Visit from the Youth Think Tank (pt. 2)

Before revisiting and continuing the previous post on our visit from the MasterCard Foundation’s Youth Think Tank, a few dupates. It has been busy here at the Legatum Center, as we launched the Seed Grant application, for projects in Latin America during IAP, and prepared for the a Legatum Lecture with Founder and CEO of the African Leadership Academy, Fred Swaniker. 

For background on the Youth Think Tank program and its remarkable participants, please see the previous post on the subject. 

Youth Think Tank participants, three Legatum Fellows and our staff convened for lunch and a discussion that stretched into the late afternoon on October 26th. While there was no set agenda before the meeting, it quickly became clear that with the sheer number and diversity of ideas at the table, conversation was going to be in no short supply.

Members of Youth Think Tank explained the challenges faced by young people searching for jobs in Africa.

It began with introductions, and the five (of nine) Think Tank members explained the main problem they had been brought together to discuss and devise solutions for. This year in Nairobi the nine members came together to tackle youth employment in Africa and the difficult transition into working life experienced by many of their generation. Eddy Matagala of Uganda described part of their information gathering strategy; Think Tank members from around the continent interviewed hundreds of people to discover what the main obstacles are for young people in Africa trying to find sustainable, high-impact employment. Out of hundreds of possibilities, the members narrowed it down to nine main solutions, including promoting creativity and innovation, career counseling, financial education and developing the skills needed to market yourself. These are all concepts that we sometimes take for granted in the United States when they are mainstays in college and high school career counseling centers. But far from ubiquitous even in the US, the Think Tank members described how these are very new ideas in African schools and in the priorities of employers.

Legatum Fellow Daniel Obaseki described how he hopes his distribution platform for Nollywood films will contribute to employment opportunities in Nigeria.

At this point, the three Legatum Fellows in attendance chimed in with their experiences with the challenges of job creation as well as personal obstacles to pursuing an unconventional career in entrepreneurship in Africa. Daniel Obaseki, who is working to create a distribution platform for Nigeria’s film industry, discussed how he hopes to bolster the industry, thus adding to the position of Nollywood as a major source of employment for Nigerian youth. Aminata Kane, founder of Fula&Style in Senegal, described the challenges she faced in launching her fashion company, but also the ease with which she was able to tap into the local tailoring market and help support employment. Adetayo Akisanya is also working on increasing employment in Nigeria, by using mobile phone technology to connect small businesses with investors.

The Fellows asked as many questions as they answered, and the discussion touched upon employment opportunities, the challenges faced by African entrepreneurs, the importance of collaborating across industries and sectors and the age-old brain drain vs. brain circulation debate on the pros and cons of Africans coming to the US for their education.

Aminata Kane (second from left) talked to the Youth Think Tank members about the challenges and successes of her local Senegalese fashion company, Fula&Style.

The Think Tank members had identified four sectors where employment opportunities for young people could and should expand - agriculture, ICT, green growth and microfinance. After discussing these side by side with the Fellows’ interests, they also decided the entertainment and fashion industries should be added to that list - industries that are often overlooked by older generations.

Our Director, Iqbal Quadir and Fellowship Manager, Will Guyster chimed in as well, offering their guidance for entrepreneurs in Africa. Professor Quadir was pleased to see the Youth Think Tank addressing precisely the problems that we at the Legatum Center are concerned with. Not only do we believe we are adding to job creation on the continent, but we are also trying to change the conversation. It is important that young people consider entrepreneurship as a rewarding, respectable and high-impact field and that education centers both in the US and abroad put more resources towards entrepreneurship training, like MIT and the African Leadership Academy currently do.

The Think Tank participants left the Legatum Center with new ideas and partnerships, and the conversation continued over dinner at the Museum of Fine Arts. But the meeting was not a one-way conversation. Legatum Center Staff and the three Fellows in attendance also left with a sense of optimism for Africa’s future as embodied by these five, bright minds. We hope to see their names in our stack of Legatum Fellowship applications in the near future!

Visit from the Youth Think Tank (pt. 1)

Africa’s position as a rapidly growing frontier in the global economy has been discussed at length by journalistspoliticians and economists alike.  The remarkable growth and resulting entrepreneurial opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa are also of particular interest to us at the Legatum Center. About one year ago, we announced a new initiative with the MasterCard Foundation, with a focus on entrepreneurship in Africa.

