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 The mission of the "Your Mark on the World Center" is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.
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Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Monthly Archives: June 2016

The New Market for the Latest Tech: Base of the Pyramid


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“Emerging markets throw up all sorts of surprises. Roughly 20 percent of the planet simultaneously use mobile phones (20 year old technology) and candles for lighting (2000 year old technology). But don’t be fooled – the same consumer aspirations exist everywhere and the last 20% represent a new and rapidly developing market for the latest technologies,” explains Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies.

Simon has been doing business in Africa for 30 years and has made some interesting observations about selling to the people living at the base of the pyramid.

1. Aspiration is the same, regardless of income:

In rural Africa, Azuri is providing affordable solar power. In stages, households add lighting, radio, TV, fan and productive devices enabling households to earn their way to a higher standard of living. The knowledge economy is not the destination but the enabler of the ‘energy escalator’ path.

2. Its not just California where you find tech innovation:

Tech has traditionally been thought of as the enabler of the rich. But we are seeing “reverse innovation” where the latest tech is finding its first volume home in emerging markets. Solar power, LED lights, mobile money, are all taking root at scale in rural Africa, long before the West.

3. The less you have, the more disruptive technology is:

Solar lighting increases children’s study time by an average of 90 minutes. A powered irrigation system can double farm income in one season. Many people in rural Africa will never see a landline or the mains and not miss either of them. Mobile phones, distributed power and efficient devices will be how people communicate, learn, trade, are informed and entertained.

On Thursday, June 2, 2016 at 3:00 Eastern, Simon will join me here for a live interview to discuss the impact of technology on–and the art of selling it to–the base of the pyramid. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Azuri Technologies:

Twitter: @azuri_tech

Azuri Technologies is a commercial provider of PayGo solar home systems to rural off-grid communities. With the widest reach of any provider in sub Saharan Africa, the company is addressing the problem of energy access which affects the 1.3 billion people around the world who lack access to the grid. Azuri is leveraging solar and mobile technology to allow users in 12 different countries to access power on a pay-as-you-go basis, providing clean, safe renewable energy for as little as half the cost of the fossil fuels being replaced. Azuri’s HQ is located in Cambridge, United Kingdom, with staff based in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Simon Bransfield-Garth, credit: Alan Bennett/Media Imaging Solutions

Simon Bransfield-Garth, credit: Alan Bennett/Media Imaging Solutions

Simon’s bio:

Simon Bransfield-Garth is CEO of Azuri Technologies, a business that combines solar power and mobile phone technology to bring affordable renewable energy some of the 600 million individuals in sub Saharan Africa that have no access to mains power. He is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for the role of technology in addressing some of the challenges of emerging economies and the potential to bypass a traditional industrial revolution route to development and jump directly to a knowledge-based economy.

Simon has 30 years global experience building rapid growth, technology-based businesses in sectors including Semiconductor, Automotive and Mobile Phones. He currently sits on the Governing Council of the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), and his career includes 7 years at Symbian, the phone OS maker, where he was a member of the Leadership Team and VP Global Marketing. Named a “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum in 2012, Simon is also founder of Myriad Solutions Ltd, and was previously a Fellow at Cambridge University. He holds a BA and Ph.D in Engineering from St John’s College, Cambridge UK.

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Devin D. Thorpe

Former Israeli Army Officer Connects Women Entrepreneurs To Silicon Valley


You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Darya Shaked is an impressive women with whom I became acquainted three years ago when I visited Angola. She was part of the team at Vital Capital, which I wrote about for Forbes. Today, she’s leading Stride Ventures, helping other women from Africa connect with the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Darya says, “As I believe some of the biggest challenges of today’s world are the outcome of inequalities, either social or gender based, I was very much focused on ways to impact Africa and the gender gap.”

She adds, “In the first years of my career I was an officer in the Israeli army, a spokesperson for the the Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Housing and Construction. In the nine years to follow, I was a part of a leading private equity, impact investing fund focused in Sub-Saharan Africa. All of these taught me the ways I am passionate about in making an impact.”

When Darya began working to connect women entrepreneurs from Africa to the Silicon Valley set, she encountered difficulties. Some companies don’t see the value of helping African entrepreneurs understand the dynamic local ecosystem, she says.

“I had to use personal connections to the people I new understand the issue and would help. Regarding the gender gap, it was hard to find the right way to support women’s initiatives. Some corporation did not want to collaborate with an outsider, some thought they had nothing to learn and should keep doing what they do. I had to find the right methods to really make a difference.”

Darya credits her success to “endurance.” She adds “thinking outside the box” and “being passionate about the potential impact my work is capable of making” to the list of factors that helped her achieve so much.

