I’ve been back from Nigeria for a week now and have had some time to reflect. As you may know, I recently joined the Tour of Tech 2015, led by Ingressive in partnership with TasteMakers Africa. The purpose of the trip was to bring investors and global influencers to Lagos, Nigeria, to meet the people who are building African economies and solving persistent community problems.
A regular message under all of the activities that made up Tour of Tech 2015 was about “the narrative.” Westerners have a skewed story of what Africa is like due to our popular culture, media, and our minimal experience. For myself, when I think of Africa, I know many of the images lodged in my mind are of safari animals, people in rural villages living in grass huts, and crowded slums of tin-roofed buildings. The message of Tour of Tech is that this is a very limited view, and it is not helping Africans or the rest of the world to benefit from the plentiful riches Africa has to offer.
There is a growing movement in Africa to put the forces of entrepreneurship to work as a more effective alternative to foreign aid. It’s the people building this ecosystem that I went to Africa to meet.
During the short time I was there, there were two major events that brought the best entrepreneurs from all over Africa to share their pitches, network, and meet investors: DEMO Africa and She Leads Africa. These events attracted investors from all over the globe, as well as ecosystem leaders running accelerators and providing a myriad of resources for startups.
As a result, a fascinating mix of people came together during my week-long immersion experience. I met many diaspora millennial Nigerians, largely educated overseas, who are returning to start businesses in their homeland. These young entrepreneurs are very savvy – many of them hold MBAs from prominent business schools, and have built careers in major consulting and financial firms. They are also unerringly optimistic. They see a Nigeria that has opportunities everywhere you look. Where others see high unemployment, they see a workforce ready to staff their new businesses. They are excited by the huge untapped markets for mobile and educational technologies in Africa. They envision successful businesses that streamline and improve infrastructure. They see that the businesses they dream of building will have a positive social impact on their homeland, while simultaneously generating income for many.
There were similarities between all of the people I met in that everyone had contagious optimism about opportunities in Africa. But each person brought her own experience to the ecosystem. Some Nigerian entrepreneurs had lived their whole lives in the US or Europe, until their recent return. Some had never left Nigeria, and many had left only for education. Some had parents and family in Nigeria, some had families who couldn’t understand why they wanted to return. Some spoke English with an American accent very familiar to me, some I had to concentrate hard to understand, and many were somewhere in between. Some are living abroad, and starting Africa-facing companies. And among Nigerians, there are variations around family heritage, religion, tribe identity, and geographical home, which I only learned a tiny bit about in my short time there.
I thoroughly enjoyed the rich tapestry of perspectives which all the people I met brought to my experience of the week. In addition to learning about business and social impact opportunities, I had a chance to explore the art and culture scene in Lagos. We attended events at art galleries, mingled with artists, performers, and designers, dined at fabulous restaurants, and were exposed to the famous Nigerian nightlife.
I am so grateful for and enriched by this opportunity to begin to learn and share a more accurate, more progressive, and more beneficial narrative about Africa and Nigeria. Now, I know first-hand that it is a continent with abundant resources, cutting-edge technology, insightful people, and stimulating culture – a place poised to be the most modern continent on the planet within my lifetime, while retaining the vibrant cultures and outlooks that make it authentically Africa.
photo credit: Jenny Parham