Braving the Odds… Tales From Africans Traversing the World

100million Africans live out of Africa… What keeps the pulse beating? Surviving the cold, different languages, cultures, food; sometimes hostilities… in the next months, I talk to some intriguing Africans to watch out for… Starting with Sangu Delle. Sangu brings the North and South of Africa together in a unique way…

 

THE ONE THING YOU BRING TO THE TABLE?

Passion
TELL US ABOUT YOU…

My father is a doctor and human rights activist from a poor village in the Upper West Region of Ghana, one of 86 children. My mother is a beautiful Egyptian woman who grew up in a strict Muslim household and brewed a firestorm when she married the Christian doctor.  My early childhood religious education comprised Psalms and Suras. My father founded the African Commission of Health and Human Rights in the late ‘80s, and I grew up with civil war refugees from Sierra Leone and Liberia. I vividly remember torture victims that we hosted in our house, like Throble Suah, who had been beaten mercilessly for writing against Charles Taylor. I remember an older woman who shared how she was viciously raped by a rebel young enough to be her grandson. Our home served as a refuge for many survivors of violence. Even one as young as I was then could not but be moved by their courage in the face of such tragedy. These experiences scarred me as a young boy, but through them I found motivation to be an advocate for human rights and development.

I have been interested in interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and eliminating poverty since my undergraduate experience. At Harvard, I was the first student to enroll in the Social Engagement Initiative, a unique program pioneered by Dr. Evelyn Higginbotham (Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies) that combines theory with practical applications. I spent five years developing a water and sanitation development project in a Ghanaian community called “Agyementi,” working with a team of professors from Economics, Anthropology, Public Health and Engineering. This project taught me much about the interlocking factors of poverty, technological costs, governance, culture, and global redistributive justice.

With my room-mate, Darryl Finkton, we founded the African Development Initiative, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to investing in improving the education, health and economies of under-resourced communities. We are involved in projects in Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, St. Lucia, etc.

While my experience at Harvard enriched my academic and social life, I always believed that the ultimate purpose of my education was to help others. In 2007, during a community meeting in Agyementi where I was conducting a needs-based assessment, I asked one of the villagers, “What is the single greatest thing I can do for your community?” Expecting him to say “build a hospital” or “build a school,” I was stunned by his response. “Jobs,” he said. “We want jobs.”

This statement inspired a shift in my philosophy on how best to aid communities in need, marking a departure from “band aid” charity work to more sustainable solutions. Coupled with my full embrace of the American entrepreneurial spirit, I founded Golden Palm Investments (GPI) with capital that I raised from friends and supporters at Harvard. GPI invests in start-ups with a focus on companies that have social impact and generate jobs. We have seeded companies in healthcare, agriculture, real estate, financial services and technology, and have created over 200 job opportunities in our four years of operation.

 

WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FROM YOU IN 5 YEARS?

Depends who you ask… My grandmother will tell you she wants great-grandchildren, lol. I am grateful to God for all His blessings, and hope that in 5 years I can have an even bigger impact on under-resourced communities and contribute to a better world.

WHY SAN FRANCISCO AND NOT GHANA?

In our globalized technologically advanced world of today, geographical boundaries have been blurred; I do not have to be stationed in Ghana to have an impact there. My experiences with ADI and GPI attest to this. We are in the Afropolitan age…
YOUR BIG ISSUES?

Education. Health. Economic Development. Human Rights.
YOUR BIGGEST FRUSTRATION WITH AFRICA

The failure of leadership
WHAT ARE THE OPPORTUNITIES…

I genuinely believe that Africa presents some of the most compelling risk-adjusted returns anywhere in the world. For the decade ending December 31, 2009, an African composite index made up of eight countries—including South Africa, Nigeria, and Egypt—returned about 14 percent annualized. South Africa alone returned an average of 13 percent per year over that period. Compare that with the MSCI Global Index, which returned about 7 percent annualized, or the S&P 500, which lost about 3 percent over the same time period. GDP average annual growth over the past 10 years in Sub Saharan Africa is ~7% versus ~4% in the rest of the world. A vast majority of the 10 fastest growing economies these past few years are in Sub-Saharan Africa!

Africa is also urbanizing rapidly. In 1980, just 28% of Africans lived in cities; today 40% do, which is a proportion larger than India. Africa also has as many cities with population of 1 million or more as in Europe. That trend is accelerating as labor migrates to economic opportunity. Africa is also outperforming the United States and Western Europe in labor productivity gains. 

Africa is ripe for business and investment. Telecom is a theme that transcends all the African nations I have visited and has unleashed derivative businesses such as tower construction, operation and maintenance, mobile-based technology platforms, commercial real estate among others. There is still so much more room to grow as only 65% of Africans use mobile phones vs. ~100% in the developed world.  The continent still has huge risks and one has to be very careful and approach it with a long-term perspective, a stomach for volatility, and with the right local partners. For the forward-thinking investor, the returns can be mind-boggling. Case in point: one of the local investors I met in Addis invested in a Pan-African bank in the 1990s at a $38 million market cap. In a little over a decade the bank has grown to a market cap of over $3 billion – that’s almost 80 times return on capital!

The beauty about investing in Africa is that you aren’t only making a great return on your investment, but you are also contributing to the development of the continent. You are providing growth capital that will allow companies to grow, creating more jobs, and helping lift millions of people out of poverty.

 

THE OPPORTUNITIES AND DIFFICULTIES THE U.S. HAS GIVEN YOU …

I was a very ambitious child growing up. Unfortunately, that ambition sometimes clashed with the structural and cultural limits of the system in Ghana. Some of my teachers lashed out at me for perceived intransigence. In elementary school, I got in trouble for using a “made up” word “serendipity”; when I protested, I was whipped. In middle school, my independent research on HIV/AIDS got me scolded for “learning material outside the curriculum.” The teacher told me “you’re too forward.” It was some of these academic limitations that pushed me ultimately to leave Ghana.

