So it’s been quite a first six months of 2019, which meant closing a couple of chapters, stepping up into a few and the start of new blossoming ones. As my journey with the global intelligence and media firm, Thomson Reuters came to a close in March of 2019, a new one began in June of 2019 with a pan-African investment and advisory firm Impact Amplifier. The career change has been an overwhelming and energizing experience so far that allows one’s creativity and expertise to be stretched at the opportunity to turn industry upside down through the business of ideas and impact acceleration.
I'm in a new industry, which is quite an interesting, exciting and intimidating to say the least - that of the behind the scenes outlook at creation in private equity and venture capital investments. The firm looks at Social Enterprise Acceleration, Impact Ecosystem Strengthening, Impact Investment Services and Entrepreneur, Investment and Ecosystem Research which all have their particular sub-categories that respectively look at elements like investment readiness, new funding mechanisms, deal sourcing, advisory and so much more. The essence of these capabilities are all rooted in the working with enterprises who are committed to actively and intentionally do business that is impactful through the socio-economic and environmental lenses.
My role as an Associate in Impact Acceleration includes unpacking impact assessment coordination and management, coordination and participating in primary and secondary market research activities, driving internal and external investment/grant readiness and capital raising acceleration process for investment readiness programmes, building a new pipeline for business development and supporting the partners in investment readiness deals. Now I should warn you, no day is the same, and that’s what’s not also rewarding but allows for practices like deep mind when you’re focused on research on one day and being in the field with the customer and unpacking their theory of change. Now, in any workplace setting, one cannot mostly achieve anything on their own without the collaboration with an incredible team and colleagues. What’s really cool about the space that I’m in is that everyone comes from different backgrounds with a diversity of ideas, which when challenges arise, continue to push creativity and solutions envelope.
The impact investment and advisory ecosystem is an industry quite in its infancy globally, and moreso due to the costs associated with the processes and metrics in measuring impact. Stakeholders see the value in impact assessment - investees for their investors, investors for their boards, businesses for growth and organisational strategy etc. I'm really excited to deep dive more into the space, there is a lot of intelligence that exists, and moreso the value added to profits greater than economical. Here's to measurable and accelerated inclusive development, and learning and doing work that matters.
Would you be interested in a Day of the Life of An Associate later in the year? Let me know in the comments section and we’ll make it happen J
What is Innovation Capital?
In a few weeks I’ll be delivering an address at one of South Africa’s universities upon the invitation of the Director of Technology, Innovation and Commercialisation on some key innovation practices in the country, this will be to the regional campus’ staff and students. Last week, I addressed an audience of over 225 women on leveraging their capital (in trusting themselves) through innovation tools. Apart from the innovation addresses in common that these two invitations carried, it’s how I was contacted and made visible to these two entities that will touch on what we’ll be unpacking in this article. Through amplifying my work and thought leadership engagement, and many other properties that I’ll get into in in the coming paragraphs, my Innovation Capital banked on these opportunities.
A concept coined by Marc Benioff who is Salesforce’s Founder and CEO, Innovation Capital is (to paraphrase) the accrued capital and impact to influence and fund an idea and the resources needed to actualise it. Have you ever wondered how Elizabeth Holmes successfully raised millions of dollars for Theranos, despite its failure? Or how Elon Musk continues to build and bankrupt ideas that are bankable, yet seem incredibly ludicrous? Innovation Capital is not only exclusive to individuals, but to brands like Apple who continue to incrementally innovate and elevate their standard to a point where their customers become their brand advocates? Or how recently listed UBER continued being funded by investors even though it was a blood-sucking investment? Some have it, and some can still raise it; so how do you ensure that you have it? You build it, and you do so patiently, because Innovation Capital cannot be wired into your account, you have to earn it. Let’s unpack this a bit.
The Characteristics of an Innovation Capitalist?
