes at $125 per ton is still worth at least $575 million, a hefty sum by any measure. Even if we go with the 68% iron ore component indicated on their website, that’s still worth $391 million

Suppose Britannia Mining invested $100 million into Malawi, to cover processing the Ore, overheads including construction, logistics, wages, corporate governance activities, etc, (and it was proved that they had indeed invested such sums because sometimes businessmen overestimate the level of investment when the truth is much lower) I’d think the benefit to the Britannia would be significantly higher and disproportionately in their favour than in the favour of Malawians. Looking at previous examples of resource conflicts involving corporations in Africa, I seriously doubt that first they would invest such sums. Further, I doubt that Malawians or the Malawian government would benefit equally or at least proportionally from the resource. Which begs the question, who actually owns the resource?

As many others have opined elsewhere (see this for example), the unrestrained greed and unguarded capitalism of western businesses in Africa is causing a lot of damage and harm to Africa, and Africans. And that’s even before we get to what China is doing…

Even if the market price of Iron Ore dropped to say below $100, (say it dropped to $65, which is highly unlikely – the last time it hit $100/ ton was back in Aug 2012, and that was only for a very brief period of time), there would still be at least $300 million worth of deposits to be mined.

Don’t you think if the company that was exploiting the deposit was owned or part-owned (say 50%) by the Malawian government, or a group of Malawians, that the majority of the benefit of the resource would remain in the country, as opposed to being wired out of Malawi?

Post Paladin, and the tax outrage they caused when it was revealed that the Malawian tax authorities were missing out on tax revenues worth $200 million, how much tax have Britannia paid to the Malawian government so far, and how much have they made out of Nthale? The reason that question is crucial is because no level-headed Malawian is keen to see Malawi descend into a chaotic easy target where rich corporations (which are already wealthy and well resourced) come into the country and make billions, while the local population remains poor.

And if governments across the world do not speak against unrestrained greed, who will, seeing most governments in Africa are headed by people who have neither the will nor inclination to do so…?

Kenyatta + Branson
image from https://www.facebook.com/myuhurukenyatta

In my view, Africa needs trade partners who will help rebuild the continent, and not those looking for a quick buck, irrespective of the ethics of the means of acquiring that buck.

If you are looking to make money quick, stay away from Malawi. We don’t want get rich quick capitalists or investors. What Malawi needs are Responsible Capitalists, as opposed to a Liberal and unguarded Capitalists – a badge which brings to mind Halliburton’s Iraq heist (or even ILLOVO’s tax avoidance fiasco –  ILLOVO [which is British owned via Associated Foods Limited] is  company that last year posted a 43% rise in profits per share), an incident which it is fair to say has probably been responsible for not only much suffering, but also global unrest.

Depending on who you ask, its undeniable that corporate wrongdoing is currently happening, and the continent of Africa is being systematically ripped off. Yet there has to come a time when the tide turns, and the wrongdoing is forced to stop (sadly it’s not going to stop voluntarily). In the words of the African Development Bank president Donald Kaberuka here:

“The reality is, Africa is being ripped off big time …Africa wants to grow itself out of poverty through trade and investment – part of doing so is to ensure there is transparency and sound governance in the natural resources sector”

In my view this means rectification, and possibly includes learning lessons from those whose policies do not exacerbate the already bad situation; lessons from the likes of Brazil instead of blindly accepting unfair and discriminatory terms from organisations such as the IMF – whose policies towards the poor countries couldn’t be said to be favourable for local ownership of industry.

Maybe Malawi’s mining sector has more to learn from the likes of Vale and Debswana. Debswana is 50% owned by the Botswana government and 50% owned by De Beers. Vale is the world’s biggest producer of Iron Ore, and their profits recently doubled (Interestingly, in the same article Vale says the price of Iron Ore would hit $130 per ton, which it did, confirming the plausibility of my above little theory). They’ve seen an increase in production, which last year hit 73.4 million tonnes of Iron Ore. They are also a major tax contributor to the Brazilian government, with recent tax payments of $9.6 billion, far greater than anything any corporation have had to pay to an African government.

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Its all in the mind

 

brain-1Most Malawians I know are involved in some kind of commercial activity besides their ordinary / daytime jobs. And while many of them have experience and a good grounding regarding how to sell (even those who run micro business or lifestyle businesses), some may not know certain marketing or selling facts/ techniques. It is for their benefit that I have provided this link to these marketing techniques.