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Don’t Be A Cargo Cult Innovation Hub: Measuring Results and Impact as an Innovation Hub

Today’s article was written by Sam Shaibu, Our M&E Specialist. We think you’ll like this one. Please forward to a friend and share on your social media. As always, we love to get feedback and suggestions, you can send them here. Happy reading!


Don’t Be A Cargo Cult Innovation Hub: Measuring Results and Impact as an Innovation Hub

I have always been fascinated by the anthropological phenomenon of Cargo Cults. If you haven’t heard of cargo cults before, and a lot of people have not — the story goes that during WWII in the Pacific theater, Allied troops landed on islands throughout the South Pacific, bringing with them food, medicine, Jeeps, planes, housing, electricity, refrigeration, and all manner of modern wonders that the indigenous populations had never seen. Then the war ended and the troops went home, leaving just a few scraps behind. These populations, in a demonstration of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law which states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, concluded that such a windfall must have come from the gods. They wanted this wealth of cargo to return. So they did what seemed logical from their perspective: they set about to recreate the conditions under which the gods and their cargo had come. They cleared paths in the jungle to resemble airfields. They wore scraps of military uniforms. They made “rifles” out of bamboo and marched as they had seen the soldiers march. And always they kept their eye on the sky, hopeful that the gods observed their preparations and would soon return with more cargo.

The cargo cult phenomenon is hilarious due to the comical imagery that it conjures. However, a closer look at humans and organisations will reveal that similar patterns are common across many spheres. When people try to achieve goals and objectives in an area, there is a tendency sometimes to prioritize the relatively easy, frivolous and tangible motions over the underlying, less tangible, more arduous factors that are critical to success. Popular examples in our culture include an upcoming rapper who is able to get the right hairstyle, tattoos, lingo, and bling down to a T, but is unable to produce truly good and memorable music.

I have also witnessed similar patterns in the Startup world; in my work with Ventures Platform, it is not uncommon to see early-stage startups disproportionately focus on acquiring artifacts and tangibles such as colorful company t-shirts, a fancy website/app and a fancy spot in a co-working space at the detriment of more critical activities such as idea validation, building an MVP and achieving product-market fit. Like the cargo cults, the aspiring rapper and startup might have their hearts in the right place, and although their movements and activities mirror that of their more successful peers, the underlying factors necessary to produce similar results are missing.

This is no damning indictment to anybody or group however as research shows that the human brain battles itself over short-term rewards and long-term goals.

There are multiple lessons for us here, from Cargo Cults and their likes; One is that, in carrying out activities towards achieving a goal, it is important to ensure that your approach to solving it doesn’t have you barking up the wrong tree like the proverbial dog.

To avoid employing the wrong approach, it is helpful to apply first principles thinking- which as said by Elon Musk is “to boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy”. Put simply, this means putting aside the biases that arise from preconceived notions and lived experiences and actively questioning the assumptions that you believe you ‘know’ about a given problem or scenario — and then creating new knowledge and solutions from scratch. Almost like a newborn baby.

Second, it is imperative to ensure that you prioritize carrying out the right activities and processes that are critical for success in the long term as opposed to focusing on the more tangible but frivolous ones. In essence:

Optimize your activities towards getting the best results, also consistently measure your progress to ensure that you are on track.

Finding the right way to do this can be challenging for any organization. Since formation in 2016, Ventures Platform has explored various methodologies to ensure that our activities and programs are designed and implemented to achieve their intended impact. As an innovation hub in Nigeria, your mission is most likely an iteration of “to contribute to economic development through innovation and entrepreneurship”

If you want to ensure that your work is doing this, we have the following simple recommendations as a start in helping you optimize your activities and track your progress towards achieving the results you want. These recommendations apply at a programmatic level and at an organisational level.

  1. Develop a theory of change
  2. Develop relevant indicators to measure your performance
  3. Develop and implement a monitoring and evaluation system to measure progress and evaluate performance.

Develop a Theory of Change

If you do not know where you are going, how will you get there?