As with any capital, no matter who or what brand you are, it accrues in volume over time before it can be of value, innovation capital is no different. To be an inspired gamechanger like an Oprah Winfrey and building a school for girls in South Africa, not only do you need to be the self-made billionaire with multiple businesses and have a direct line to a Nelson Mandela who can make political calls to get your idea into a proof of concept. Are you getting my drift? The characteristics of an innovation capitalist are dependent on who you are, the strong ties that you have with the right network, the work that you’ve done and the stages and platforms that you employ to amplify your work. Now, even with all these characteristics in mind, as is the process of innovation, there is no guarantee that it’ll work out, proof of concepts aren’t always proven. This, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs will tell you, but that’s the beauty of innovation, there’s no guarantee but through the research and development, there’s always a lesson or few to be learnt. Having worked in corporate innovation for the past two years and being at the nucleus of product management and development, I cannot tell you how many ideas were killed (in their respective stages) in as much as that we launched. But in this, the true value became not in how many times we failed, but how quickly we did so and did it so with an accrued value for my manager (with incredible visionary leadership – another key component) to continue getting these ideas funded.
How do you Build Innovation Capital?
So, whether your ideas take off or not. How do you begin to build Innovation Capital? If you’re not an Oprah, a Mandela or even a Hitler (dark, I know, but his capital funded Nazi Germany) and you’re a student, entrepreneur or working professional who wants to create or accrue their innovation capital, where do you begin? First things first, you acquire the knowledge of where you’re wanting to be an innovation capitalist in – in order to play the game, you need to know it. The skills that you’ll acquire from this will enable you to not only set yourself apart, but then have the expertise and confidence to be able to find the platform to share these ideas. These are the makings of a leader. Becoming a leader in your industry is a key component in building trust in your shared ideas, as this garners visibility, which catapults the effectiveness of a personal brand that people trust with their capital.
An amalgamation of many accrued capital, innovation capital requires human, social, intellectual and other forms of capital in order to yield momentum and/or return on investment, nothing is guaranteed. Now that you have the knowledge and the tools of the term, how will you put it to practice and ensure that it get funded? May the best idea win, and the capital odds always be in your favour!
Images Supplied: The Corporate Canvas
There is no better time in developing markets and the current industrial revolution than right now to contribute to the discussion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the alarming PR messaging that it has, some well-intentioned misdirection and the other half split with an overflow of information of which skillset to prioritise and which technology to employ. The job losses, the new technology and the illiteracy to name a few of this incoming era can indeed create a barrier of intimidation on entry, and what adds to the complexity of the situation is that the data lies.
Exploring Data Bias
You should be familiar with the notion of data being the new currency, at least in comparison to oil as an infinite resource that can empower economies. And data, having been undocumented, raw and undigitized has always been around, it is rather the scramble for the science and technology of it, and who gets access to it first that impacts the narrative and gets an opportunity to score some points for their industry, economy or group of privilege that they belong to. It’s the data scramble, it’s the data rush. This is what’s caused, I believe, the insurmountable backlash and inaccuracies, the product bias towards chatbots or products otherwise, whether its towards gender, race or access. The question that then follows up to this statement would be where the data is, and exploring the intentional bias and opportunities for solutions to the bias, and what stakeholders can do create inclusive economies.
The Impact of Bias Practices …
Machine Learning which is an application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that studies the sciences of how machines can automatically learn and improve from experience by learning from themselves, is learning from the bias of the producers of the algorithms, and these makers of algorithms are largely white males as can be seen in an example of this through facial recognition products created by IBM, Microsoft and Face Plus Plus. That means that, so is the (informed) data, which breeds much room for prejudice.
A recent example of a sector that informed this bias is financial services, mostly with credit, and is now building the intelligence tools to either enforce or break away from this. In South Africa, usury expert Emerald van Zyl, claims that Standard Bank (including banks like First National Bank), which is Africa’s oldest bank is currently under hot fire for billing its black customers at a higher interest rate in financing. This is not the first time this occurred with Standard Bank, as in 2012 they were also charged with violating the National Credit Act where eventually customers were refunded by 2013. Now, if the machine learns these algorithms and continues to grant the same product bias, the discriminatory practices are more than likely continue.
