Ahead of Disruption, Inclusion is Africa’s Clarion Call

At the beginning of the technology wave in Africa (read Nigeria), many founders romanticized the word disruption. To many, it was all about changing the way we did things. If you have suffered many of the challenges that often pose before the regular Nigerian, you will want to change things too. No wonder Muhammadu Buhari’s successful campaign in 2015 resonated well with many Nigerians. Change is a great thing especially in a society where things do not work and systems fail citizens.  

In 2017, while I tried my feet in the education market, I soon realized that while classes needed to improve, millions of people did not even have access to quality education at all. This meant millions of students had needed help, while we were instead focusing on the small market where we were finding it difficult to sell our software. What was also true was that, even though we had a great differentiation from the alternatives, the end results were pretty much similar. The competition, despite our differentiation, was already there and we only hoped our differentiation would give us that extra leap. Perhaps, we would have pulled our weight if we stayed, but the numbers were glaring. Much more people could not access the service we wanted to provide. We might have had to sit in a small market for a long time.

Millions of people do not have access to electricity; millions do not have access to quality health; millions have no access to quality education, market, credit, health insurance, water, good housing, sanitation and clean energy and so on. This means millions and millions of Nigerians and Africans are unable to even access basic needs and would jump at solutions that make all these easy and less costly. Having more and more entrepreneurs and businesses develop solutions that improve access to basic needs using scalable technologies, that ensure they can reach and sustain the provision of their services and products to millions of Nigerians, is the clarion call. This is how we can improve millions of lives faster and raise our standard of living.  

Thus, the big focus of technology in Africa should be inclusion. How do we bring improved services closer to people who do not have them at all? Technologies like the internet, artificial intelligence, cloud computer, USSD services are scalable infrastructure to drive widespread inclusion.  

The just concluded election is another reason why we have to take inclusion seriously. Thousands of people had meaningful conversations on ‘elite’ platforms like Twitter or in small elite/intellectual gatherings. People in the “third” force, who whether by lack of financial power or political structure restricted their conversations and campaigns to small “intellectual” groups, somewhat believed they stood a chance. Expectedly, the millions of people who would also vote but were not included in these conversations in meaningful ways, eventually decided the future of the country, most often to the lamentations of the “intellectual” group.

Inclusion remains a big challenge in Africa and needs to be taken with more urgency. While people need improved services, many do not even have any service at all. Simply producing services for a few people, might be rewarding, but is also not enough for the African entrepreneur. While we start from small beginnings, our focus should be on providing our services at scale, as this not only eventually drops costs, it also ensures more people who may not have access to these services at all get to enjoy them.    

What is true is that it is usually difficult to serve excluded markets. Take banks, for instance. More than half of Nigerians are excluded from banking services. That’s over 100 million people. With all the resources banks have, it just makes sense to want to expand their pie into the largely untapped market. The only reasons they would not have done so are that it is extremely difficult and uneconomical to do. This is where financial entrepreneurs come in. Their work is to de-risk the market and create solutions that can expand this pie. It is the same for every other sector too. Education entrepreneurs have to answer the question, how can we make quality education more accessible to more people? Art entrepreneurs have to answer the question, how can we improve access to market for more creative people? And it goes on and on. That is how we get into untapped markets which is like most of the African market.  

While disruption is awesome, we must do more to get people who are excluded from key services into the net. This way, we will truly contribute to the widespread development of the African continent.

Habeeb X
Wandering Wonderer.

Sàngó- The Love Story

 

His spirit was never to be seen again, nor his speech heard nor his perfumed red and white robes perceived. His feat of temper had met his death or dearth because some believed he did not die. Some did but most did not believe that he had twisted a rope, like the braids on his head, around his own neck and taken his own life. Many would later feel the rage that had consumed him and his magnificent palace. Many would come to hear of the spirited King who spat fire and sent thunderbolts on errands. Many would sit to listen to the story of the King who married three river goddesses and was entangled in his love web. Many would come to read of the third king of Oyo who won his wars between his lips. And there will be those who will bow at his feet and worship with fear, the god of thunder, Sàngó!