A theory of change (TOC) is simply an illustration or description that shows the change you want to achieve and how you intend to achieve it. The TOC helps you identify your long term goals and articulate how your work connects to your goals by describing your activities, the immediate results that are achieved as a result of your activities (outputs), the midterm results that are achieved (outcomes) and the long term changes that result as a result of your interventions (Impact). With the theory of change, you are also able to spot the potential risks in your plan by describing the underlying assumptions in each step. The TOC is meant to be a flexible document and is beneficial in showing how your work leads to the achievement of your goals, it can also aid in aligning team members to the larger end goal, and help them understand their role in achieving it

Develop Relevant Indicators to track your performance

Once you have described the change you want to achieve and how you will achieve it, it is imperative to develop relevant indicators that enable you to track your performance. An indicator is a specific, observable and measurable characteristic that helps determine what progress is being made towards the achievement of an intended result. Indicators are signs of progress and there should be indicators to measure progress at every level (activities, outputs, outcomes, and impact). When developing indicators, it is important to ensure that there are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely (SMART).

Note that an indicator is a unit of measurement only. Baselines, target and actual values for your indicators show the results and progress achieved as a result of your intervention.

Develop and implement a monitoring and evaluation system to measure progress and evaluate performance.

Once you have your TOC and indicators, it is important that you develop an M&E system that will include the plans regarding who is responsible for M&E tasks in the organisation, the intervals where data should be collected, how the data is collected, who collects the data, the type of database that is used for storing the data, the standard forms and data collection tools to be used, how the data is analyzed, the evaluation questions, the frequency with which an evaluation takes place, the budget allocated for evaluation etc. The M&E system should also include how the information collected should be used to ensure better future performance. The M&E system should be tailored to fit the context of your organisation and should constantly evolve to meet organisational and environmental needs and purposes. A well-designed M&E system will ensure a consistent approach to the collection, analysis, and use of information, whilst allowing considerable scope for different parts of an organisation to develop solutions in response to their own particular situations

Putting the above recommendations in place will put you in good stead to achieving the results that you aim for as an innovation hub. Robust monitoring and evaluation of your activities and results will enable you to track performance and iterate where necessary, leading to better organisational performance and greater impact, thus ensuring that the efforts you are making are not as futile as the efforts carried out by Cargo Cults.


References

  1. “Cargo Cults — Skeptoid.” 30 Mar. 2010, https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4199.
  2. “Study: Brain battles itself over short-term rewards, long-term goals.” https://pr.princeton.edu/news/04/q4/1014-brain.htm.
  3. “Elon Musks’ “3-Step” First Principles Thinking: How to Think and Solve ….” 30 Aug. 2017, https://medium.com/the-mission/elon-musks-3-step-first-principles-thinking-how-to-think-and-solve-difficult-problems-like-a-ba1e73a9f6c0.
  4. “How To Design a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) System | ann-brown.” 1 Apr. 2016, https://www.annmurraybrown.com/single-post/2016/04/01/How-To-Design-a-Monitoring-and-Evaluation-ME-System.
  5. “How to design a monitoring and evaluation framework for a … — odi.org.” https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/10259.pdf.
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VP Blog

Digital Explorers: A Journey of talent development and knowledge transfer.

A huge portion of Nigeria’s teeming youth population is unemployed. More than 8 million of them, at the last count. The thought of that many young people milling about with nothing to do is unnerving. If nothing is done, bad things could happen. With an economy largely dependent on dwindling oil revenues and barely managing to stay a few decimal points off an official recession, it is difficult to forecast that the situation gets better soon. I sincerely hope it gets better. But this source of anxiety is also our biggest opportunity. Our young population are a much more valuable asset than crude oil could ever be. All we have to do is, well, find them jobs.

What jobs, you ask? I’ll get to that in a bit. Before that, let’s talk about how the global demand for digital talent, as foretold by this 2013 report by Capgemini Consulting continues to grow, and how the supply can hardly keep up. This demand has fueled the rise of businesses that recruit, train, and hire out digital talent to companies across the world. One of such businesses is Andela which has assessed more than one hundred thousand applicants, hired over a thousand software developers, and integrated these developers into hundreds of companies including Safaricom, Percolate, and InVision. Today, Andela has raised $180 million and recruits talent from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and most recently, Rwanda. But all of that began in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2014, out of a nondescript building in Yaba.