This is kind of problem is also consistent in the health sector. In a New England Journal of Medicine article published on 15 March 2019, researchers of the Framington Heart Study showed the risk and capability of AI algorithms to demonstrate bias. The research used AI to predict the risk of cardiovascular occurrences in non-white populations and the results demonstrated bias in both over- and underestimations of risk.
People's lives are at stake through the products of 4IR. And, beyond the glitter of Sophia The Robot and the New Generation Kiosks at companies like McDonalds, there is a community that is not being intentional about being inclusive and rather duplicating structural socio inequalities that implicates another.
Data bias does only one thing, it mirrors what is socially ingrained, which means that it lies and tells a partial truth, of which is not meant for consumption by those who produce it.
Dismantling the Structural Bias
The call for inclusive economies goes beyond teaching young, black girls how to code and having strictly women only data science clubs. Practices like hiring more diverse teams leads to impactful and informed product creation and is a good contribution to mitigate prejudice algorithms and encourage more accurate data on a model. A sub-division of AI, Natural Language Programming (NLP) is a study that is concerned with the processing of computers and human natural languages, and can be used as a great example and opportunity for the necessity of the inclusive call in the sector. Translating open source of data sets in different parts of the world requires an understanding of the language being translated so that we can not only have Siri being able to understand my instructions in English but also the opportunity to preserve and digitise languages like the Khoi which are diminishing, mostly because, especially with African languages, the impartation of language happens orally. A great example of this opportunity is Ajala Studios, which a Nigerian startup that builds natural language and speech processing applications for African languages, which means that they can too synthesize speech from African languages presented as digitized text, a gap that’s mostly recognises Western accents, voices and names.
The responsibility of creating these opportunities is also a shared responsibility, especially with the public sector. Governments in both developed and developing markets need to invest more in Research and Development (R&D) and in the social concept of open innovation (engaging the public with the data) especially as the impact of this investment is quite telling. And although it is a long term investment, the return on this investment is worthwhile. Researchers from the United Kingdom (UK) and Saudi Arabia looked at 40 Asian counties and how their spend on R&D lead to the production of quality research publications across sciences and social sciences; and with more research in the UK showing the positive impact that public investment has in the increment of private sector investment and in attracting foreign direct investment. Through this R&D investment and its impact in the knowledge economy, it also presents an opportunity to lead to more computational intelligence and feeding it the missing data, and the greater economic impact through the indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The next solution is not only costly but risky, but if there is one thing that I’ve learnt about being in the innovation space, whether the product is out to market or still in the proof of concept phase, no matter how good it looks on paper, it’s that it is never too late to take the product off market if it doesn’t serve its purpose. A great example of this is Vodacom South Africa’s failure, thrice to launch its sister Kenyan network SafariCom’s M-Pesa to the South African market. Factors like an onerous regulatory environment, the competitive advantage that the larger and established banks have with their products to low-income consumers, and some have also argued due to the mixed messaging upon launching, from introducing it as a mobile money wallet to a platform that is linked to your VISA card. This case study is also an example of the danger of wanting to copy and paste a one-size fits all product into an Africa that is not a country.
At the end of the day, it's about investing in the visibility of the communities so as to include better, impactful and innovative products and profitability for all ecosystem stakeholders a part of the operation chain.
The data samples ARE there. And unfortunately (or an opportunity), so is the bias. But all is not lost, not with the desire of visionary stakeholders to operate in a transformative world that uses the enabler of technology for sustainable good business.
On LinkedIn, I recently uploaded a post that had a graphic recording themed on the discussion of mobile banking unpacking challenges, opportunities, the pillars of the ecosystems and the key stakeholders in the markets. It was a piece of art and knowledge that was created about 4- 5 years ago, and however powerful the discussions in the room, the micro-themes still echo the non-silver bullet industry that’s catapulted Africa’s invitation to the global seat of innovation, and particularly financially inclusion. Although the hotbed of the financial inclusion conversation is mobile money in Africa, in this article we’ll explore and propose ways to continue enhancing the distribution mechanism of mobile to employ an economically inclusive society.