 The bata drummer hit his drum. The flutist played and swung his head from left to right. The earth was blanketed and the seeds of stars spotted and sparkled in the dusked sky. Baba Agba coughed a little and Tiwalade turned the kerosene lantern a little lower. Its smoke rose against the full moon and fireflies danced around the yellow light.

“E ku Agba” the voices of the seventeen youngsters echoed together and travelled right into the bushes that rose into a dark forest. Baba Agba sighed.

Maybe the spirit of Sàngó loitered where the children sat or in the nearby bushes as his story was told. His story of un-dyed love for Oya, the goddess of whirlwind- their love story that quaked the hearts of men and tendered his own vulnerable temper. Some said Oya was the concubine; others believed that it was Osun, the river goddess of Osogbo- the Yoruba Aphrodite. Whichever it was, Oba, his first wife, was the outcast of his love story; his errant wife who cooked him a soup of her own ear, in a bid to wrestle his heart back. Heartbroken by him, Oba stormed out of her hut and spiralled into the ground and her blood flowed in the land as a river of vengeance for lovelorn hearts.

Beyond Sàngó’s fierceness was a fickle heart steeped in love in the eyes of Oya so much that she made his braids and he kept his special power with her. Between his fire spat were tender words for the Nupe woman who transfigured into a deer at will and explored the green forest with her hoofs. More, Oya could command the rain to fall at will, and formed a formidable bond with Sàngó, who bent thunders in his will. The love between the two superpowers was bound to be extraordinary. And it drove Osun and Oba into relentless jealousy.

“And so till today,” Baba Agba said, “Osun and Oba still engage in a duel even after they had become rivers because Oba blamed Osun for her marriage woes. Osun had tricked Oba to sacrifice her left ear to win back Sango’s heart. Instead, that made Sàngó drive her out of his palace.”

So what happened to Sàngó and Oya?” Adeolu asked. The brightness of his face matched his eagerness.  The other children looked on from the mat that they sat. Adeolu had been their mouthpiece.

Baba Agba adjusted himself on the carved wooden stool that he sat on and evoked a thunderous sneeze.

“Patience! My son, patience!”   Baba Agba remarked and then continued.

“Sàngó let down his guard for Oya and once, while he struggled to maintain his control of his kingdom, went into a feud with two of his generals. In anger, he stormed out of the palace that day, when he found that Oya had poorly kept his thunderbolt talisman. He was not to be seen again. Some believed that he had hanged himself on the hills of Koso. Others argued that he did not and said Oba Koso (meaning that The King did not hang himself). Meanwhile, Oya returned to Nupe land after the death of Sàngó and transformed into a flowing river-the River Niger. This led to the popular saying

Oya wole N’ira (Oya entered the ground at Ira)

Sàngó wole ni Koso (Sàngó entered the ground at Koso)

The children chanted the two verses after him and clapped between.

“That is where my story ends!” Baba Agba, the storyteller said and took a bite at his bitter kola. His grey haired head was covered by his abeti aja cap whose branches covered his ears.

“So children, what did you learn from this story?”

Habeeb X
Wandering Wonderer

Possible Impossible Ratio: Role Models and Mentors as Tools for Human and Societal Development

Warning: This article was written by a wanderer. Expect digressions. Danke Sehr. 