On Thursday, June 2, 2016 at 1:00 Eastern, Darya will join me here for a live discussion about her remarkable career and her efforts to help African entrepreneurs succeed in Silicon Valley. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Stride Ventures:

Supporting impact ventures focused on Sub Sahara Africa and gender equality. Stride Ventures represents and supports African entrepreneurs in their journey to Silicon Valley’s ecosystem and initiates international, disruptive ventures to impact representation of women in leadership and decision making intersections.

Darya Shaked, courtesy of Stride Ventures

Darya Shaked, courtesy of Stride Ventures

Darya’s bio:

With nearly a decade of experience in a private equity, impact investing fund focused on Sub Sahara Africa, Ms. Shaked has moved to the Silicon Valley in 2015, where she represent, advise and lead business development efforts for African entrepreneurs. Ms. Shaked is also an entrepreneur and activist for international gender equality initiatives.

Prior to that, Ms. Shaked worked in the Israeli public sector as Chief of Staff in the Ministry of Construction and Housing, a communication specialist in the Prime Minister’s Office and the legal counsel to a ministerial committee on the fight against violence.

Ms. Shaked holds a bachelor in law (LLB) from Bar Ilan University in Israel, had interned at the district attorney’s office and recently completed Singularity University’s executive program.

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Devin D. Thorpe

Inside The Impact At Playworks

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Jill Vialet, one of Forbes’ Impact 30 in 2011 and founder of the national nonprofit Playworks, takes us inside the organization to look at key financial metrics and the mission it serves.

Vialet stakes her claim to being a social entrepreneur, saying, “I’ve spent more than 25 years in the nonprofit sector, focusing entrepreneurial skills on creating and developing two successful nonprofit organizations for kids.” Prior to founding Playworks in 1996, she founded the Museum of Children’s Art.

Playworks works to solve big problems in public schools by helping kids have more fun.

Vialet explains, “Ask any elementary school principal what the toughest part of the day is, and most will answer with one word: recess. Teasing, fighting, bullying, the injuries, and the disciplinary referrals are enough to keep any principal up at night.”

Jill Vialet, courtesy of Playworks

Jill Vialet, courtesy of Playworks

“In the age of 24/7 digital distractions, many children come to school not really knowing how to start games, or keep games going with teamwork and conflict resolution skills that help them engage in safe and healthy play,” she continues. “In some under-resourced areas, playing outdoors actually may be forbidden by their parents for safety reasons. Because of a lack of safe and healthy play, development of conflict-resolution skills, learning to be inclusive and of course engaging in physical activity can be lost.”

In 2015, Playworks generated over $31 million in revenue through a combination of service fees to schools and donations, which Vialet describes as “renewable contributed revenues from fundraising (large foundations, corporate sponsorships, individual donations, small family foundations and events).”

Vialet breaks down the revenue by source as follows:

  • 41.5% Contributions
  • 38.9% Direct service school fees
  • 11.2% Government grants
  • 6.1% Training school fees
  • 2.4% Other revenue/support

Playworks has a strong balance sheet as well, with net assets (nonprofit speak for equity) of $6.9 million. The organization has 300 employees across the country.

Vialet breaks down the expenses as follows:

  • 81.2% Programs
  • 11.2% Fundraising
  • 7.6% General and administration

The organization showed a change in net assets (that is profit in a nonprofit) of just over $1 million.

Playworks’ success comes from executing on a vision. “Playworks vision is that one day every child in America will get to play – every day. By creating a place for every kid on the playground to be active, feel included and build valuable social and emotional learning skills, Playworks transforms school culture and helps all kids gets in the game,” Vialet says.

Vialet says the biggest limitation the organization faces is its ability to scale. “Currently, there is a limit to how much we can expand and scale our current on-the-ground direct services. To date, we’ve learned to scale by offering levels of service: full time on site coaches, single site coordinators (who split time between four schools) and professional training sessions for school staff.”

Playworks’ impact is significant. Working in 1,200 schools, in 23 cities and reaching 700,000 students, the organization is helping to improve students’ behavior and their attitude toward school.

Vialet explains, “Schools that use Playworks have seen reduced bullying, improved feelings of safety, increased physical activity, and therefore go back to the classroom focused and ready to learn. They also are actively developing social and emotional skills that are crucial to adulthood.”

“In fact, students with strong social and emotional skills in elementary school are twice as likely to graduate from college and 46% more likely to have a full time job by age 25 than their peers,” Vialet concludes, adding, “These are all future outcomes we can rally around.”

On Thursday, June 2, 2016 at noon Eastern, Vialet will join me for a live discussion about Playworks’ operations and impact. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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