Exploring Mobile Money Mission
It was not so long ago when MPESA launched in Kenya, and successfully so that not only did it grant Africa the opportunity to drive the mobile money conversation and allow the unbanked to access financial products but, for some, create and enhance digital footprint, and a chance to be economically active.
Traditional banks notoriously have, for a long time created financial products that were only accessible to the middle class and above, those who were already economically empowered. In the exclusivity of these financial products, the role of startups, data (open or big) and technology became important in leapfrogging the traditional banking industry and getting credit right. The rise of the living standard in emerging markets also created an opportunity for the mobile economy to continue to thrive, whether with an Android phone or if you’re living in the townships.
Who Gets to Participate?
According to research by the PEW Research Center, in emerging economies, the population in some of the poorest communities do have access to a mobile phone, even though the ownership is not of a smartphone. What this does, is that it gives rise to Opening Demand so that the non-digitally savvy citizens may participate, and Supply Inclusion for manufactures, such as now, the new smartphone manufacturer in Africa with the Mara Phone Project.
Mobile money products bank on the vision of a society where the individuals are economically active and visible, from women owned businesses who in some economies didn’t have access to credit to spaza shop owners and the super paranoid cashless user. And in doing this, it is also giving them a digital footprint, and an identity that is tailored for edifying their lifestyles as well as their businesses and financial products.
However, the cost of this inclusion also comes with its own price for the service providers, which includes finding ways to enhance the user and experience centric for the customer.
The Cost of Digitisation, for the Supplier
The high level of customisation to operate in data-lite countries, where data is not enriched and infrastructure is needed to augment results is quite costly. At this moment, this is where the call to government to participate in the market is quite loud in knowledge sharing spaces like conferences and roundtable discussions – an opportunity to serve its citizens better, create more competitive markets and empower lessening the digital divide.
Looking at creating cheaper solutions will cost spend of engineering and predictions analytics, investing in more talent, having the processes to refine the data in order to have more value, the urgency to transform through infrastructure and the list goes on to be an enabler. The return on investment in this cost is not in just the adoption of more products, but also in customers being better informed and better buying customers.
What’s In It For Me, the Consumer?
For a customer like myself, I’m constantly looking for ways to continue leaving my credit and debit cards at home and having my own money market on my phone. The question of “What’s In It For Me?” is what’s constantly at the back of a consumer’s head, whether one has a mobile phone that’s a smart or feature phone – all phones matter.
For the smartphone user, products like Whatsapp, Google Suite, UBER, Booking.Com and BiNu or Facebook which states that 94% of its 170 million African users access the platform via mobile, and with even 100% of the Nigeria population accessing it through mobile. And for feature phone users, products like Mobile Banking, Bwenzi Lathu, JUMO, Kopah Doh or Telecommunications Services are also what make this particular phone a market of the present and future.
While we wait on the digital divide to close and for an all inclusive society, let’s be mobile and invite stakeholders to continue creating enabling ecosystems and environments to innovate for a thriving present and future mobile market.
When discussing emerging markets and the future of work and profit, “Data is the new oil” is an expression that has solidified its place in the conversation. If data is the new oil, as the popular phrase goes, then data is our most valuable resource, it powers almost everything we use today to work, move and live, and it is virtually unusable if unrefined.
Innovating beyond proprietary data is becoming more and more important. This is especially true in Africa, the continent that some of the world’s youngest and fastest growing economies call home, where business intelligence and revenue models are calling for a new framework of doing business. This framework, the open innovation ecosystem – where a good number of leap-frog innovations are necessary – requires the need for speed through collaboration from not just the private sector, but the public sector and its stakeholders – such as universities and innovation agencies – as well as the agility and prowess of startups.
Companies across the continent are using external data in addition to their internal data, to better understand and pursue new business developments in the continent’s innovation ecosystem. Here, we’ll explore how African corporates are innovating intelligently which is resulting in the ability to make better business decisions.
How It’s Being Played Out IRL
In his book Outside Insight: Navigating a World Drowning in Data, Meltwater’s founder, Jorn Lyseggen, unpacks the edge of the intelligence and value that both proprietary and third-party data has an impact in, in what he calls the “new decision paradigm,” giving corporates a competitive advantage and enhancing their decision making.
