“Redefining your limits is what makes great athletes — and great entrepreneurs.”— Unknown
October 2013 found me on my way to Rome for the 2nd Rome Forum organized by the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance – a network of highly educated young African entrepreneurs, from leading universities in Asia, Europe and North America who in partnership with a growing number of groups including Pfizer, Western Union, and Syngenta are developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem to support the social and business ventures of young African professionals.
It was to be my second visit to the ancient city which holds a special place in my journey on account of the first visit in 2011 having occurred at a pivotal point in my Afropreneurship journey. This time, it looked even promising, as it was at the invitation of the Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson , President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Ambassador Nigel Baker, the British Ambassador to the Holy See. It was meant to shed light on how entrepreneurship could help meet the needs of marginalized communities across the continent, and to this end, the Forum was to bring together directors of corporate social responsibility, international media groups, and highly educated, young African entrepreneurs, hence my invitation.
Unlike in 2011, the flights were uneventful, and I did not lose my passports or wallet this time. I flew into Rome on October 9, and was lodged at the hotel Relais Le Clarisse in the heart of Trastevere and very close to the Tiber river.
Thursday, October 10 was a special day as I had the opportunity to join eight other young and distinguished African entrepreneurs for a unique photo-shoot with renowned magazine Vanity Fair, under the guidance of the amazing Madagascar born French photojournalist – Guillaume Bonn, for a story in Vanity Fair which should be out soon.
The location for the initial photo-shoot was at the Antico Caffè Greco (sometimes simply referred to as Caffè Greco) which is an historic landmark café which opened in 1760 on 86, Via dei Condotti in Rome, Italy. It is perhaps the best known and oldest bar in Rome. Historic figures including Stendhal, Goethe, Levi, and even Casanova have had coffee there. The hot chocolate cream actually gives hot chocolate a new meaning.
However the day was not over until we had an interesting informal interactive session with the amiable Cardinal Peter Turkson, who had been in the running for the papal office. Topics discussed ranged from Africa to the new and former pope (who Cardinal Turkson mistakenly referred to as the late Pope before quickly correcting himself to say the former pope), the role of the Vatican in a fast-changing world, etc. Soon, it was time to retire back to the hotel and prepare for the kickoff of the Rome Forum proper on October 11.
Friday October 11 kicked off at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross near Piazza di Sant’Apollinare with a couple of presentations from Harambee Africa International, the CEO of Sirti – a leading global telecom firm, and an overview of GSK’s work in Africa by the very admirable Allan Pamba of Kenyan origin. One other interesting feature was documentary on PovertyCure from Aid to Enterprise by the famous Acton Institute.
Afternoon of October 11 had us entrepreneurs presenting our initiatives to, and engaging with students and faculty of John Cabot University in Rome. Ventures presented ranged from The Exposure Robotics League (XRL) by Harambe fashionista and MIT student- Obinna Ukwuani, to Enzi Footwear by Sam Imende from Kenya, Mowoza by South-Africa born Susan Moreira, Poultry Microenterprises in rural Uganda by Ms Mushavi from Zimbabwe. Others included True Mobile Africa by French-Senegalese David Ly from MIT, amazing fashion concept presentation by Ms Rakhee Shah of Maisha Concept, Rekindle Learning by Botswana born Rapelang Rabana of the Forbes Africa fame. Giovanni Milandri also presented an update on the deployment of the Connected Blood Pressure Solution in South Africa , while yours truly spoke about our work at the Wennovation Hub in Nigeria, along with our challenges and opportunities. We also had the opportunity to exchange viewpoints with young Italian entrepreneurs and compare notes. More on that here.
I got back to the hotel, tired and worn out, but only had few hours of sleep as I had to get up around am for my first 10-miler in preparation for my upcoming half-marathon. I signed up for the running tour on SightJoggers before leaving Houston, and was assigned a young running tour guide who met me at my hotel at 5am on Saturday and we then proceeded to run at my pace for the next 2 hours along the Tiber River to the Colliseum to the Vatican and the ruins of the Ancient City with him providing me a running commentary of all the important landmarks!