Andela was the first to demonstrate, at scale, what could happen if you matched Nigerian talent with global opportunity. But the evidence of Nigerian excellence finding global demand continues to multiply. Nigeria is the fourth fastest growing developer community on the Github platform. Nigerian startups account for nearly half of the African ventures that have made it into Ycombinator (a leading startup accelerator). 6 out of 7 of the African startups in 2019 Winter Class are in fact Nigerian.

Today, the stories of Nigerian developers and creatives getting recruited by global tech and software companies are a daily staple of my Twitter timeline. But I suspect that there are even more stories of developers who work for foreign companies and do so quietly from right here in Nigeria. Sure, it doesn’t sound as enchanting as a fancy relocation to Europe or North America, but the implications are no less life-changing for those getting these jobs. They get to work with world class teams and earn multiples of any salary they would ordinarily be able to earn locally.

This brings me back to the question of jobs I alluded to earlier. We need to create a lot of them, as fast as we can. And these jobs don’t necessarily all need to be in Nigeria.

At Ventures Platform, besides investing, we do a lot of work that supports entrepreneurship, “intrapreneurship” (the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization) and capacity-building. In October 2018, we were visited by a high-level delegation from Lithuania led by the Afriko team, who wanted to learn more about what we do. Our teams had several conversations, and I eventually found myself on a plane headed to an obscure country in the Baltics that I knew little more about than I had picked up in books.

Eugenija, Kola, Renata, and Aurelija at Rise Vilnius (a fintech hub and co-working space in Lithuania).

As an economic case study, Lithuania is fascinating, going from communist roots to a free market that is friendly to multinationals and is increasingly powered by a vibrant technology sector leveraging emerging technologies in transport, banking/fintech, e-commerce, e-government, and lots more.

Now that I was in Lithuania, the original idea that had come up in our initial interactions with the Afriko-led delegation during their visit to Abuja, made even more sense. Here was an opportunity to facilitate a symbiotic relationship of talent and knowledge transfer between both our countries, and that is how we conceptualized and set in motion the Digital Explorers program.

How the Digital Explorers Program works is simple:

  1. The program connects Nigerian digital talent — developers, creatives, and tech business developers — to ICT companies in Lithuania.
  2. The ones who make it into the program get to work, learn, and earn in Lithuania for one year. Digital Explorers from Nigeria can choose the type of training they receive, the company they will work in, and really experience the local ICT culture from the inside.
  3. At the end of the program, the Digital Explorers return to Nigeria with all the knowledge and connections they’ve acquired, and through the reintegration program managed by Ventures Platform will be in a vantage position to access strong local employment opportunities in Nigeria, work for Lithuanian companies remotely or start their own companies altogether.

Applications to the first cohort wrapped up on the 1st of April, and we are looking forward to welcoming the successful applicants this month of May.

Mante, Eugenija, Adaeze, and Mimshach at Ventures Platform Abuja-Nigeria engaging developers on the Digital Explorers Project.

I realize that it is easy for some people to get carried away and see this as an opportunity to “leave Nigeria”. This is most assuredly not necessarily the case or at least our intention. There’s also others who are afraid of “brain drain”, but they need to look at the bigger picture of how these sorts of talent exchanges have a net positive impact on the economy.

First of all, this is about upskilling the next generation of Nigerian entrepreneurs and knowledge workers with global networks and connections. Our Digital Explorers will be working side by side amazing people, on world class teams, building products and services for global clients, and spending a lot of time in structured learning and networking activities. Also, through the reintegration component of the program, they will be bringing their skills and experience to bear on Nigerian problems and leveraging their global networks to attract funding and the best talent. Looked at from a certain perspective, the people who make it into the Digital Explorers program are effectively being paid to learn and acquire world class skills. You know what’s not free? Sending young Nigerians to study abroad. Every year, Nigerians spend over $2 billion on foreign student education.

Second of all, diaspora remittances are huge.

