· Social Impact Invest

Every step of the way, to everyone around us, we should be asking the question, what are you building? What are you building directly, or helping other people to build, or teaching other people to build, or taking care of people who are building? If the work you’re doing isn’t either leading to something being built or taking care of people directly, we’ve failed you, and we need to get you into a position, an occupation, a career where you can contribute to building. There are always outstanding people in even the most broken systems — we need to get all the talent we can on the biggest problems we have, and on building the answers to those problems. - Marc Andreessen (A16Z)

A few years ago I saw a story on the news about a group of very young super talented boys and girls. These High School kids had won a local contest in Robotics, and were now looking to participate in an international event abroad. Unfortunately there was no budget for them to attend, which is why they turned to the media for attention. I felt that we should have something in place for these kinds of situations. Talents like them need to have opportunities to grow.

One things that stood out in the series of interviews I held with young Cape Verdean entrepreneurs from different islands, is the number of positive ecosystem developments in recent years. A great example of this is the participation in the Web Summit of Lisbon in 2019 by 10 (!) Cabo Verdean startups.

I've always felt that there was a huge lack of 'people investing' in Cabo Verde. Construction of infrastructure seemed to be everywhere. Building new and paving old roads, the Casa para Todos project as an answer to the housing issues. You can still see the official grand opening or anouncement of a project on the news almost every day.

We have made a lot of progress in educational facilities. Although fairly concentrated, the presence of multiple universities is very important. A huge campus is currently being built in the city of Praia. The problem is that university graduates continue to battle against a very tight job market.

Investor Victor Asemota believes the best place to find African startup teams are universities after a demo day presentation. But he sees another issue: “So many of these brilliant young people will dump these fantastic projects to work for banks and consulting companies”.

When I asked Hilaria Jesus, founder of Gestagrosystem and former winner of a university startup challenge, why she is one of the few university graduates to have come this far with her company she answered: “I don't know, that's hard to tell. Maybe it's a mentality thing.”

It could be that students with a good startup idea see little chance of succeeding, knowing that they will need to work without serious funding. If you're offered a job or internship at an established company, it's not easy to turn it down. You'd have to be incredibly convinced of what you're working on to not give up.

A bcg.com article titled 'Overcoming Africa's tech startup obstacles' perfectly explains why we need to focus on talent development and what we want to achieve with the Sonvela Social Impact Investing project:

“Africa’s inhospitable startup environment not only stunts job creation and economic development. It also threatens the competitiveness of Africa’s national champions themselves by depriving them of crucial sources of innovative technologies, products, and business models.”

“Making Africa a more fertile environment for dynamic technology startups should become an urgent priority of both the public and private sectors. Doing so will not only generate more zebras and unicorns that can create wealth for entrepreneurs and investors. It also will unleash a wave of innovation that will create jobs, economic opportunities, and greater access to health care, finance, and education across the continent.”

Other options

Although we've seen a lot of positive developments in both educational facilities and the startup scene, we need to work on adding more (strategic) options for talent. Peter Thiel's Fellowship has been a fantastic experiment that shows what young people can achieve when offered an alternative to a university degree. Not everyone is cut out to become an entrepreneur, but you can argue that those who are maybe shouldn't be going to a university at all.

This was probably Thiel's thesis to begin with, and one of the people who has proven it is Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin. He accepted the fellowship and is currently building what could become the world's financial settlement layer and beyond. The value created by Thiel Fellowship founders has well exceeded the many billions ($) at this point.

It would be interesting to experiment with this in Cabo Verde as well. I see it happening in combination with a more traditional type of education, where young people are prepared to enter the startup world. As many from the Silcion Valley scene point out, the power of joining a startup in the early stages is almost as valuable as being the founder.

It's an amazing learning experience which can not be compared to anything else. By working on more options for high school drop outs and other interested young people we can access talent that does not fit in with traditional education. I'm convinced that we are missing out on so much value that could be created within our society because our thinking around this subject has remained the same for the last 50 years or so.

There are people who somehow find a way to make things happen. But it's important to understand that they are the exception. The more young talent sees real opportunity around them to become successful in whatever they want to do, the more they all can believe anything is possible. This would be a huge cultural shift in a country where sadly most young people have become accustomed to holding limiting beliefs.

The talent is here. What's missing is the right structure for the development of different types of talent. We need young people to believe in a big future. It's time to invest in that.

"Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered - either by themselves or by others." – Mark Twain

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