Two boys grew up in different neighbourhoods. Let’s call one Bayo and the other Shola. Bayo grew up in a rural-urban community in the heart of Ibadan. His mother and father are separated and he now lives with his grandma. Both his parents barely support his education and have instead pursued new lives with their new partners far away from him. Incidentally, most of his friends are from similarly unstable homes. Based on this experience, he has built his view of his expectations and responsibilities should he get married or hooked up with anyone. He has also built his view of his responsibilities to his child, should he have one. In school, he has cultivated a few friends, a good number who are also like him and have little exposure beyond their immediate communities. Their first role models, their parents, have not exactly provided an enviable way to live a happy and responsible life. However, since that is all some of them know and see around them, they will eventually grow to be like them. Another set of role models they will often find, are the ones who have managed to be financially successful in their communities, who drive the best cars and have the best apartments. More often than not, these are often people who have cut it through consistent dirty dealings. They are usually dropouts as well. As Bayo grows, he knows only this kind of life and his view on how to become a better version of his current state is directly motivated by the experiences and exposure that his community affords him. Unfortunately, his school is also not well equipped to help him see different kinds of lives or possibilities that he could compare with these. Unless through some miraculous intervention, Bayo will end up just like his father, or other people that he feels have led comparably better lives, whatever that means. What is dangerous is not that Bayo has limited options, it is that he does not believe he could be anymore than those things.

Unlike Bayo, Shola comes from a wealthy family. His parents are separated too, but he attends one of the best schools in Lagos. He has several friends who come from both stable and unstable homes and has the luxury to choose the kind of home he would like to have. In school, he has access to a good library and internet. The school also organizes tours to a number of countries and also to different companies so Shola and other students can meet successful people across different backgrounds. He is able to talk with different people from different walks of life about their lives and careers. Shola has tons of ideas on how he could live his life and what he needs to do to build that kind of life and reach great heights. He does not have to settle, because the people around him, as well as his school, have empowered his view of the world by bringing him closer to more that is possible. They have let him know that his options are unlimited and he only needed to choose.       

It is easy to overlook the importance of mentors and role models when you have visionary and excellent people as colleagues, friends, family members, partners or close associates. In one way or another, these people serve as the compass through which you navigate your life. The truth is that we are often limited in our view of the world until someone points out even more possible things. Before we get new knowledge, it often almost appears that nothing exists outside the things we know. While we know we don’t know everything, we don’t know what we don’t know. That limits the kinds of initiatives we can take. However, once we know what we don’t know, it is often easier to find and know those things.

The electromagnetic spectrum is a great example of how we can be limited by the things we know. Within the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light is the only radiation that is seen by the human eye. Therefore, for a long time, it was thought to be the only type of light (or radiation) that existed. It was not until 1800, that William Herschel discovered the infrared while conducting a thermal experiment in a laboratory. He even termed it “the light that cannot be seen”. The following year, another scientist, Johann Ritter, discovered the Ultraviolet Light also known as the invisible light induced by chemical reactions. And on it went till all members of the current electromagnetic spectrum were discovered using one technique or the other. In the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light represents just a small fragment of the range of frequencies radiation travels. One of the lovely discovery was definitely the microwave. I still marvel at the possibility of the microwave oven heating my food while the container remains at its normal temperature. I’m usually like wow, what sorcery! Yet, it is important to look back and dwell in the knowledge that if there had not been any advancement in science, it may have been the only kind of radiation men knew, and perhaps the only kind of radiation he thought existed. The most important thing is that he would have also lived his life based on the truth that that was the only kind of radiation that existed. We would have lived without the microwave and we would have lived fine. Fine, but limited.

 

A Simple Analogy: A World Of Worlds

Imagine this; next to football with 4 billion followers is cricket with 2.5 billion fans. Yet most fans of football cannot mention one famous cricket player which would be an easy and obvious guess for a person who follows cricket. There are people who know nobody in these two sports. This means that the things that constitute the realities of a person who follows cricket are different from that of a person who follows football. Thus the social laws which are deemed impossible to live without may just be non-existent in the other person’s life. Think about that.

While many of us, especially geeks, have entertained the idea of the multiverse, we should also realize that in our world, we have several worlds, all of which work in tandem with one another and also in isolation. The world of a young boy living in Oja Oba, Ibadan who goes to a public school not too far away from home, consists of peculiar characters, pains, joys, role models, possibilities and demands is different from that of a young boy in Lekki who goes to a very private school also close to his home, has unlimited access to the internet, loves baseball and travels at will. The world of a boy who lives on water in Makoko, Lagos, is different from the world of the Fulani boy roving the Northern hinterlands. A person is limited to the possibilities of his own world.