An excerpt from Stears Business:

“Typically, Nigerians living abroad remit (send) money to friends and family back home. According to the World Bank, in 2017, the diaspora remitted $22 billion back to Nigeria, equivalent to our total crude oil earnings. In essence, Nigeria receives as much money from its diaspora as it does from crude oil, the backbone of its economy.”

Our Digital Explorers will be earning in Euros, and their remuneration will be on par with the pay that workers in their respective Lithuanian tech companies earn. Here’s how E puts it — “get the guys out, get the remittances in”.

Of course, our guys are coming back.

I am not deluded that there is a ton of ready-made talent running around, waiting to be scooped up and plugged into these opportunities. There is the fact that most of those 8 million unemployed youth cannot find jobs because of deep-seated societal, economic and educational dysfunction. If we fixed education, the argument over the pros and cons of people leaving Nigeria would be moot ab initio, because there would be lots of talent to take the place of the ones that leave. That is unfortunately not yet the case. And no long term effort to build a secure future can ignore the fact that we will have to be deliberate about the foundational work that must happen to educate the next generation. It is one thing to upskill people to world class, and match them to global opportunities. But the underlying work, which is obviously even harder, investing in and building the systems and infrastructure that create world class talent, at scale. That is why Ventures Platform is forging long-term partnerships with communities like Forloop and initiatives like NESA ( a VP portfolio company) to, like Emeka Afigbo puts it, boil the ocean.

The road to 8 million jobs is going to be a long one. One that will require a lot of innovative thinking and the will to try new things, from the government on the one hand, and the private/innovation ecosystem on the other.

Our government needs to realize that we are at crisis point and urgently begin to revamp the education system, including overhauling the entire curriculum and teaching methods to make it fit for the new economy. As I explain here, priority must be placed on developing the digital economy by the federal and state governments.

The Digital Explorers program is private sector attempt to tackle this from the other end, and everyone from Nigeria and Lithuania who helped conceive and design it is putting a hundred and fifty percent into it. I’m grateful that my team and I get to be a part of it, and can’t wait to see what we can learn and accomplish. To learn more about the program please visit the program website at: www.digitalexplorers.eu

For the people who make it into the program, you have an exciting journey ahead of you. Please, fasten your seatbelts.

Thanks to my friends and colleagues; Adia Sowoh, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Dotun Olowoporoku, Adaeze Sokan, Akintunde Oyebode, Feyi Fawehinmi, Bankole Oluwafemi, Ola Orekunrin, Ukot Umezinne and OO Nwoye, for reading early drafts of this essay.

I will also like to appreciate the consortium of partners that have made Digital Explorers a reality; the European Union, ICMPD, Enterprise Lithuania, AfriKo, Diversity Development Group, Code Academy and the Ventures Platform team.

By Kola A.

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Series V

Investing in Trove

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it. He who doesn’t pays it.” — Albert Einstein

The rich make money, save money and invest money in profitable markets and ventures. Then they let the interest compound.

Aside from real estate, the other great wealth generator of our time is the stock market. Most often, investing is cut off from the growing middle-class population and reserved for the wealthy.

The current process for trading stocks and government bonds in Nigeria is fundamentally broken. Other than hefty charges, the account opening processes mostly require several physical walk-ins and tons of unnecessary paperwork. The alternative; engage brokers who serve as middle-men and charge exorbitant fees.

These bottlenecks, coupled with the lack of access to more mature markets like the NYSE limit participation in financial markets.

One of the most common questions in investment groups from members is “How do I buy shares of Dropbox or Lyft or Facebook?”

Ventures Platform has always been a strong proponent of democratizing economic opportunities. Trove’s vision of a world of borderless investing is something that resonates with us and the existence of such a product would be really impactful.

That’s why we’re backing Trove. The founders; Tomi, Desayo, Austin, and Ope have built a micro-investing application that allows users to invest in financial securities in Nigeria (Government Bonds, Stocks) and also in international markets (US Exchange Traded Funds & Stocks of US companies) with the tap of a button.

Trove

We’re particularly excited to see how the continent’s middle class and millennials adopt this service. The success of services like PiggyVest (one of our portfolio companies), has demonstrated consumers’ interest in taking control of their savings. We are convinced Trove will usher in a new generation into investing.