Since its inception in 2006, the MasterCard Foundation has worked tirelessly to promote financial inclusion and prosperity in 48 developing countries around the world, through microfinance and youth empowerment programs. Thus far, our involvement in this mission has been manifested in our 12 MasterCard Foundation Fellows, working on entrepreneurial projects all over the world.

Last week we had the pleasure of welcoming the next generation of African entrepreneurs, educators and leaders to MIT’s campus. Five members of the MasterCard Foundation’s new youth initiative, Youth Think Tank, visited us at the Legatum Center to learn about MIT and interact with our Fellows.

The Youth Think Tank was founded to engage young people from Africa in coming up with solutions to the problems faced by developing countries. This year the nine members of the Think Tank, chosen from a large applicant pool, came together in Nairobi to devise answers to the question, “How can we increase youth employment in growth sectors such as agri-business, green growth, ICT, and financial services?” Through this initiative, it is clear that the MasterCard Foundation understands that the answers to these questions are best found not with established bureaucrats, but with the young people who will be shaping the continent’s future.

(from L to R: MasterCard Foundation Youth Learning Program Manager Steve Cumming and Youth Think Tank members Rafiatu Lawal, Eyram Adedze, Peris Mwangi, Eddy Matagala, Olivia Kyomuhendo) 

The five members of Youth Think Tank who visited Boston are Eyram Adedze, a 19 year-old African Leadership Academy graduate from Ghana who is passionate about education and entrepreneurship; Olivia Kyomuhendo, a 22 year-old member of the Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents program from Uganda who was also selected to attend the 12th International Forum on Women’s Rights and Development; Rafiatu Lawal, a 24 year-old teacher from Ghana who is an avid blogger and believer in the power of social media; Eddy Matagala, a 20 year-old social entrepreneur, youth advocate and motivational speaker from Uganda; and Peris Mwangi, a 20 year-old from Kenya who is involved in the Secondary Education Scholarship Project with Equity Group Foundation.

The group in front of the Stata Center on MIT’s campus

The members of Youth Think Tank were joined by Steve Cumming, Program Manager of Youth Learning at the MasterCard Foundation. Together with members of the staff, the group toured the MIT campus, the MIT museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and sat down for a lengthy, in-depth discussion with four of our African Fellows and Legatum Center staff on the challenges faced by the continent and the most effective solutions. For the sake of brevity, we will save a recap of the fascinating conversations that transpired for a later blogpost. For now, we can just say that everyone—Fellow, staff member and Think Tank participant alike—left inspired and equipped with new knowledge and ideas about the best path to inclusive growth and prosperity in a rapidly expanding part of the world.


Vijay Mahajan at the Legatum Center

Vijay Mahajan brought in this academic year’s Legatum Lecture season with an inspiring and important message about the infinite entrepreneurial opportunities that exist in the developing world.

Mahajan holds the John P. Harbin Centennial Chair in Business at McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a former dean of the Indian School of Business at Hyderabad, and a renowned expert in business and economics, with a focus on marketing.

While Mahajan has authored a number of books, including Africa Rising, and most recently The Arab World Unbound, his focus at this Legatum Lecture was on the message that he put forward in the American Marketing Association 2007 Book of the Year, The 86% Solution. 

After being introduced by our Director, Iqbal Quadir, Mahajan immediately launched into his eloquent blend of facts and personal experience. Mahajan is a man of numbers and while the econometrics he works on every day could easily fly over most heads, the numbers he put forward in the lecture were astounding in their simplicity and weight. Using the definition of ‘developing countries,’ as those with a GDP per capita less than $10,000, he identified 86% of the world’s population as falling into that category. This 86%, says Mahajan, is where the entrepreneurs, businesspeople and gamechangers of the future should be focusing their efforts.

A corollary to this idea involves the title of Mahajan’s lecture - ‘the 2,400 sq ft syndrome.’ Weaving between data and anecdotes with ease, Mahajan described how the average size of a home in the United States, 2,400 sq ft, is not a standard that can be applied to the rest of the world. Broadening the analogy means that this idea is not just limited to the size of homes. It means that the standards, desires, values and products of 14% of the world have no place and no chance of succeeding in the other 86%. Citing the examples of toilets doubling as doctors and jackets that can give you a hug as 14% solutions, Mahajan outlined a multi-point approach to doing business with the 86% of the world that at once meets the demands of the people and offers huge opportunities for business success and wealth.

