They say there are two very important days in your life. The day you are born and the day you discover why. My discovery day is hard to pinpoint, but it happened somewhere between starting my first company and deciding to go to business school. The first essay that I tackled for my applications had the prompt “What is the most important thing to you and why?” My answer took a few weeks to articulate, but in a nutshell it is that I want to build global African companies. Why? Because it baffles me that a continent as rich as ours, laden with resources, a young population and an excess amount of opportunity doesn’t produce companies that serve the world. Why is it easier for me to order a book off Amazon than Jumia? Why are my electronics, clothes and even my food & beauty products made elsewhere? Why do I take financial advice from people who have never lived or invested where I do?
Cue Africa’s Pocket. The question I always get asked is, why call a company Africa’s Pocket if the goal is to serve the world? And my answer is, that hasn’t stopped American Express or British American Tobacco. The problem we seek to solve; a lack of information on managing personal finances and a lack of convenient investment options in Kenya, and Africa at large, affects people all over the world. First, the local market, then the diaspora and finally foreign investors who want to access the sweet returns in this part of the world. So, off we go to build a global, profitable, African company.
This goal took a step closer to reality when we were invited to the Milken Institute’s Middle East and Africa Summit only 6 months after we launched our first product. We were on an invite-only global platform, meeting thought-leaders and decision-makers who have dedicated their lives to solving real world issues. I was excited! When I got a hold of the speaker list, my excitement turned to nerves. Ray Dalio, Patrice & Precious Motsepe, Strive Masiyiwa, Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington, Didier Drogba were just some of the names I recognized. How was I even on the guest list??
Imposter syndrome aside, I proudly represented Africa’s Pocket and participated. Here are some of my key takeaways:
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a step in the right direction but we shouldn’t rely on this to capture the opportunity that exists on our continent. The structural barriers to continental trade far outweigh the regulatory ones, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be made here. Patrice Motsepe, South African billionaire, challenged some panelists by explaining how he has amassed a net-worth of over $4Bn despite having operations and overcoming hurdles in 40 different countries on this continent.
2. Women need support systems around them that allow them to thrive in their careers AND be good homemakers too. It was so inspiring to listen to women from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries who are leading banks, anchoring in major news channels and also raising both large and small families. They all do it by asking for help, building teams which can help them thrive and nurturing supportive partnerships with spouses and friends. Baria Alamuddin, Editor-In-Chief at Arab World, said she’s grateful to be a woman because men can carry her bags and fix her house while she kisses her children and cooks for her husband. All things that bring her joy and rejuvenate her to bring her A-game to work. Food for thought on what feminism and equality actually mean.
3. When you find a group you belong to, go the extra mile to uplift another member of your group. I was among the youngest attendees of this forum. I felt self conscious and out of place until a fellow young woman from London came up to me and struck a conversation with me. This changed my experience — I had already decided I would attend a few sessions and leave, but she gave me courage to do what she did. I made an effort to talk to Africans and women in the room and I shared the nod with those I didn’t get a chance to speak to. This might seem like I was putting myself in a box and staying in my comfort zone, but for me, it was a choice to increase my chances of making meaningful connections. As a result, I always had someone to share a meal with and even got invited to some unadvertised conversations.
I went to Abu Dhabi seeking (grant) funding and came away with inspiration, conviction that our global dream is valid and a rich network (and hopefully some funding too :) ). Building a business is no walk in the park and I’m grateful for the opportunities that solidify my why.
P.S. I need a better system for taking pictures outside of Instagram — please share some tips!
P.S.S. There was a session with Paris Hilton and Deepak Chopra that was possibly the most bizarre and top 10 most entertaining conversations I’ve ever listened to. Watch it here (07:13–08:08 shows the power of rebranding with LOTS of resources).