The NYSE and NASDAQ have a market cap of $30.2T and $10.1T respectively. They are the most valuable markets and have consistently outperformed every other market. Unfortunately, they have been largely inaccessible to Nigerians and Africans in general… until now.

Trove gives Nigerians (and soon Africans) access to these markets. With Lyft, Pinterest, Zoom, Jumia and a host of other unicorns still going public this year, Nigerians can now seamlessly participate in the global economy and own a piece of some of these extremely valuable companies without having to be residents of the US or having a social security number.

The team is a mix of repeat founders and finance professionals, with experience working in companies in the financial sector such as Goldman Sachs and UBS Investment Bank. We had the pleasure of working with them during the 3-month ARM Lab Corporate Accelerator. We got to witness first hand, their passion, and commitment to democratizing access to quality investment opportunities.

I am happy to announce our investment in Trove, the product is NOW live here and users can start buying US-based securities upon completing KYC.

Welcome to the Ventures Platform Family.

Kayode Oyewole

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Series V

Startup/Corporate Partnerships and the role of Mentors

Corporate partnership is a mutually beneficial relationship between a startup and an established corporate organisation.

You probably read “mutually beneficial” and thought; “no way, big corporates will definitely exploit startups”, while this might be the case in some instances, it should not be the norm. This is why it is important for startups to understand how to navigate the corporate partnership landscape.

Startups desire partnerships with corporate organisations for obvious reasons: they are either seeking funding opportunities, looking to leverage the corporate partner’s credibility, navigate the regulatory environment, deepen their industry insight or most importantly to increase their distribution network.

It is important to note that startups are not the only party that win from this relationship. Corporates also have a lot to gain (without having to exploit the startups). Most corporates are constantly trying to create new innovative products with better technology and hence need cheaper ways of developing new products. They are also always looking to penetrate new markets while up-selling to existing customers. In all, corporates are either seeking ways to make or save more money and partnerships with startups can be a very appealing option.

Now we know that both parties stand to gain tremendously from this relationship, but before entering one, here are some very simple but important tips to remember. Corporate partnerships;

  1. Involves two or more entities.
  2. Have to be mutually beneficial.
  3. Have to be legally binding and
  4. Have to explicitly state the roles and responsibility of each party.

Mentors can play a very key role in forming beneficial corporate partnerships. The best mentors provide guidance and when convinced, can open up their network to founders.

Mentors with industry experience can help founders understand the corporate terrain and sometimes would have relationships within the organisations. Mentors can help founders better craft their value proposition in a way that corporates will appreciate. They can also provide founders with key industry knowledge that can make the startup’s pitch more tailored and appealing to the corporate.

But perhaps most important of all is that a credible mentor can make introductions which are usually more effective in starting the partnership conversation than a cold email or proposal. This is because investors and corporate partners trust startups who come highly recommended by those in their circle and a successful mentor has a large network of people who will be beneficial to a founder.

Now, even if you do not need corporate partnerships (and who doesn’t), there is still compelling reason for having great mentors. In an age where the pain-pleasure principle is glorified, it is not shocking that many entrepreneurs do not put in as much effort to seek out a mentor as they would for a co-founder.

Arguments proliferate the ecosystem about why entrepreneurs should trust their guts and follow their own instincts instead of relying on a mentor but it is important to note that most successful companies today have founders who had mentors. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by Steve Jobs, Steve Jobs was mentored by Mike Markkula and Eric Schmidt mentored Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google.


Inside VP

We just concluded demo day for our corporate fin-tech accelerator, Labs by ARM. Companies that pitched were Fint, Asusu, Ogaranya, Trove, Payday Investor and Tsaron. Look out for pictures and details in the next Series V.


Portfolio Chatter

  1. Tizeti launches IP voice call service, you can read more about it here.
  2. PiggyVest just launched a new feature that allows users to directly invest in multiple asset classes, see here.

What are we reading?

The Prosperity Paradox by Clayton M. Christensen, Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillon. See here


Happy Workers’ Day.


See you next month,

V.