This past June, Enterfive went to obodo oyinbo! Lol. Okay, I play. But truly, Enterfive (e5) co-founder, Kemdi Ebi, represented the company as part of the Nigerian delegation that attended the G20YEA Summit, held in Berlin. Possibly, you are like me, and don’t pay close enough attention to world politics (even though you promise yourself, day after day, that you will), so you have never heard of the G20YEA Summit or the organization that runs it, the G20YEA. Never fear! Kemdi has given us the hookup. He tells me that the G20YEA (in full it’s the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance), was “formed as a way to propel young entrepreneurs of G20 countries to begin to map the way towards helping their economies—trading ideas, opening up trade lines, etc., to improve their economies in whatever capacities they can.” The organization hosts a summit (aptly called the G20YEA Summit) around the same time as the larger G20 summit for this kind of exchange. Each summit sees entrepreneurs gather around a theme, and for this year it was “Digital Trends for Future Business,” with an emphasis on Big Data and artificial intelligence. Right up e5’s alley, I know!
Kemdi and I had a conversation about his experience there, a condensed version of which we have produced below. We span all kinds of interesting ideas, including the role of Nigerian tech as a subset of African tech in the global tech space, how he sees work that’s happening locally as work that has global ramifications, and what he’s excited about following the summit.
How did e5 get invited to the G20YEA summit?
Enterfive was referred by one of our partners, who recommended us to represent as a member of the Nigerian delegation. Nigeria was selected for the first time to be an observer at the summit, so there was a need for strong delegates to represent what we are doing in the country around digital and tech. Seeing we fit the bill, they reached out to us to request our presence and our participation there. There were other delegates too in the tech space, representatives from the Lagos State Government, real estate, investment (Venture capital groups, accelerators and etc). The delegation was led by our Minister for Youth and Sports, Barrister Solomon Dalong. He actually gave a speech on the second day. [In the speech he made] the pitch that Nigeria should always be included in such conversations. South Africa is already part of the G20, so it was almost like, why isn’t Nigeria being considered? Is it because we haven’t met certain requirements? And if so, what are the things that we need to do? I mean just basically to push the agenda forward and let these countries that are part of this exclusive group know that Nigeria is also a force in the world’s economy, or is going to be if not now.
Okay, so Barrister Dalong gave the speech that he gave, and made the case that he made. Can you make your own case for Nigeria’s belonging in these types of conversations, especially as an insider in the tech space?
Just the single fact that Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa [means] opportunity is wide and very promising. Then, secondly, we are still one of the largest mobile consumers in the world, and mobile trends with internet usage and internet access, so the digital trends even favor us, as a country competing with other first world countries, in terms of our digital penetration. And then there is the thriving tech industry that Nigeria is beginning to develop. We’re seeing a lot of groundbreaking innovations coming out of Nigeria or from Nigerians outside Nigeria, so it’s a no-brainer in terms of where we belong in that conversation on technology and Africa.
Also the lack of infrastructure that we have from our government pushes us to create those [infrastructural] solutions by ourselves to leapfrog into what we can control, right? So, if you think about it, that’s one of the key components as to why we push boundaries and are always looking for ways to play in [the tech] space. [Tech] has become our natural outlet to survive.
Yeah, so you’re saying innovation is not a luxury for us in Nigeria, it’s a necessity?
Yeah, it’s literally that. Innovation is a necessity. It’s now becoming survival mode, because you know, we have to figure out a way to take control, and this is what technology has allowed us to do. 20 years ago, young people were probably thinking, “government has disenfranchised us from basic rights, like voting. Or government has stripped us of the power to take control of our futures.” Now tech is becoming that outlet to say “Look, we will control it,” and hence we will enfranchise ourselves to be what we should be. And, thankfully, it’s working out, that has become the way to almost combat the old ways.
What were your takeaways from the Summit as a Nigerian in the room? An African in the room?
Representing Nigeria in its current economic and political instability, I only saw an opportunity to highlight the important things we offer that are exportable and yet solve global economic problems. Specific to what Enterfive does, which is provide affordable access to (tech and digital) product development and marketing intelligence on doing business in the African continent — the next global economic frontier.
I’m curious to hear more about this, this idea that the solutions that are being made in Nigeria, are specific to our context but they also solve global problems?
I feel that the same problems that we are solving, are quite similar to a lot of what others in general are going through. Everyone’s problem is kind of relative to their cultures, size, whatever, but fundamentally, they are almost the same economic problems. So, as a result there are actually ways to collaborate. [We can consider] solutions that have worked in other countries and how we can replicate them here or it could be the other way round—we can come up with solutions that we can also export. But the idea is that, we are not far away. The same problems that we are trying to solve, whether it’s through logistics, whether it’s even through power or electricity or a lack thereof, or just basic internet issues. I’ve realized that, maybe because we are more pressed, and because we need these solutions to actually survive and make things easier, we may even be in a good position to export some really really cool ideas and neat technology innovations.
