Image showing the Africa Business Forum from http://sabf.stanford.edu/

My 2cents on the Stanford Africa Business Forum

I missed some part of the keynote, but it usually starts with the same semantics, some guy from Stanford telling us how magical Stanford is, the impact of the seed program and all.

I know it’s magical, I drank the kool aid I’m here at 9am on a Saturday ☺️

First up was the fireside chat with Eleni Gabre-Madhin (you should look her up). She slayed. She explained how she drove the creation of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, some pitfalls along the way, and her new agro venture fund BlueMoon. I know your thinking of the beer, but when she explained the name it was pretty catchy, great ventures happen once in a blue moon. The Key Takeaways from her fireside chat:

  • Come with a partnership perspective than with a “messiah complex”. Don’t come to Africa thinking your here to save them, rather there should be a combination of working with a hybrid approach; combine what already exists with your big idea.
  • There can be a late mover advantage. For example she was able to avoid shocks in the future commodities market she helped create because she witnessed what doesn’t work in other parts of the world.

Next up was CEO of World Remit, Ismail Ahmed pretty mind blowing story on his beginnings in Somali land, his role as a whistle blower in the UN to starting a money transfer business. I guess the key take away from his talk was the importance of persistence.

My bone of contention was with regards to the Education panel. I wasn’t quite sure the criteria for picking the panelists but I felt some of them were lacking in experience needed to discuss “Bridging the Gap and Training Future Leaders”. I think that there were some valid points raised about the disconnect that exists between what students are taught versus the soft skills society requires, but I was looking for actionable insights and discussion on the “training future leaders” and the jobs of tomorrow part, that didn’t quite happen.

Lunch was great, I like the idea of a light lunch, so people weren’t feeling sleepy after lunch….✌🏾

The next speaker was Segun Agbaje, the CEO of Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB who turned out to be the killer presenter without powerpoint. Dude had one slide up and was able to keep the audience engaged the whole time. The key points he made:

  • Banks everywhere (including African Banks) must change their service model or face extinction from threats like fintech
  • GTB’s value proposition is personalization, group customers into their corresponding demographics, and treat them accordingly.
  • GTB brought in revenue north of $500m last fiscal year, they are doing something right…..🙌🏾

The E-commerce panel was also good. I have mixed feelings about e-commerce in Nigeria, and I asked the panelists if “e-commerce is a non existent problem we have copied from the west and attempted to solve”. One of the panelists said the reason e-commerce existed was because space was limited in places in Lagos, and people have stuff to sell. While there might be truth in that, I disagree (I know too many empty stores in Balogun market in Lagos). I think e-commerce thrives in developed countries because the “opportunity cost” of time is high, and the existence of a strong middle class.

A few other things I wanna call out from the forum:

  • Africa is not a country, simply aggregating averages can be misleading, saying 10% of the population work in tourism might be the case in South Africa but I’m sure that percentage differs greatly in West Africa.
  • We need to hold speaker accountable to sources when they cite statistical information. When you throw some stats (which MBA folks love), we need to know where you got that information from.
  • For being a student ran forum, I think they did a fantastic job, however for being the 10th year it’s being ran, reviews like this should exist so the bar is exceeded next year.