One of South Africa’s oldest banks recently invested in Cape Town-based aerial data-analytics startup, Aerobotics, which makes use of aerial imagery and machine learning algorithms to solve problems in the agriculture industry. Of course, the options for using the same technology and concept across industries like finance and insurance, are endless. This bet on the technology of drones and data science was a deliberate focus on the strategy of the future of agri-finance for the major bank, understanding and recognising that in an aim to win more business, the third party data and use of Aerobotics technology will be a shift in new business and product development across customers and competitors for the corporate.
And, with technological trends like artificial intelligence (AI), advanced analytics and cloud computing, one way in which Accenture in South Africa is making and informing industry with their data, and leveling up competitive intelligence is through thought leadership positioning. This has enabled Accenture to create and enable themselves and other companies to change how people work and live beyond industry, like platform economies through their intelligence, and thus influencing the business intelligence of industry through data.
African businesses are thinking about ways to truly innovate under a framework of open innovation, even though the resources and capabilities may not always be plentiful. Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018, revealed that “ … South African executives (73%) agree with their global counterparts (79%) that organisations are basing their most critical systems and strategies on data, yet many have not invested in the capabilities to verify the truth within it.” Herein lies the opportunity to better scope the future of African innovation.
2020, 2025 and 2030 agendas set by organisations and corporates are not too far from actualisation, and the reality is that innovation is not self-driving but it’s a social concept that needs humans to execute visions. The appetite and curiosity for this new oil that is data and operating through the framework of open innovation is at its peak for intelligent enterprise, so how do we prepare for such innovation?
These present future institutions are the pipeline of talent that will be nurturing the future of work in businesses and its tools in order for us to be technology ready, and to have a workforce that is future-proof.
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the latest report for South Africa has revealed that the country’s entrepreneurial activity is as its highest level since 2013; this is good news, and in order for SMMEs to continue playing their role in the economy, we need to cultivate the space.
Perhaps more entrepreneurs are needed, my argument lies in the kind of capital that’s invested to groom and scale the current businesses that we have to produce the quality entrepreneurs that the country needs. A matter of quality of quantity. In order for this space to thrive, more capital, intentional collaboration and a government enabling and agile platform needs to be enabled.
Open Innovation Culture
The new kind of innovation that’s occurring across industries is able to be done through collaboration. This kind of culture allows for more opportunities to develop products, new customers, charter new territories of innovation and technology, add value to proprietary data and so many new possibilities.
Keep Learning, Keep Going
Lastly, in order to truly crack the code of innovation, this opportunity needs to be taken from a systematic, actionable perspective. Modest investments are being made to continue to study the strategic, operational, regulatory and societal implications of data and intelligence in South Africa’s industries and more capital needs to influence policy. In order for South Africa to participate in such an economy, more research needs to conducted so as to play the game and create an environment where intra-trade may happen.
The Future of Africa
The biggest, oldest and most established companies are most vulnerable to disruption and innovation and the way to beat archaic systems and not end up like a Blackberry or Kodak is to not just look at a company’s proprietary resources and capabilities, but to establish an innovation culture that’s for the present future. In order for Africa to truly be at the forefront of innovation globally, and be prepared for such, all stakeholders will need to realise that innovation requires the trust of stakeholders to collaborate, and the risk appetite for new technology and data to penetrate businesses and the lives of customers to enhance them and make intelligent paradigm-shifting decisions.
This article was first published on Meltwater.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on the website, and between work, school and the new role with Circle of Young Intrapreneurs as Chapter Lead, an incredible global organisation for young intrapreneurs, it’s been a tough balance but I want to thank you for the continued support and constant resharing and engagement with the content. As such, I thought it only fair to share on some of the activities that’s been keeping me busy on these streets which includes some speaking, mentoring and some contributions on other platforms.