Could you give an example that clarifies this point?
In banking, there’s one thing that’s very big now that everyone is talking about is access to financing. [Part of the challenge is] how do you make the system more liquid and cash circulates? How do you provide ways for people to pay for goods and services seamlessly and with little to no friction so money gets into their cash accounts and they are able to spend more, and hence make more, and hence give the banks more, [so that banks are themselves] able to loan more? So a thriving economy is contingent on money moving through the system, how seamlessly payments are being made. So for that reason alone, a product like Flutterwave or a Paystack [would be a solution]. It actually isn’t just a Nigerian problem, it’s a global problem. People are looking for seamless and frictionless ways to collect payments so that they have it in their bank accounts and when there’s cash available in banks, there is liquidity and a way to potentially distribute or offer affordable loans when the need arises. The problem that we face in Nigeria is just more structural. We have an extremely high price on loans that we offer to the layman in Nigeria which they virtually will never have the capacity to pay back when it comes down to it. So it’s now a matter of trying to see how we can figure out how to make loans more affordable by improving commerce and the way money is received and stored in the banks. Microfinancing has now become a big area of focus because of this. So lending – both B2B and B2C lending are some of the common areas that are seeing innovative tech solutions created –which is now also inspiring a global revolution.
You articulate a very keen sense of the simultaneously living and working in local and global contexts?
Absolutely. When we are here solving local problems, and improving our digital ecosystem, I can tell you there are places within first world countries and first world structures that don’t actually have these solutions available. While we are solving these local problems, it’s good to keep in mind that, look, somebody out there might also have the same problem, and maybe they haven’t figured out the solution. So then the time gap in figuring it out, we may have already fulfilled it.
I feel like you’re also making this really interesting case for the globalist perspective of business. How we are all very deeply connected, and we are all trying to solve problems for humans, so there’s no need for us to be replicating each other’s work. It’s like we’re all working together toward global human solutions?
Yes, yes, yes. But diplomacy is needed in these kinds of conversations, and even in G20 conversations like this. Because what now happens is, if I’ve solved the problem for Italy’s most pressing logistics issue and the same solution was incepted, tried and tested successfully in Nigeria, then I can literally just export that solution to Italy, right? Well, what they might tell me is, “Thank you, we will take this, strip your name away from it and brand it as Italy’s solution.” So that’s where you now have this whole issue of how to channel your interest and how stern you are on giving the credit to your home country (or home grown brand) as the inspiration behind the solution. So that’s where diplomacy now comes into this whole business. There needs to be tact in how it’s done.
What are you excited about on the heels of this conference?
You know with every conversation I had, I saw myself educating people that are in these countries where you would think they have a good idea of what’s going on, and maybe [they would have created] some new innovations around AI and big data. And while some have, there was still a clear gap. An opportunity. We’re sitting here looking at how we can scale operations for people using all kinds of artificial intelligence, going way beyond some of our peers. We are basically on the same wavelength as the future of the world.
Plus, it is always rewarding to have reinforcement that companies like Enterfive are on track and on par with the global future and its trends. Most importantly, the fact that we’re starting in our home country, Nigeria with the hopes of spanning the continent and beyond.
What are you nervous about on the heels of the conference?
Hmmmm—natural disasters, coup d’etat, WW3 I guess? [laughs] At this point, I’m grossly optimistic that so long as the African tech space keeps producing the quality solutions we have, there’s really no stopping us.
I’m a private Nigerian trying to live my best life, why should I be excited that you went to this conference?
To be honest, I wouldn’t know how it would impact one’s life directly although it should hopefully serve as a bolster that the world knows Nigeria (and Africa as a whole) is a force and doing nothing is part of the problem. So get up and solve a problem (smiles and thumbs up).
I’m a youngin’ in the tech industry, trying to find a job, make waves. Why should I be excited that you went to this conference?
The exposure. Knowing we are quality and affordable in potentially exporting product development outside the continent, is very attractive to create jobs especially for the ever-growing tech freelance community of developers and designers. Nigeria’s participation made it clear that we make high quality, affordable work here, and that we can export product development from here. And this kind of knowledge opens up the prospect of job creation especially for the ever-growing tech freelance community of developers and designers.
How do you think you might move forward differently having attended this conference?
[I] probably would’ve been stuck continuing to build e5 honestly, if I hadn’t gone to the conference. [laughs]. My closest advisors and friends have encouraged I go out more and talk about what we’re doing so I am extremely glad this opportunity came and look forward to attending similar events in near future.