One Year of Changing the African Narrative



- Lessons I have learnt from being an innovation leader at IAN

Target audience:

- New Innovation fellows
- Innovation enthusiasts
- Recent graduates looking to work in a startup
- Startup founders or employees


1. Figure out your why
- What attracted you to the organisation and why does that matter to you? Was it the mission, product, people .etc?
- What keeps you here?
- What is your selfish reason for being at the organisation? (Self-interest)
- How can you align your vision with the organisation's vision?
2. Take up ownership of what you have been entrusted with
- You are a steward
- Recognise you are in an all-in situation. You can't be half-half, otherwise, you will die
- Be ready to be on the chopping block. In fact, be ready to put yourself there
- You are pushing results, not hours
3. Take up all challenges that are presented to you
- Try out as many roles as you can
- Learn on a need basis and adapt to what the situation requires
- From this, you learn what you like or don't like, good at or bad at
4. Success give you confidence and failure give you perspective
5. Listen to feedback but don't let it consume you
- Other people have an outsider's perspective of who you are
- Listen to both the good and the harsh
- Get someone close to interpret the message slowly
- Don't let them get to your head. You are not a problem to be solved, you are a solution to your problems.
6. Build up your team
- Find great people
- Empower them
7. You are the asset
- Your business grows when you grow
8. Know your stuff and leave no stone unturned
- Prepare, plan and execute well
9. Learn to take a leap of faith
- You will never know everything
- Be ready to run and gun
10. Culture is just as important as the process
11. Anecdotes are great but data is better
12. You are stagnant out of fear. Fear is always there but go through it (Fear is the mind-killer)

1st Draft

I would like to take this time to recap of my almost one year journey of being at Impact Africa Network. It has had ups and downs, lefts and rights, good times and bad times. At the beginning of 2021, I never imagined that I would end the year running a fintech product and launching a blockchain hackathon. The classic tale of the fish in the fish bowl, I didn't think my prospects would be this big. Sure, I had big dreams, big by my standards at the time. I wanted to get into online business and become an indie hacker, writer and content creator. I simply wanted to explore my interests in business, software development, online writing, agriculture and even try my vocational skills like plumbing, electrical maintenance and metalwork. These things fascinated me and I wanted to learn as much as possible in these areas.

Those interests were sparked by my work in Enactus, where I got to learn about building enterprises with social impact. My thinking was that in order to serve the people with the lowest incomes and lack of skills, I need to learn the basics of industries that they can tap into. Let's face it, the world of digital technology will majorly benefit knowledgeable individuals with advanced problems in coordination of information, finances and so on. Digital technologies, which most people term as just tech, will not bring the necessary growth in our economy that we want. At the end of the day, a country is judged by the amount and quality of the products that it can produce in a broad spectrum of areas. Software is just one area, but it is not the most important. People need to eat, drink water, wear clothes, live in houses, get transport and get entertainment. Software doesn't build pipelines, roads, cars, homes and any physical infrastructure for that matter. It can enhance the process but it will never build it.

My vision was to get into the indsutries that very few university students wanted to get into. Agriculture was my first step, as we had built a product for 2 years to tackle this industry. I worked on this in both Enactus Strathmore and Sile, which got me to learn about the space as an outsider. I never grew up on a farm and I had never planted anything that I would need to eat or sell. This was my first intentional experience with the space. In Enactus, we build a prototype of our product, which was an IoT device that allowed farmers to measure soil moisture, atmospheric temperature and humidity, and light intensity. We crafted a story around this solution, as a way to get farmers to learn more about their farms and make good decisions to increase yields. At Sile, we crowdfunded our money and chose to build a greenhouse farm to grow capsicums for the Nairobi market. Lessons on this experience will come in a later post.

These experiences motivated me to get into agriculture because it was a space that was ripe for innovation. Many smart people don't care about the space and the people who do are not tech-savvy. By tech-savvy, I don't mean people who can use a mobile phone or populate a spreadsheet. I mean developers, technologists and engineers, who can come in and build tech-driven solutions for the agricultural space. I soon realised that it was an unfair advantage if you were customer-obsessed and focused on solving real problems. The bottleneck with most tech people is that they fall in love with their solutions. They are unable to see the customer's problem and build a solution that sounds great to have but has little to no benefit to the customer. Unfortunately, that is the problem with the agricultural sector and the informal sector at large. It is an attractive market to people who do market research by reading UN reports as they sit their apartment in Kileleshwa or even New York as they dream of revolutionising the African agriculture. Eventhough they have never touched a hoe in their lives. But who is judging right? I was in the same situation as well.

That was my goal, to get into agriculture and have an online business on the side as an indie hacker with a couple of software products, an active Twitter account and an unapologetic blog. Not to mention, doing some classes at TVET to get some hard skills in basic engineering, maintenance and mechanics. That all changed when I got a call from Eric, a classmate of mine at Strathmore University. He got talking about the company he works at and plan to hire something with experience and interest in blockchain technology. Why he reached out is an interesting story that you can read How I Got Started with Blockchain. In short, I had worked on an voting application on the blockchain and it just happened that I was seated next to him in 2nd year as I was building the solution in class. I was too busy solving bugs and trying to understand JavaScript to care about the class. Anyway, I got to explain the project to him and our plans to pitch it to the student council as the elections were coming up.