Coincidentally, my tour guide had been born in Austin, Texas and so we had fun discussing the NBA etc. He moved to Italy only 5 years ago and was a cross-country runner! The greatest part was making it up Gianicolo Hill- one of the highest points in Rome in time to see the sunrise across the city. So in the midst of all the entrepreneurship talk, I ran my first 10-mile run in Rome of all places! Best run ever.
After a quick shower, it was time to begin what would turn out to be a greatly memorable day. 8:15 am found me at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and after some tea and biscuits, we were all welcomed by Dr. Flaminia Giovanelli, the Council Secretary who also happens to be the Vatican’s highest ranking female official. The morning session was kicked with a welcome address by the African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology- Dr. Martial De-Paul Ikounga who was there to represent the AU Chairperson, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma. The first session had speakers such as Kishore Jayabalan of Acton Institute, David Law- Head of Corporate Finance for Africa at Standard Chartered Bank, Allan Pamba- GSK’s Director of Public Engagement and Access Initiatives, and Lia Vangelatos from Anglo American.
After lunch saw renewed conversations around topics such as Entrepreneurship in Marginalized Communities and Fostering Entrepreneurship in Africa and was moderated by no other person than the Mckinsey enigma himself- Mr James Manyika– Mckinsey Global Institute Director, who was assisted by Mckinsey’s Lohini Moodley who led us through an engaging discussion of Mckinsey’s new report on Africa titled-‘Lions Go Digital’!
Other discussants included the following;
Clarisa De Franco – CDC Group, Portfolio Director, Africa Funds
Elizabeth Donnelly – Chatham House, Assistant Head and Research Fellow, Africa Programme
Ashley Hall – Royal College of Art, London, Deputy Head of IDE Programme
Hans Jöhr – Nestle, Corporate Head of Agriculture
Brian Kuwik – Accion, Head Africa
Jorn Lyseggen – Meltwater, CEO and Founder
Amanda Pullinger – 100 Women in Hedge Funds, Executive Director
Thom Ruhe – Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Vice President of Entrepreneurship
Per L. Saxegaard – Business for Peace Foundation, Chairman
Christian Spano – Anglo American, Global Lead for Enterprise Development
George Ferreira – Samsung, Vice President for Africa
Ije Nwokorie – Wolff Olins, Managing Director
Ricardo Saad – Vale, Project Director Africa, Asia and Australia
Gabriele Zedlmayer – Hewlett-Packard, Vice President, Office of Global Social Innovation
What ensued was a very enriching exchange of viewpoints, posers, and solutions which we took from the conference room to the ambiance of the rooftop of the British Embassy to the Holy See where His Excellency Ambassador Nigel Baker was waiting for us with an amazing dinner menu along with other Ambassadors including those of Nigeria, Liberia, Australia etc.
As I left Rome for the 2nd time, I felt further strengthened realizing how far we had come in the last two years, and even more emboldened by the opportunities that lay ahead even as they masqueraded as challenges.
Paraphrasing the words of Mr. Lewis-Gayle, Chairperson of the Alliance, we had begun an important transition into the next phase of the organic efflorescence of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“..Those of us who are intimately familiar with the complex and existential challenges on the ground remain cognizant that our journey has just begun. The fact remains that the vast riches of Africa have not yet been transformed into the broad based and inclusive prosperity that our people deserve. Until our ultimate goal is achieved, we cannot be complacent, we cannot be satisfied. Yet the second Harambe Rome Forum should give us all faith in the power of collective action and gradual and continuous progress, as hard as it may be for many of you to believe, our ecosystem wasn’t always this rich and diverse. Much work lies ahead, but we should never doubt our collective ability to overcome the numerous challenges and peccadilloes that confront us.”
“..Whether the second Harambe Rome Forum is a transformative moment for each and everyone of us, largely depends on the choices and actions we take henceforth. So I encourage you to double down on your efforts, be bold and recommit yourself to our ultimate mission. For after all “the Africa our generation desires, can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it is ours.”
You can also checkout these posts by some of the amazing folks who were in Rome with us.