One of the highlights of the lecture was a diagram in which world trade and economic interaction is separated into four quadrants, representing the different ways the 86% and the 14% interact. The future, Mahajan claims, lies in 86 to 86 interactions, citing the way China has led the investment rush into the consumer-driven African economies as an example. 

The clear message of Mahajan’s lecture, and something the Legatum Center strives to achieve every day, is that the developing world must stop being viewed as a hapless beneficiary of the developed world’s charity or the powerless recipient of its whims. The 86% already realizes the power in their productivity and, before it’s too late, the 14% must as well.  

Keep an eye on this blog, our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on the Legatum Lectures and other news and events!

Importing students, exporting education

The Legatum Center is proud to be on the cutting edge of entrepreneurial education, focused on the developing world. But it does get lonely in this brand new approach to international development.

In May, our director Iqbal Quadir argued in Harvard Business Review, that the US and the world has a lot to gain by increasing the focus on entrepreneurship education for international students in American universities. In his latest piece, he takes this logic a step further to say that the US should treat education as an export, dramatically increasing the number of international students (especially from low-income countries) we attract to US universities every year. While a focus should be placed on crafting entrepreneurial incubation programs like our own around the country, tertiary education for international students in all fields will have monumental benefits for both the United States and the rest of the world. It’s a win-win situation that could be easily brought about by diverting the vast sums of money being wasted on foreign aid to our universities’ capacity to bring in international students.

Check out the new piece, published on’s Singularity University blog here

Welcoming the 2012 Legatum Fellows

On Friday and Saturday, September 7th and 8th, the Legatum Fellows gathered in the Bush Room, along with our staff, mentors and some special guests to begin their journeys as entrepreneurs.

The two day event combined discussions on the Center’s mission from a theoretical perspective, the beginnings of a new nuts-and-bolts training regimen for the Fellows on the skills and knowledge necessary to be a successful entrepreneur in the developing world and a healthy dose of engaging conversation. It would be impossible to succinctly communicate all the knowledge gained or the partnerships formed, just as it would be to mirror the shared sense of excitement for the year ahead. But here’s a pictorial attempt at capturing the events of the first day of orientation. 

New Legatum Fellow Aminata Kane (second from left) discusses the strategies behind her Senegalese fashion business, Fula&Style,with Legatum Fellow Adetayo Akisanya (left), Fellowship Manager Will Guyster (second from right) and Advisory Board member Shoshana Zuboff (right).

Legatum Mentor and co-founder of the consulting firm Red Bridge Strategy, Inc Cindy Carpenter discusses her on-the-ground experience working in the global outsourcing industry in India and her enthusiasm for using her experience in the developing world and in strategy formulation to help guide the Fellows to success. The team of Legatum Mentors was present at the Orientation and introduced themselves, described their expertise and began forming partnerships with the Fellows. We introduced our Mentor Program in a previous blog post.

Legatum Mentor Joseph Teja of Foley and Lardner, LLP  gave a crash-course in Intellectual Property Law. As a Mentor him and his team will be able to ensure that the wide range of state-of-the-art innovations emanating from our Fellows are legally protected and can be effectively and securely implemented around the world.

Colin Kennedy of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship (top) and Katy Mytty of MIT IDEAS Global Challenge (bottom) discuss how, along with the Legatum Center, they help foster MIT’s rich ecosystem of entrepreneurship. Fellows are encouraged to utilize the resources of the E-Center as well as participate in the IDEAS competitions. 

Legatum Distinguished Scholar and Mentor Jim Maxmin (left) listens to Fellow Adetayo Akisanya describe how he hopes to connect Nigerian businesses with investors through cell phone technology.

To introduce themselves, Fellows gave one minute elevator pitches on their business ideas. Fellows Antonio Osio (left) and Enrique Benavides use a break in the day’s events to practice their pitches.

Fellow Flora Fiorillo gives her sixty second elevator pitch. Flora is the Legatum Center’s first Fellow working in the Palestinian Territories and hopes to sell goods made by Palestinian women through her company, Watan.