Some speaking engagements included:
1. Facilitating the Cape Innovation Technology Initiative Tech Skills Readiness Programme with their Software Engineering cohort as they embark on their careers. This is a great programme that looks at aspiring software engineering students largely from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, and seeds knowledge and skills so as to cultivate the STEM future workforce for South Africa! An incredible knowledge sharing afternoon it was.
2. When this email came into my inbox, I couldn’t stop beaming. It was the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and what made me happier was the request to mentor for the day and share my journey was with their Youth@Work and their 60 phenomenal young women, who looked like me and came from the same township and a desire for knowledge and access was there. The opportunity was to engage with these young women on finding employment and choosing a career path – which as we all know how intimidating it can be when you’re still in your late teens. I’m so honoured to be able to get the constant opportunity to engage with young, black women and use my platform for such, to empower with information and access more than anything - be it through work or otherwise. I was left inspired ?❤
3. About two weeks ago, I flew to Pretoria to facilitate a panel discussion on Power and Influence of Young Trailblazers in Corporate and Business that had fellow One Young World Ambassador Farai Mubaiwa on the panel. The Young Corporate Leader‘s Women’s Day celebrations included a keynote addresses by Ipeleng Mkhari and Dr Matete Madiba, just to mention a few of the phenomenal women who got to use their platforms and engage with us. Well done to fellow Ambassador Kamogelo Lesabe for pulling this stunning event together with your team
4. I really do enjoy spending my time with my peers and those even younger, especially still in their teens and impressionable when it comes to making impactful decisions like what subject choices and the career choices that are available for their choosing – of course the bias in me leans towards STEM careers, especially in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I got to have some time with these students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) recently. Mmaki Jantjies, Head of Information Systems at UWC shared the experience.
Associate Professor at SARChI, Chair of African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy, University of Johannesburg on his podcast. In it, we looked at the role of Venture Capital as well as other ingredients for start-up success in South Africa, which can be found in this link - https://soundcloud.com/mzukisiq/start-up-opportunities-and-venture-capital , aswell as a feature on Daily Maverick on South Africa’s Silent Start-Up Revolution which he authoured
One the most impactful and growing technology entrepreneurial schools in Africa is Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), which over the years has premise in Ghana and recently Nigeria and South Africa, with plans to launch in Ivory Coast and Kenya soon. I had the opportunity to host a session on Open Innovation and Community Building at one of their Community Conversations in Cape Town, as well as share some of the nuggets from the experience and my journey as a junior executive in corporate innovation- https://meltwater.org/open-innovation-and-community-building-with-vuyolwethu-dubese/
One of the most exciting things to be at this age is to be young (by age and mind), African and being a part of an organisation at forefront of contributing to the knowledge economy and leveraging the power of data and technology to empower economies and communities. We’re also at a time where the emerging market that is Africa has the opportunity to craft its own the Fourth Industrial revolution perception through not only commodity prices, but to diversify away from these resources and move into sectors which will leverage the opportunity to use open innovation as a tool to shape Africa’s Future Agenda.
Open Innovation is a term coined and promoted by Henry Chesbrough, professor and executive director at the Center for Open Innovation at Berkeley . The professor described it as “ … a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology. The boundaries between a firm and its environment have become more permeable; innovations can easily transfer inward and outward. The central idea behind open innovation is that in a world of widely distributed knowledge, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research, but should instead buy or license processes or inventions (e.g. patents) from other companies.”
The holistic idea of open innovation relates to creating profit and community from technology convergence of perceptions and an efficient way to operate and find solutions.And although outlined what it is, it is NOT Just crowdsourcing and one dimensional transactions, it’s to foster accelerate creative and business value for all stakeholders involved.
The Global Innovation Index is created and published by INSEAD, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and Cornell University and it covers 127 economies around the world and uses 81 indicators across a range of themes. Although no African countries emerged in the Top 10 of the list, Kenya (80) and Tanzania (96) represented the sub-Saharan African region as innovation players to be on the lookout for. Products and innovations like MPesa, Jumia, Ushahidi and Obami are incredible examples of the type of innovation that can and has come out of the continent.
My argument stems at how better accelerated in proving the concept and taking the product to market could these products have been, had the application of open innovation been applied.