Each person will require help to know what is possible in other worlds. While we may never be able to understand what is going on in every possible world, it is good that we have the liberty to reach worlds that are important to our progress so we are not limited in our potentials. One of the best ways to enter a new world is through another person who lives that world. Close interactions and sometimes brief chats can be all we need to launch the expansion of our views of what is possible and what we can aspire to be.

We Need Other People’s Lenses to Have A Better View of the World

People get exposure in different ways. Some through books, some through travel, others through consistent interaction with people who have made significant progress or failures in their lives. The more exposure one has, the higher the likelihood of making life and career decisions that are more fulfilling and liberating.

The kind of exposure a person has also affects the things the person considers possible or impossible. Most times, the difference between those who are successful at maximizing their potentials and those who are not, asides tenacious execution, is simply that those who are successful have a wider range of the things they consider possible; which enables them shoot for them. I call this the Possible Impossible Ratio.

The Possible Impossible Ratio is a subjective analysis of what a person believes he/she is capable of doing to the things he/she believes is impossible or almost impossible to do. Note that this is an analysis directed at one’s self. It does not affect what you think others are capable of doing because in the end, you are not them.  

It is hackneyed advice that one should believe one can achieve the seemingly impossible (anything) e.g. landing on the moon, scoring maximum marks in UTME, becoming a billionaire, breaking a world record and so on. Yet this is usually relative. What we often overlook is that impossibilities are at different stretches for different people. Two young people may be starting their careers as designers in a small firm. One dreams and believes he can eventually become a top designer with billions in revenue, while the other believes what is possible is that he reaches the top of their current firm and earn millions in salaries. The latter may even be aware of the former’s goals, but he just believes that they are far-fetched. It is possible that the latter, after believing that he can do it, achieves his goal, while the former doesn’t. What is also true is that the latter will not reach the heights of the former, because you cannot hit what you don’t aim for, and what you aim for is in the boundaries of what you think is possible (even if it appeared impossible at that time). Keep in mind that every rule comes with exceptions.

Therefore, one of the best ways to help Bayo and expand Bayo’s view of the world is to bring him in close interaction with people who live different lives, especially ones which he can aspire to have. These people are role models and mentors. Creating this close interaction means that Bayo can begin to use his drive to seek something greater and better than what he has experienced and what his local community has provided as the best. In addition, he can start to seek information, that these people do not provide him, on his own because he has been shown how unlimited he can be; his ship has been set to sail. This way, Bayo’s Possible Impossible Ratio would have significantly improved.

An expected result is that he approaches his obstacles, with much more resolve, because he now has bigger things to pursue. This does not mean Bayo does not need quality education in a good school, it means pending the time he gets that, he will make the most of what he has, and will stop at nothing to get to where he believes is now possible.

 

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This article provides some foundation to one of my experiments in improving the quality of education delivered in Nigeria. There are millions of young people like Bayo who would do better with their lives if you help them widen their horizons. And doing so is not more difficult than getting some hundreds of thousands of people to spend time with Bayo and his mates at their convenience to share their experiences, insights and thoughts on important things. The outcome is much more than helping Bayo build a better career, it is also to help him become a responsible citizen who makes informed life choices. We may also help Bayo learn critical 21st-century soft skills that put more power in his hands.  This activity also happen in isolated and often discontinued situations. The question is if we can deliver this more sustainably and at scale. 

I have begun talking to some principals in public schools about this. So far, 23 public school principals in Ibadan have indicated interest and put in their contacts to be part of this program. I am hoping to get more before I move to the next stage which is talking to people who want to share their time with young students at their convenient time, as well as completing the design for how this would work effectively and at scale (since this already happens effectively in isolated events). I hope to share my progress as I move forward. 

 

Habeeb X

Wandering Wanderer.

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