Fellow Ted Perkins pitches the vision behind Now Onboard, a company that will bring commerce to island markets throughout the Caribbean.

Fellow David Obaseki gives a rapid rundown of how he hopes to leverage Nollywood, Nigeria’s prolific film industry.

Legatum Fellow Alumnus Bilikiss Adebiyi (2010-2011) presents her successful new waste-collection business in Nigeria, wecyclers. In this slide she is telling the story of her inspiration - people in Nigeria like the one pictured, who struggle to get by every day as waste collectors.

Legatum Fellows board the Lexington for a sunset cruise of the Boston harbor.

Constructive conversation, two presentations from the Fellows and delicious food and drink were ample compensation for the mid-cruise downpour. Here Fellow Daniel Heyman (right) discusses his project in Sierra Leone with Fellow Animata Kane and Distinguished Scholar Jim Maxmin.


Overall, the first day of orientation was a success as Fellows were able to forge friendships and begin what will be a long and fruitful exchange of ideas. The first day set up the second perfectly. On Saturday the Fellows went right to work, hearing presentations on what it means to be an entrepreneur and participating in an elevator pitch workshop, wasting no time in beginning to refine their business models and the most effective ways to present their visions.

Introducing our new Mentorship Program

Here at the Legatum Center, we are incredibly excited to welcome our new class of passionate, inspiring and diverse Fellows. All are joining the Legatum family with real, achievable entrepreneurial solutions to the challenges faced by the developing world. But this year is going to be different, as we expand our level of engagement with the Fellows. Now that we’re off the ground as an organization, we have had some time for self-reflection and, accordingly, are implementing a number of new programmatic elements to optimize the Fellowship experience and ensure the success of the Fellows’ varied business ventures.

One of those elements is the expansion and formalization of our Mentorship program. We’ve always had Mentors who, due to their passion for our mission, have offered their support and guidance to Fellows. But for the first time this year we are implementing a structured, personalized mentoring program that will match the needs of individual Fellows with the expertise of accomplished entrepreneurs, investors and venture capitalists. Mentors are chosen based on their interests as well as the individual wants and needs of our Fellows. 

As the Center’s Distinguished Scholar and Mentor Jim Maxmin says, “the mentor is a friend, confidant and partner on the journey of building a successful business.” Guidance goes beyond proofreading of business plans or practice pitches. Our vision is that Mentors will pay close attention to every Fellow’s ‘Inventory of Needs’ and continue to play an active role in each Fellow’s business after their time at the Legatum Center has passed and they have entered the daunting world of entrepreneurship. 

Meet our Legatum Mentors here. We look forward to updating you on the progress made by our Mentor-Fellow duos!

Alumni Update: Daria Kaboli (Legatum Fellow ‘11-‘12)

Legatum Fellow Daria Kaboli is stretching the expectations of responsibility and sustainability in the cosmetics industry. Her company, Jamela, sells a 3 in 1 facial moisturizer, made with Moroccan Argan oil, that softens and hydrates the skin, brightens complexions and reduces fine lines and wrinkles. Jamela prides itself on being more than just a fair trade luxury cosmetics company. Jamela not only ensures that Moroccan producers of Argan oil receive a fair return, but a very tangible sustainable one.

Argan is sometimes referred to as “liquid gold” for its seemingly miraculous properties, but it also carries some of the controversy of that sought after mineral. The Moroccan/Algerian border is the only region where the Argan tree grows, and while its scarcity means it can fetch a high price in the luxury cosmetics world, much of that money never reaches the source. Even competing Argan oil brands that are labeled fair trade leave less than 3% of total revenues in Morocco. Jamela returns 19% of their revenue to Morocco and profits are reinvested into production, creating a system which could leave a total of 75% of sales revenue in the country, over the next five years. 

Daria (r) with a Jamela display at the Corbu spa

Recently, Daria took 2nd place at the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference’s Pitch for Change for Jamela, which means ‘beautiful’ in Arabic. Currently, Jamela is being used at Cambridge’s own Charles Hotels Corbu spa and Daria is actively seeking out other spa and retail locations in the Boston and Washington, DC areas. 

We wish her all the best on this venture that balances a clear and robust business model with a responsibility to the community that makes it possible.