Since I was four years old, I knew exactly where I could pursue intellectual freedom: America. At that age, I had read the biography of Andrew Jackson and was inspired by his rise to the presidency from humble beginnings. In 9th grade, I discovered that some schools in America offered scholarships to international students and I applied to a dozen. I was fortunate to be awarded a full scholarship to Peddie School in New Jersey. I created and sold exam study guides and raised the fare for my one-way ticket to the States.

I initially worried that I would be judged for my African heritage, but I learned that U.S. isn’t about how you speak, or what clothes you wear. The folks I met at Peddie taught me that America is about celebrating your authentic individuality, following your dreams and realizing your potential.

My teachers pushed me to turn the question of -why some African post-colonial societies embraced democracy and others did not- into a summer research experience. When I was concerned about women and children living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, my American friends and I joined hands to host fundraisers and create a “Youth Against AIDS” Club. The school also supported me in establishing a Model United Nations program on campus that helped develop globally minded students.

As an undergraduate at Harvard, I made the transition from activist to social entrepreneur. In the fall of 2006, I sat on the steps of my freshman dorm with a best friend, Darryl Finkton, discussing our upbringing. I had witnessed poverty, human rights violations and underdevelopment in West Africa; he had experienced his fair share of gun violence, drug abuse, and absentee fathers as a child in inner city Indianapolis. We both knew we were fortunate to be at Harvard, and felt a moral obligation to help others.

My biggest shock was to discover that there are millions here in the US, for whom the “American Dream” is not a practical reality.

When I became president of the Harvard Black Men’s Forum (BMF) in 2008, I prioritized education and the achievement gap in our community service initiatives. In San Francisco, I am working with the BizWorld Foundation, which teaches entrepreneurship and business skills to elementary school students in the Bay area. I also volunteered on the Obama campaign in both elections.

 

WHAT HAS BEEN YOU BIGGEST LESSONS AND WHO ARE YOUR MENTORS

1.       Trust in God

2.       There is no substitute for hard work

3.       The power of dreams

Dreams are the X on the map, and hard work is the fuel to get there

Role Models: My mother (Amira Delle), Kwame Nkrumah, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela

Mentors

Harvard: Henry Louis Gates Jr., Evelyn Higginbotham, Emmanuel Akyeampong, Timothy McCarthy

Professional: Raymond McGuire (Citigroup), Henry McGee (HBO), Carla Harris (Morgan Stanley), Alan Waxman (TPG), Tope Lawani (Helios), Jude Bucknor (Kingdom Holdings)
OPPORTUNITIES TO WATCH IN AFRICA…

Healthcare. Agriculture. Real Estate. Consumer/ Retail. Technology. Financial Services. Infrastructure. Start a small business!!!

COUNTRIES THAT HOLD THE KEY?

Ghana is a model for democracy across Africa. The seamless transition of power after the untimely death of the President was a powerful validation of the resilience of the democratic institutions in Ghana.  With her elections in less than a month, we need her to continue to be a beacon for the continent and to show to the world that we can have free, fair and peaceful elections.

But Nigeria: Most populous country in Africa, seventh most populous in the world, and most populous country in which majority of the population is black. In 1950, Nigeria had a population of about 50 million. Today, over 160 million people live in Nigeria, and the UN forecasts that number to grow to over 730 million by 2100.

Nigeria is one of Africa’s economic giants. Selected by Goldman Sachs in 2005 as one of the “Next Eleven,” with a current GDP of over $415 billion (37th in the world). Nigeria is forecasted to overtake South Africa as the largest economy in Africa, according to research from Citigroup, which says that Nigeria will attain the highest average GDP growth in the world between 2010-2050.

Nigeria is richly endowed with an abundant supply of natural resources; well developed financial, legal, transport and telecommunications sectors; and a stock exchange that is the second largest in Africa. Nigeria is the United States’ largest trading partner in Sub-Saharan Africa and supplies a fifth of its oil. One of the most striking sectors in Nigeria is telecommunications; major emerging market operators base their largest and most profitable centers in the country. MTN generates over 50% of its earnings from Nigeria, where it enjoys industry-high EBITDA margins of 65%+.

Africa NEEDS Nigeria to succeed!!!!

It is estimated that Africa is the youngest continent; pro-porting to have 70% of its population considered young.

We’ve had the AIDS epidemic, unsustainable debts, economic crises, political conflicts and social demise, which left Africa with an eclipse of hope, a crisis of leadership and a spiritual juncture of decline. The initiatives by the World Bank and the IMF have been bold and ambitious in their goals to aid in the development of the struggling African nations, yet misguided at the same time in their pursuit of Western-prescribed solutions to non-Western problems. It is alarming that the majority of agenda for development over the past several decades have marginalized the important role of the youth.

I’m taking this opportunity to call on the youth of Africa to unite and build an Africa we will be proud to hand over to our children and grandchildren. Applying the timeless words of JFK; ask not what Africa can do for you, but what you can do for her! For those voting this year, use your thumb wisely, and put Country First over partisan politics.

 

SPEAK TO ONE LEADER…

I’d like to speak to President Obama about his foreign policy with regards to Africa. I believe America needs to be a strong partner with Africa in its new era of development. A true partnership that will be mutually beneficial; Africa’s new emerging middle class and recent strong economic growth presents huge opportunities for American businesses.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/juliet-asante/braving-the-odds-tales-fr_b_2161955.html

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