Is it not about time that Africa heightened the advocacy and importance of open innovation? And at that, not just leaving it to one sector, but push collaborative open innovation – the interconnectedness needed to scale a Future Africa Agenda .
One of the most fascinating cases for me is the idea of a Sandbox, which is a cloud based capability that provides access to samples of organisations content and tools and where there’s tangible value for all stakeholders part of the transactions. On Africa’s potential alike, I believe we’re ready for a sandbox, and to this point, not only because Africa data is costly but finding credible sources of data has proven to be incredibly difficult.
Organisations like Fintech Sandbox have shown the value of a sandbox for startup partnerships in Boston, CodeSandbox Live in providing value for real collaboration between developers and Any API which has over 500 open APIs that have benefitted many entities. These entities show us what is possible with the world of open innovation in both emerging ad developed markets.
With the many 2020, 2030 and future plans that Africa has for itself, the concept of open innovation to drive Africa’s Future Agenda is a tool that not only invites the strengthening of intra-African and global knowledge trade , but the opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders in the private, NGOs and public sectors to empower Africa’s success.
Images : EOH and Schema Open Innovation
Time flies when you’re innovating, and doing so at the intersection of user (customer) experience, business and (emerging) technology. Integrating into the system of product management is more than processes, data and advanced technologies, it’s the people that essentially ensure that there’s strategy for elimination decisions, de-risking and development for new products. And I’ve been fortunate to do this in an environment that is, as we’ve termed in the Labs, “inno-positive” for all this innovation to take place.
I joined the company as a contractor, specifically in the innovation and enterprise space. When I came on board, I did so as a project manager, the first one being the Land Hackathon that looked at how we can use emerging technology to create transparency with land administration and digitization of processes. The successful outcome of this project lead me to take on one of the biggest projects I’ve ever done, which was to lead the launch of the Thomson Reuters Labs™ - Cape Town in October 2016 with an incredible team and the support from our other global network of Labs. With the growth of the Labs, meant that so did the work, relationships, content and responsibility, and so did my role.
I then transitioned into the role of Innovation Programme Manager which leveraged on my experience in working with startups, being a dot connector with the network of the business to the data and innovation Labs and ensuring that we have a community that we can collaborate with when a particular customer-led opportunity came along, this across sub-Sahara Africa.
My expansive role now as Ecosystem Manager requires me to manage and build relationships that we have with customers, partners, ecosystem stakeholders and startups; being the connective tissue in engaging the business with Africa’s startup and technology and innovation ecosystem. With these relationships, comes the architecture of business innovation strategies that'll engage the work that we do, this externally and internally. Once these relationships are forged and the excitement of kickstarting to build a new product gets underway, it’s at times easy to get lost in the enthusiasm of it all.
Scope and Defining at High Level
Coming up with an idea can take a few minutes, days or hours of light bulb moments, connecting opportunities and challenges to existing products or product development is where product management begins. From the conversations, the idea needs to be defined, and usually organisations want a high level overview of the deliverables without scoping the project’s life cycle, but understandably, because cost and schedule for stakeholders involved is on the line. To work from this point of perspective (high level to granular) has usually worked in most cases, but each case is as unique as the innovation.
With the unique positioning of the Labs being to develop products that are customer led, engaging and gathering the voice of the customer is part and parcel of what drives impactful and creative business solutions. Corporate innovation requires a high frequency of customer centricity so as to experience and determining the feasibility of the product being worked on. Once the right customer representative is brought into the conversation and ideas are birthed, engaging them in (every) step of the process is ideal to having a successful proof-of-concepts proven.
Evangelise within the Company
The one thing that I’ve learnt with corporate innovation and working inside a large company, is that you cannot do it alone, especially in a network that’s over 45000 strong, globally. You need to know which departments, executive sponsors and in my case, Labs buddies (connecting with someone in other Thomson Reuters Labs across the work) to network and connect to. You cannot do it alone!
