“The first step of any project is to grossly underestimate its complexity and difficulty.” – Nicoll Hunt
Back in July 2020 I started to tweet out some thoughts and ideas about the Sonvela Social Impact Investing project. I'd been working on it for a few months, and was beginning to understand what the project could potentially become.
Twitter allows me to learn an incredible amount from very smart people around the world, and it has also given me the opportunity to connect to the Cabo Verdean community in the US. Tweeting out my plans and goals for the project made them so much more real. It provides a certain accountability that I need but also enjoy.
One day, after listening to a few very inspiring interviews with Chamath Palihapitiya, I felt the need to publicly delcare my long term goal on Twitter. It felt exciting and even a bit scary, which is why I knew it would be a good thing to do:
“I want to be able to help solve Cape Verde's biggest problems.”
That was the last sentence of my tweet. I know that's a big thing to say. But that's how I felt and still feel more than a year later. I understood at one point that what I've been doing with Sonvela for the last 10 years, was actually my way of finding solutions to the (social) problems I see.
I also realised that I haven't really been working on solving problems. The projects we've been doing were intended to make existing situations a little bit better. But they were not designed to actually solve the issues that had created the situations we were up against.
Although these are very complex problems that both public and private sector in country's around the world struggle with, 2020 made it clear to me that I can't and shouldn't run away from this responsibility.
I believe that if we can continue to expand the problem solving mindset that small projects and startups in our country have been demonstrating, it will allow us to take on big problems as well.
It's this potential that has attracted me to the growing Cabo Verdean startup scene in the first place. This mindset could eventually even become part of our culture.
That tweet from a few months back got a response. It was a very simple but essential question:
What are Cabo Verde's biggest problems?
To be honest, I've yet to do a deep dive into these subjects. I know of the problems in these areas, and have ideas of what could be done do make things better. Fortunately we have startups working on these issues (directly and indirectly), such as health care startup Health Care 2.0. It's very interesting to follow the development around the creation of business models to address critical issues in our society.
Huge (youth) Unemployment
Youth unemployment has been as high as 25% (!) for years on the island of São Vicente. The Covid-19 crisis has presented us with an even bigger challenge.
Unfortunately, we see other islands struggle with this issue as well. The pure focus on tourism on islands such as Sal and Boa Vista has left thousands of people without a job. Several developments in other sectors also contribute to a negative future outlook for a lot of young Cabo Verdeans.
We need to work on ways to create high quality, well paying jobs. This is a tough challenge, but the Digital Age presents amazing opportunities to solve this issue. With the right approach we could be heading into very exciting times. Technology is presenting us with possibilites never seen before.
During the Sonvela Arte project we had a partnership with a local university. They offered me to speak at an important conference in Mindelo, and visited the project in Ribeira Bote multiple times with students. At one point, a professor I was working with, asked me if I would consider enrolling into a 'civil construction' course at the school.
I wasn't planning on going back to school for several reasons, but even if I wanted to at that time, I would not be able to afford it. Cost of the program was 'only' CVE 9.000 (a little under € 90) a month, which was way too expensive for me and many others who might want that opportunity.
Not only was the cost of the course too much, also the traditional idea that I needed to go to school to learn a valuable skill stuck with me. I'd been much better off if I had gotten help from someone who had the experience and mindset I lacked, to turn Sonvela Arte into the project it had the potential to become. A modern approach to education was what I needed, not the traditional one.
The University and Company of the future for disruption and innovation I dream of building will prepare 'students' to become problem solvers and entrepreneurs, or either educate them in a way that allows them to join a group of people looking to solve a problems by creating products that we need in Cabo Verde.
Inefficient Health Care
It's hard to see people loose their loved ones, especially when it comes to small children and young people. We can't control everything in our lives, but it's clear we need a better, modern and way more efficient health care system in our country.
The way medical evacuations are carried out in Cabo Verde are the source of a lof of critisizm on Social Media. I've seen images which I found highly disrespectful. People I've spoken to have said that the way patients are treated in the hospitals needs a lot of work as well (fortunately there are also positive stories).
There are several different issues to tackle. Working on virtual, integrated systems could be a huge step in the right direction. Receiving the right information and speaking with a doctor online can make sure people anywhere in the country have access to the system. Patients in remote areas would no longer have to wait until the situation worsens to get the help they need.
Intergrated systems can facilitate with getting the right medication much faster, and even delivered to the patients at home. The health care business model probably also needs to disrupted. The founder of American Tele Health Care startup Ro said that “health insurance has not been working for 70 years, because it incentivizes the wrong stakeholders.”
VBG is an often discussed theme in our country. Translated it stands for “violence based on gender”. Violence against women by men is a big problem, and usually the offender is a boyfriend or husband. The only interview that upset me in the series, was when I spoke to Miriam Medina, author of a book called “If it causes pain it's not love”.
In our conversation Miriam explained to me that most cases she knows about start at a very young age. She's spoken to hundreds of teenage girls over the years, who send her messages on FB asking for her advice. 2020 saw a few horrible sexual abuse and murder cases in the country, which made it very clear we're facing a deep rooted issue.
I believe, and I know a few women in the tech scene who agree, that we need to focus on investing in creating opportunties for girls and young women. This would ultimately change how women are viewed in our society, and how they are treated as a result of that. I look forward to working with Hilaria and Guida (among others), two tech ladies who have shown the desire to tackle these issues.
The problems described above are the ones I've chose to highlight, and will probably work on in the years to come. These are definitely not the only challenges of our country (others I see are affordable housing and transportation), and it might well be that my current thinking around the specific issues is a bit off. My point here is that I truly believe the solving of these problems all start with building a better ecosystem for founders and companies in our country.
It's only after doing that, that we'll be able to work on tough issues. Some will be (partially) solved in the process of building a better ecosystem, others will need to be addressed with a seperate and much more focused approach. During this long process of change I'm sure my views on different subjects will change as well.
Whatever the problems are that we'll face in the future, having the right mindset, talent and structure in place might be more important. I'd like to see us focus on this first, so we can have a real chance at solving important problems in our country.
**Since writing (and finishing) this piece I've been spending a lot of time thinking about current closed systems we use and the development of open, decentralized and distributed systems. I'm convinced that the adoption of these new technologies and tools will also help us solve big problems in Cabo Verde.