Why did you decide to study Web 3.0 in Africa?
Web 3.0 has become a hot topic in the media lately, since we talked about cryptocurrency in 2015 and it is something that I kept on my pulse but did not pay much attention to. While I was preparing for my grad school application, my younger brother প্রায় a gap of about two years between us শুরু started to really get involved in NFT when they were blowing up, and when I entered the school it was something I saw a lot. [of interest from] Venture Capitalist. And I started to think, ‘There’s something I should spend time with during school.’ I was talking to one of my professors Sudeb Seth [a senior lecturer at the Lauder Institute], About my interest in further exploring this subject and how there was not much opportunity to do it in the school curriculum. He suggested finding a way to make it any way, in shape or form, and obviously a lot of my work in Lauderdale has been focused on Africa.
On the one hand, we have this great growing technology that everyone is talking about, and this continent has many opportunities. I think there are a lot of usage cases here and I wanted to know why no one is talking about it. A lot of innovations are happening as mentioned in my presentation about M-Pesa [mobile money service] And a lot is happening on mobile. I thought, ‘Why aren’t we aware of what’s happening elsewhere on the continent? It took me to the rabbit hole of Web 3.0 and blockchain technology and realized its application across the continent. From a lawsuit ‘Why not? What are the opportunities in place? Why aren’t these happening? And should we be aware of what is happening on the ground? ‘ That’s how I got more involved with it.
How is the Internet adoption in Africa?
Despite extremely high mobile penetration rates and abundant generic cell phone services, most people on the continent do not have access to electricity. And as a result of lack of electricity, the internet is not going to be used.
In many countries where you want to access the internet, the cost is too high. It can be $ 32 per gigabyte for internet use only. Where you compare it to Europe, it’s something like $ 3- $ 4. Thus, access is part of a disparity as well as a financial way to do it. And you must think carefully about the geography of the continents: it is very wide. There are 36 or more coastal countries in Africa, and the remaining landlocked countries have limited access to the Internet. So, if you want to run a cable line from the sea to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), it becomes very difficult. And the DRC is about four times the size of France.
The other part of the problem is the deal and the way the business is done. We often read about corruption in Africa – which remains true and there are many countries that are working to improve the situation in the way they can – but because of that corruption, it is difficult to be sure that what is promised in the agreement will happen. And when you see it happen, it becomes very frustrating.
But mobile is fairly widely accepted and expected to grow. So, is there a ‘reset button’ type of opportunity for internet access?
I think so. I think for the most part you have to think about what they’re doing on their phones, and I think at the moment it’s not very low-bandwidth mobile service – 5G or streaming that we have in many countries.
This predicts that the user will be interested in the connection and will be ready to use the service once the infrastructure is in place. The young population, if you think of the average American at that age, is very technological and connected to the Internet. They are aware of what is happening in their respective regions or countries, and I think a similar mentality will develop in Africa for those empowered by this internet technology that can be created from a mobile perspective.
What are some examples of being ’empowered’?
Besides savings, I also think about financial literacy.
Many Africans are very concerned about having a bank account. I have read some statistics in French-speaking countries in Africa, especially in Ivory Coast, and most people do not feel comfortable having a bank account because the banking systems have failed them many times. They’d rather keep their cash under their mattress – literally – than a bank account. With an alternative like M-Pesa, you feel comfortable saving and sharing this money on your phone and mobile device. With a Web 3.0, there is an opportunity to decentralize the system again, so you are not necessarily focusing on ownership of a bank or access to your funds, but relying on others within the blockchain ecosystem that are designed to communicate with each other. They have access to funds.
So, this is only a use case where I think they can be more empowered.
We’re still trying to figure out how to use Web 3.0, here in the United States. In that case, what do you think could be the potential for innovation in Africa? How can they use Web 3.0 in a way that is different from how we are using it?
