Monday, November 8, 2010

Our Strategy in Africa Part III: Making the Internet Relevant and Useful

Did you know that Africans represent 14% of the world's population and yet only 2% of the Internet users? With numbers like that, it shouldn't be surprising that there isn't much African content online or very many products aimed solving African problems. Thus, we hit a bit of a chicken-and-the- egg problem. Because there are so few Africans online, there is very little useful or relevant content, and because there is so little useful or relevant content, there's very little reason for Africans to get online in the first place. We're hoping to shake things up, and here's how we're going to do it.

Step One: Facilitate the creation of African content

We seek to educate businesses and consumers on the value of using the Internet and enable them to create a presence online. An example of this kind of activity would be what I was doing last month with west African exporters, training them on Internet tools and helping them create basic websites for their businesses. It's also what I'll be working on for the next two weeks in Nigeria, leading up to a large-scale event in Lagos where we help 200 small-to-medium-sized businesses get online. Success stories abound. I've met more than one local blogger who's been able to make a living from the revenue he gets from AdSense. Another inspirational story is that of Gregory Mchopa, a Tanzanian artist who's been able to launch an online business selling his paintings after outreach from In addition to this, we also seek to encourage publishers, media, and future journalists to leverage online tools to distribute their content. In Ghana alone, we have met with the press a number of times to advise key players how to build an online presence, advertise their content, and get the most out of the online efforts.

Step Two: Launch products that solve African problems

Thus far, we've launched three main products specifically built for the African market. One, which I've already spoken about at length, is Baraza, which I continue to find very useful. The other two are called Trader and TipsTrader, which launched in Uganda in the summer of 2009, is an online classifieds system that allows users to buy and sell goods and services from a computer or mobile phone. Tips, also known as Health and Agriculture Tips, is a service that provides access via SMS to locally relevant health and agriculture info. We also launched Tips in the summer of 2009 in partnership with Grameen and MTN. The service has since received millions of hits in Uganda alone and won the GSMA award 2010 for Best Mobile Services for Economic and Social Development. You can learn more about both of them in this excellent short video, which was actually part of my inspiration for trying this kind of work.

Together we believe that these two approaches pose a promising avenue to foster this Internet ecosystem we're shooting for. For me personally, these two goals are how I spend the vast majority of my time, so time will tell if my hard work pays off!

1 comment:

Marjorie said...

The video is very effective. I can see how it inspired you to want to go to Africa.