Masiyiwa challenges entrepreneurs to solve problems in their communities
Pan-African businessman and billionaire entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa, who is also the African Union’s Special Envoy in the fight against COVID, talks about how he led the creation of the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP) – now the largest eCommerce Platform in Africa – to inspire entrepreneurs to solve problems in their communities.
At the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020, I was told that one of the biggest problems was testing for the virus.
African countries had no access to test kits and masks (used in hospitals). We have probably already forgotten how hard it was to get them. But it was not that long ago that African governments were paying crazy prices for these things. Corruption erupted across the continent, as unscrupulous thieves moved in to take advantage. Some ministers and civil servants even joined in!
I was asked by President Cyril Ramaphosa to solve the problem.
The first thing I did was to study the problem to understand why it was happening. It became clear that there were not enough of the test kits and masks being produced, and suppliers were demanding large volume orders beyond what most African countries could do on their own.
“Why can’t we buy together?” I asked.
“How can 55 countries all buy together. How do you coordinate the orders and payments?” someone else asked.
I went away to think about it. I remembered how Shared Economy Models worked for businesses like Amazon, eBay and Jumia.
“What if we build a website and ask countries to place their orders there, and then we ask suppliers to display their goods, if they want big orders?
“Let me find someone who understands how these platforms are designed, and how they work. Someone with experience in eCommerce fulfillment.”
I knew just the person: Ms Fatoumata Ba of Senegal.
Fatoumata said she would do it as a volunteer, but I would need to pay her team. I gave her some of my own people from Vaya Africa to work with.
They mobilized over 30 experts to start working on the platform.
Next: “What about payments? Suppliers want to be paid upfront, and we will need hundreds of millions of dollars?”
My reply: “Let’s talk to a bank that understands bulk trade and see what they think.” And with that I called Prof Benedict Oramah of the African Export Import Bank (better known as AfriEximbank).
“If you build the platform, we will provide the financing to support bulk purchasing by our member states,” the Prof stated. And immediately put up people and money to support the development.
“How do we recruit countries to use the platform?” I asked Prof. “Talk to Vera. She is the one who knows all the Finance Ministers. Also John will bring the Health Ministers.” Vera is the highly respected Dr Vera Songwe, who heads the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. John is Dr John Nkengasong the Head of the Africa CDC.
The four of us became known as “the principals” by our staff. We met every day, just like entrepreneurs starting a new business!
Within 6 weeks we had built the Africa Medical Supplies Platform:
I presented it (pitched it) to the 10 African heads of State who were the leadership executive last year, known as the Bureau of Presidents.
I took them through the website, and asked them to try it. They were so happy: “You have solved our problem!” they all said. The next day President Ramaphosa, as Chair of the African Union at the time, called a Press Conference and presented it to the world.
Suppliers began to list their products and countries began to buy. Prices came down dramatically.
Soon they wanted us to expand the range of products beyond COVID-related products.
I got a call from President Kenyatta, and he asked me if it would be okay for the Caribbean countries to join. We immediately invited them, and 14-member states, led by Jamaica, registered on the platform.
AMSP is registered as a Not For Profit business. All its profits (2.5% commission on all sales) are directed to the Africa Centre For Disease Control (CDC), which helps us monitor and fight pandemics.
Not every problem out there is screaming for a political solution. Leaders need to trust those with the right skills to step forward and help them.
Now here is something that might surprise you: Today, the AMSP is the largest eCommerce platform in Africa by volume of products sold and by value.
This should inspire you to go out and solve problems in your community, particularly those you complain about!