Product management is a team effort. It takes a corporate innovation village in order to ensure that we’re connected to the right markets, holding conversations with the right customer departments, partnering with the right internal teams, and so much more. It’s been an awesome year in product management, one with a couple of successes paired with failures that you learn to do very fast and pick yourself up again.
Here’s another year of innovation!
My time is currently being seduced by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, the ultimate feminist intelligence-backed and manifesto for women in the world (who are fortunate enough to access this kind of resource) engaging their will in lead in the workplace and outside of it. The book is authored on the foundation of not only Sandberg and her experiences, but the data that supports the reality of feminism as much as it exposes the world’s commitment to keeping feminism as a promise, and nothing else. The reality is that in the workplace and outside, women’s voices are not heard equally, and the rallying cry of this book, is calling women (and men) to lean in.
It’s no secret that the space of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a white, male dominated space, and in every capital technology city and corporate one encounters. This is why I’m obsessed with being a Mentor and Sponsor advocate – so many young women professionals need this knowledge sharing. A 2012 McKinsey report surveying more than 4000 employees of leading companies found that 36% of men wanted to reach the C-suite level of jobs compared to only 18% of women. Admittedly, I cringed when I came across this finding. Granted, not every woman aspires to be a CEO of a company, but for young ambitious women like me who would, representation matters, and we need more of them to be there and so that we can lean in. And, because of having such representation in my network, I ended up hacking my first lean in.
I had just penned my first resignation from a digital agency and wanted to immerse myself into a job and career with more of STEM and startup focus, not knowing that a responsibility of two months would lead me to it. Immediately after my resignation, I had an advisory meeting with my mentor, where I expressed to her my current state of thinking and the direction that I wanted my life to take. A few days later she told me about an opportunity to assist her at coordinating a hackathon for “a company, you’ll see it when we get to the meeting, but I know it’s right up your alley”, and indeed it was, also the company turned out to be Thomson Reuters (no biggie, right?). A week later my mentor received a call that she needed to be in London for about 5 weeks with Mozilla, and told me that she and my current boss had decided that they’re entrusting me to be capable enough to handle being the project manager of the hackathon. The first thing that went through my mind was nothing, because my insecurities arrested my mind, and secondly, it was a Thomson Reuters hackathon, were these two women insane? The fact that they, whom together have almost 45 years in the technology, product development, digital and innovation industries entrusted my capabilities to execute this job was eclipsed by my insecurity. You’d think with the experience they bring to the table, I’d trust their decision to trust me, and whatever potential they saw in me. I didn’t feel deserving, as though they were doing me a favour as opposed to deciding on merit. Sound familiar? I wanted to pay a penalty for my potential with doubt. I wanted to silence myself, even though I wanted to lead with ambition. The job I was entrusted with couldn’t house both feelings, something had to give.
It was the latter that I gave up. I ended up working with an incredible team of women (with one man on the team) who hacked my insecurities and enabled an environment of thriving and leaning in. The execution of the hackathon was a success and my nervousness to fail that was on cue, lost its way to my expectations of the two day event. Through the hackathon we managed to mine some great ideas about land transparency through ICT, trended on social media on both days and enriched both civil, private and public sectors through knowledge sharing and engaging with creative business solutions.
The opportunity was mine to lose. And to be honest with you, spending time with these two women in the two weeks we had before the mentors’ London trip, and hearing their vision for young, black women in STEM and the private sector, their discussions were the answers to what I would do if I wasn’t afraid. It was knowing that there had to be more to life than stereotype threats, and having the confidence and humility to know that the women who invited me to the table, entrusted me to lean in and lead. This is why I’ve created this platform, so that I could lean in, by sharing my experiences, thoughts and conversations as a young woman in STEM on the continent, we need more of us in this space, a more normalised picture of women leading in this industry.
I was 21, and orchestrated my first life hack(athon). It was the audition that opened the door to the job that I enjoy doing the most, being an Innovation Project Manager with an opportunity to engage with private and public sector, together with startups to innovate with the mission to add business value and create social impact.
Hack it till you feel it, and believe it. Then embody it, and run away with the will to lead, and to feel deservingly have your mark made.