An Exchange with the Zambia Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry

As the Legatum Center continues its quest to reach as many people around the world as possible, it is becoming more and more important to exchange ideas with other organizations and institutions. With every partnership that we create reinforcing the idea of entrepreneurship as a progenitor of development and progress, we attract more and more students with diverse backgrounds and unique visions for the future to our Fellowship program. One such opportunity for partnership came this past Monday June 25th, when we had the honor of welcoming a delegation from the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry of the Republic of Zambia to the Legatum Center.

The Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry (CTI) was in Cambridge as part of a six-city tour of the United States. MIT is graced with the distinction of being the only university the CTI commission are visiting during their tour, as they are focusing more on meetings with government entities, potential investors and private-sector partners. 

The event took place in the MIT Faculty Club, beginning Monday morning with welcoming remarks from Associate Provost Wes Harris. He delivered an inspirational speech on the great benefit to be had from partnerships between institutions like MIT and foreign governments. Rather than just saying ‘Yes’ to these transcontinental collaborations, Provost Harris invited the audience to say ‘Yes and what do we do next?’ Provost Harris’s remarks were followed by an address by our Director, Professor Iqbal Quadir, who shed light on the balance that must be struck between government entities like CTI and the private sector. He stressed that for real development to occur, the government cannot function in isolation, but must empower their entrepreneurs—entrepreneurs like our Fellows. 

Three of our Fellows then addressed the group—Bilikiss Adebiyi discussed her recycling project; Raphael Awuku talked about his work with corporate bonds; and finally Henry Okafor discussed the business of logistics in Sub-Saharan Africa. These presentations clearly had an effect on the Honorable Robert Sichinga, Minister of CTI, and his delegation as, during his presentation, he addressed each of these concerns and opportunities and how they functioned within Zambia.

The Hon. Robert Sichinga and the other representatives of the CTI Ministry then talked about some of Zambia’s business opportunities, which segued nicely into a panel discussion featuring representatives of the Zambia Development Agency, the American Chamber of Commerce, the Minority Business Development Agency, as well as our Director, Professor Quadir.

There have been a number of laudable business development initiatives that have taken place in Zambia in the recent past, but everyone agreed that there is still much to be done. One major achievement in Zambia has been the establishment of a one-stop-shop destination for business registration. This single entity also has a Web portal, where entrepreneurs can register their business without having to go through the dense brick-and-mortar bureaucracy that exists in many African countries. With an economy that depends a great deal on mineral resources and with two-thirds of its population under the age of 35, there is a great deal of untapped entrepreneurial potential in the country. Interesting conversations took place during the panel discussion, such as how a country can most responsibly manage its mineral resources in order to stay competitive, innovative and dynamic.

In general, the success of our events can best be determined by their impact on our current Fellows and the future of our Fellowship program. If we are to take these as metrics of success, than this exchange with the Zambia Ministry of Trade, Commerce and Industry can certainly be counted as one.

The Minister expressed his desire to set up Fellowships for Zambian students to come to MIT and be Legatum Fellows and he recognized the value in the work that our current Fellows are doing, and in the way that we support them. Similarly, the event sparked new ideas and interests in our Fellows.

A center like our own cannot exist in isolation. Through conversations with groups like the Zambia Ministry of CTI and the American Chamber of Commerce, we can gain a more holistic understanding of how entrepreneurship can be leveraged in the modern world as a real engine of progress.

Take a look at the crowds that are gathering all over the country this month for commencement celebrations and you notice something that is unique to our time. Sitting in the bleachers across America are people from every corner of the world. They came to the United States to take advantage of an asset we hold that they were able to identify and seize: our higher education system.

Now it is time for our own policymakers and education professionals to identify and seize that asset as well. The days of old-school manufacturing as the foundation of our economy are long gone and, as we recover from an economic recession, it is time to stop bemoaning what has been. Instead we need to look for new avenues of economic prosperity that center on innovation and a working relationship with the rest of the world.

In an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, our Director argues that higher education can be the export we need to strengthen our economy. The contribution in the form of tuition from foreigners may be negligible now in the greater scheme of things, but with the right decisions and a renewed focus on entrepreneurship education, the United States can boost its own economy while also benefiting the rest of the world.