When a problem solver meets a creative ace, innovative things happen. Ngum Ngafor meets a cool duo with a game changing tool.
Hello Mitu and Tia. Thank you for speaking to AS. Tell me about your new venture.
Mitu Yilma: Addis ideas is a social networking tool that allows people to collaborate, seek public sponsorships and capacity, as well as project manage. Through it, people can post information, get feedback and work with others to bring their vision to life.
What inspired the concept?
Tia Ayele: It is based on the premise of empowering Africans by enabling them to solve problems that affect their communities. We thought about ideas which we could adapt with technology and that is how the platform came to fruition.
You have previously observed that a lot of aid programmes in Africa are unsuccessful because many organisations lack insight into the problems of the communities they wish to help. How will your work be different?
MY: What we saw from the evidence is that a lot of aid fails because of a lack of contextual knowledge. With Addis Ideas, every project stems from people who know their communities. So we are harnessing and using African innovation from experts on the ground.
Who is your typical stakeholder?
TA: Our stakeholders are twofold. We are looking for African entrepreneurs as well as cosmopolitan Africans who have innovative ideas and would like to share them and possibly receive funding or collaborate with others. Also, we would like to work with highly coveted organisations like the World Bank, bilateral donors and venture capitalists. Anyone who can help make the ideas on our app a reality is of interest to us.
“We want to empower Africans solve problems that affect their communities”
MY: So many parts of the African diaspora were represented. The energy was palpable! People were so excited to collaborate with others and share ideas. At the end, countless event attendees connected and exchanged contact information.
The feedback we got from this event suggests that Addis Ideas is sorely needed. We usually get positive responses when we tell people about our app. It has been really helpful to know that we have built something useful.
Innovations abound in Africa. Tell me of the climate in Ethiopia these days.
TA: There are a lot of great initiatives going on in Ethiopia! They recently built the first subway in Africa. A lot of things also happen on country, municipal and individual levels. Many people from the diaspora are returning to contribute to the local population. We are really excited to be a part of the positive changes!
Which industries attract the most users to your platform?
TA: I would like to say agriculture but I believe it is too early to tell.
MY: Various businesses have reached out to us to see how they can use our application. I think the magic of Addis Ideas is that people can use it in a variety of ways. It works across industries. So we have seen interest from people who are more hard line business to people who are coming up with beauty products. The next few months look exciting!
“People can use Addis Ideas in various ways. That’s the magic of it.”
How does your app work?
MY: Users can submit ideas to a live feed. The whole page is a feed of ideas that will look like a Facebook homepage where you see your friends’ posts. You put up a brief description of your project and people can comment on it or express their interest in working with you.
We also have a collaboration feature which allows people to have conversations off the timeline. Our application is so simple because working around our users’ needs is important to us. Also, we wanted to create a minimal viable product (MVP) which would allow us to test features, see what people gravitate towards and develop the product based on their interests.
How did you fund this project? Tell me about monetising it.
TA: Start-up funding always happens to be an issue in the beginning. We haven’t accepted any investors yet as we haven’t found the right fit for us. Thus far, we really want to run Addis Ideas based on individual contributions and fundraisers that we have hosted.
You have such a rich and diverse skill mix. How does this matter to the success of Addis Ideas?
TA: We have a really diverse team, not just in skill set but also in geographic background. I think it brings a unique perspective to our team meetings, to what people pitch, [and] to what we focus on. We each have an eye into a different part of the Africa and I think that helps us immensely. Some people on our team are not even of African origin, but they are very interested in the continent’s development. That is a good perspective as well. I think the diverse nature of our team has been an asset thus far.
As Ethiopians born and raised in America, you have two cultural sensibilities? Does this give you a unique ability to appreciate how to approach African development?
TA: No. We don’t rely on the assumption that us being from the West or being American is advantageous to looking at African development issues. There are brilliant minds on the continent who are trying to help their communities. I think the problem is not the human capital and the talent and ideas that are generated from Africa but the lack of resources. The only plus of us being Ethiopian-Americans as opposed to local Ethiopians is that we have access to things they may not have. And I think that is what has been aiding us thus far in building connections.
In terms of solving Africa’s development challenges, the people who live there know the problems best.
MY: Nothing about growing up in the United States gives us any advantage intellectually. I would also like to stress that although we soft launched with the diaspora community at the DMV, we are also having really great conversations and building partnerships with incubators on the continent. There is so much innovation happening there! We are excited to take our launch to Africa soon.
Apart from Ethiopia, where you will first establish, which country appeals to you and why?
TA: Kenya. It has high levels of smart phone penetration and a good internet bandwidth. The place seems so set up for an app like ours!
Images courtesy of Mitu Yilma