An Interview with the Managing Director of African Brains: John Glassey

Feb 21, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1)      John, tell us about “African Brains “ and what do you mean by “ intelligent networking ?

Intelligent networking is a deliberate trademark set in contrast to social networking and reflecting the USP of AfricanBrains. The USP is our “innovation station” whereby members can network with each other and submit their innovation in summary and then in detail for assessment on whether it is viable for commercialisation and which of our corporate partners we can approach with that innovation. The idea is also based around those in the developing world who may have less to socialise about and are more motivated to develop and reap the rewards of their education (something we in the developed world take for granted).

Social networking is still very big in Africa (Facebook is dominant) but we believe there is a place for intelligent networking. We want to bridge the divide between idea and reality and believe by providing a streamlined infrastructure, a dedicated network with the right players involved, we can accomplish this effectively.
2)      When did you first get started in this endeavor and what are you trying to accomplish?

This endeavour is only a couple of years old and needs far greater awareness through partnerships with education ministries, universities, institutes and civil society – plus greater viral awareness through, ironically, social media.

What we are trying to accomplish is partly expressed in the answer to 1. Ultimately, we would like people in Africa who freely have an education comparable to developed parts of the world and be able to realise their potential.

We want AfricanBrains to be an enabler, a trusted partner and a portal for African innovators to reach out to the global market. We want to turn their intelligence into income – our success will be measured when we create the first AfricanBrains millionaire – and we will always protect their intellectual property.

3)      I have been to Belleville and the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and find your country to be lush, with beautiful vegetation, flowers, and landscape. How can you parley this into tourism and investment and commercialization?

The realisation of the potential of the beauty and lushness comes much after more important social, political and economic developments. Of greater necessity is political stability, economic growth, good governance and market liberalisation. Much of Sub-Saharan Africa has suffered considerable instabilities from conflict to famine over the last 40 years; but more recently we are seeing greater stability – free and fair elections with smooth transitions, aka Zambia last year. Democracy and political accountability has taken root in many countries from South Africato Botswana to Namibia to Tanzania. This stability is what is required to attract the foreign direct investment (FDI).

Instability is what puts off investors. As we see stability taking root in the last decade we are seeing growth rates of 7-9% in many Sub-Saharan countries. This then attracts more FDI, creates wealth, a growing middle class and develops the means of production. It is early days but those at the cutting edge or the world economic view realise that the next big thing is Sub-Saharan Africa – AfricanBrains believes in this vision as does a recent edition of the Economist and a leading hedge fund manager at the 2012 World Economic Forum.

The beauty of the flora and the fauna will still be there when long-term stable investment is well under way; but now is the time for any global player to engage and commercialise with African innovators before it becomes more expensive with higher barriers to entry in the future

4)      How can you attract your members to support new technologies and what do you mean by “new technologies “?

Members of AfricanBrains are encouraged to innovate any technology in old or new industries. By definition technology is always new so long as it is an improvement on its predecessor. We are looking for innovators in primary sectors such as agriculture and mining where technology can contribute to greater yields, improved safety and environmental sustainability as much as we are looking for innovators in the tertiary sectors. The phrase “new technologies” on its own is a simplified catch all for the digital age.

5)      Can you tell us about some of the special events that you have organized and where in Africa these events have taken place?

We started with the overall African Education Summit in Morocco July 2011. Its purpose was to bring together government and industry and set the agenda for public private partnerships in education.  Government expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP in many African countries is greater than the OECD average but with GDP starting from such a lower base there is a huge gap between demand for education and the ability for governments to supply.

The answer lies in the private sector (especially utilising technology to increase access to and improve the quality of education) partnering with governments to help fill that gap. This purpose of the first African Education Summit segued into the Southern African ICT for Education Summit in Zimbabwe, January 2012; a meetings-based event that aimed to fulfil the aims of using ICT for educational advancement – 14 countries, 10 ministers and over 200 delegates representing the global and regional technology sector wanting to partner with governments to develop the needs of the educational infrastructure. The event has been applauded and the following link of testimonials bears witness to its achievements:

We will be holding a brand new event in Cape Town this Fall – again dedicated to public private partnership and involving the highest level decision makers from government and industry. It will focus on an approach that covers advancement in all of education, ICT, science, research and development. Its purpose, name, branding and dates will be released within a matter of days. We hope to provide an update in the near future.

6)      What companies have you been involved with thus far?

Instead of boring you with a full list that includes globally recognised industry leaders such as HP, Motorola, Samsung, NEC, Sharp, Xerox etc please visit our partners page for all those we have been involved with:

7)      What has been the reaction from the politicians in your country?

I’m British. My country is the UK. I cannot really comment on British politician’s reaction as we have so little engagement with them. If you are asking about South African or Zambian or Namibian or Zimbabwean or Rwandan or Kenyan or Tanzania politicians then the reaction has been highly positive. They all agree that PPP utilising technology is essential and that our high-level meetings-based forums represent a unique opportunity to engage with so many decision makers under one roof at one time. Hence, us being asked by the South African Government to deliver a very special summit in Cape Town this Fall. What AfricanBrains does is provide reach – reach to so many people in one place at our summits and reach online through our intelligent network.

8)      Do you have a web site where individuals can get more information?

9)  What have I neglected to ask?

My question would be: Name one project that could make a huge difference to Africa – one thing that could massively contribute to development, technological advancement, greater and cheaper connectivity and a rapid growth in the delivery of applications for education. You can only choose one project to do achieve that, what would it be?

I will leave the brightest brains in US education journalism to answer that one!

Clue: take one look at this map and tell me what is missing:

By the way there is much more to ask in regard to pricing, broadband connectivity, data storage, development of mineral processing, the need for a green revolution, remote power connectivity and investment in renewable energies, liberalisation of markets, reducing red tape and promoting entrepreneurship, increasing access to capital markets, the changing of the global mindset towards Sub-Saharan Africa, improved governance, reducing protectionism in key European and North American markets and the need to drive on towards total gender equality – the key that unlocks the door to development.

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