I think what we’re trying to do with Web 3.0 in America is to disrupt our established ecosystems. Money decentralization is often talked about as ‘D-Fi’ and Web 3.0 is the way to go about it. And cryptocurrency comes up a lot. The concept of NFT and Metavers has a lot to do with content creation গুলি these are great, far-reaching ideas that we will see evolving rapidly in the next five to 10 years, but when we think of Africa, we have to take a step back and think, Probably applicable to the case, but we have to think about what the infrastructure is and what the audience looks like?
The first thing we need to prioritize is the Internet connection, as well as ensuring that there is a system of governance that is equally accessible to all. Once this is done, we will see a lot of startup growth. And we’re starting to hear about some projects related to NFTs in Africa, related to marketplaces, related to Metavers, which are very interesting and engaging, but you really need that infrastructure as well as what an founder or team understands. Customers are demographic and whether they see value in this use. We need to think about what they need from a daily perspective and it varies from country to country. But understanding local knowledge and that will drive innovation for Web 3.0 over time.
What’s a good way to balance trying to invest in an emerging market versus trying to exploit it? It looks like a sack that encloses with a drawstring.
This is something that we often think of as countries investing heavily in Africa, such as China, for example. I think one of the most important things about investing in countries is to leave them in a position where they can grow.
Sometimes these companies will come and say that they want to do a big infrastructure project to spend X amount of money and leave a country with a big debt to this nation to invest in them. I think for any kind of investment in an emerging market, you need to be prepared for a long term project that will not see immediate payments; One for that partnership, and can grow and leave you better than you find them. So, whatever the high idea, you want to see it everywhere.
However, there are many examples of projects that started in Africa but did not end, and you can see that what you were hoping to develop does not really go that way. It’s hard to invest in emerging markets where they are seen as emerging, but I believe you really need to understand what users and businesses on the ground need.
How did you hear about Penn Grad Talks?
We started taking public speaking classes in Penn this past semester; You take two public speaking classes in your first year. After my first semester course, I was intimately talking to my professor about how I could take advantage of public speaking opportunities at Wharton and how he built his career. He said it’s a lucrative industry and people make niches, but the more opportunities you have to speak, the better. I wasn’t sure about Grad Talks; Looking at the videos from years past, I can see that Wharton and Lauder have not really participated in the past. But we’ve done a lot of interesting things that people can find cool. I remember sitting in the cafe and submitting a research paper that I had written earlier. And I chose to go ahead and not know what to expect, but it turned out to be a great experience – not just a platform to share my research, but to meet other competitors. Often at a large university like Penn, you can be quiet in your own school; It was great to see innovative things happening across the university and to be able to keep in touch with those people.
What was your research for?
It was called Political Economy of Entrepreneurship, a class we taught in our first year at Lauder, taught by Professor Sudeb Seth. He spends a good part of the class talking about what is happening on the ground in many places, talking about institutions, governance, laws, etc., to understand. There is a lot of debate in our classrooms about what’s happening in different markets and around the world, and he brings guest speakers from around the world, has connections and shares stories on different topics. One is about black entrepreneurs in America, the other is about being a female entrepreneur, and the final distributor for the course is writing a 10-15-page paper on a topic related to entrepreneurship from that year, but focusing on your area for Lauder.
Did something out of that research paper keep you interested or did you want to expand?
Yes, it opened up a lot of different conversations for me. I’ve interacted with different people on campus – classmates – who want to know more about Blockchain and Web 3.0. When you start Google it online, it can be pretty scary; I heard that my lecture is educational and a great starting point for learning more. I have been approached by alumni and PhDs. Student about working with them on the project, and I recently completed an internship with a company called Magpie, which was founded by Katherine Harrison of Ladder Board and she is building a wealth management platform for collecting watches or trading cards, purses. Which trades like stock prices but there is no way to track it. And there’s a big blockchain Web 3.0 component that can go into it. He appreciated my background and the research that led to that conversation.
I think Big Takeaway is acknowledging that there are plenty of opportunities in Africa and don’t think that nothing is already happening. Some very innovative things are happening on the continent at the government level and across different countries and some strong entrepreneurs who have brilliant ideas. I think we’ll see transfers from VCs that will have more access to the space and want to be a little more involved.