Tim: [00:00:03] So I'm Tim Panton and this is the distributed future podcast.
Vim: [00:00:07] and I'm the cohost for today's session.
Tim: [00:00:10] And today's guest is going to talk to us about the thing I know nothing about, which is what the internet looks like. Kind of outside Europe. so we were going, gonna learn, learn about that. So, Brian, if you could introduce yourself and give us a little bit of background about, about what you do and, and, and, a little bit of history.
Brian: [00:00:29] Thank you, Tim. And it's a pleasure, to join you and, on this call, on this podcast, I think I will have to be extremely, extremely briefly with my introduction because, I have been building internet networks, around Africa for the last 24, 25 years. So if I, you sort of try to, summarize that we might, I ended up spending all of the time talking about my background and not really talking about what has brought us here.
but the long and short of it is, I am in sitting right now in, A country called Malawi, which the local street for it to as the warm heart of Africa, I am originally, born in red in Kenya, which is the country on the Eastern seaboard of the African continent. more famous for lions and Massai warriors than it is for internet.
but some at some point in the mid nineties, I have the 14 to find myself working for a company that was providing email, accounts on a store and forward the basis to users in and around, Nairobi. And at that time, the country for us for the first time was able to set up digital, international connections.
And we were one of the first companies to use one of these connections. Actually connecting to a small, internet service provider in the UK called Pipex, Pipex UK in 1996, we connected to Pipex UK. And, that was our first digital internet connect in Kenya. And we then went on to connect hundreds and hundreds and eventually thousands of users.
in Nairobi and around the country on that connection, and on other connections at the company where I worked at the time, since then I have been active in about 20 different African countries, helping ISP train their engineers, how to run their networks better. lobbying alongside ISP is in those markets.
For regulatory reforms, open up their markets to open up their sector as to liberalize, to remove obstacles, to, you know, sort of freedom to build networks and. Build communications infrastructure that will allow people to connect to the internet. and I've been in Malawi for the last, five years now.
I first came into my Malawi to run a company need that had just built a fiber optic network that connected Malawi to the rest of the world, which I did for three years. Then two years ago, I left and I'm set up a startup internet service provider that connects residences, residential users, homes with broadband, connectivity to the internet.
This is an area that I am extremely passionate like about. And, this is what I've been doing it for it's I think I would call it my calling. I was having an interesting discussion this morning with a friend of mine telling him, you know, priests have their calling and they, you know, they have their ministry.
So to speak my manage my mission and my ministry is connecting people to the internet. That's what I believe I was placed here to do
Tim: [00:03:42] so, so that's really kind of, as an interesting crossover I was using, I'm pretty sure I was using Pipex in 1996. So there's a, there's an overlap there, so that's kind of entertaining.
and I, I do, I should have said really? Yeah. Like the great people.
Brian: [00:03:59] Yeah,
Tim: [00:03:59] yeah, no, they were, they were great. I remember, I mean, I shouldn't do this cause like we're the. Distributed future podcasts. So we shouldn't really be like dwelling on the past too much, but I remember being in a meeting with. The guy who started Pipex and a couple of other people, the guy who started steam and, Oh, I don't know the other people in mid eighties.
And, and somebody got up and said, well, they weren't, it wasn't clear to them that the internet was ever going to be a commercial concern. It was more productive academics. And, please, Peter Dawe disagreed this completely and went off and started Pipex. So I, it, you know, What doesn't look like a practical thing now in the future can be huge.
So, so maybe that's the future aspect of it. But, but, so, tell me what the internet looks like now in the near future for Africans perspective, like what do you, what do you sell? Are you selling. I, I mean, I don't know how it differs from here in the UK or, or what will the rest of the world? I mean, what what's, how does it look?
Brian: [00:05:06] yeah, so the internet in Africa is, is, is quite different. I think from, what, you know, other parts of the world might be used to. I was actually just thinking a little bit about this the other day. it does evolve to a certain extent, but it still looks very different. From, what we consider the internet in other, other parts of the world.
I'm actually, I was actually thinking about this in early this morning in the context of a blog piece that I want to write, which, in which I want to sort of unpack the whole, subject of the internet in Africa and what the internet means to an African user, and what the internet. Means two types of Africa users.
So if we go back into the early, early days, and we're talking about the mid nineties up into the early two thousands, the internet was all about your connection. The internet was all about, you know, having a dial up link that connected you as an outsider to this big amorphous thing that we called the internet back then.
And you had. Search engine. It was mostly web oriented. You know, you have to search engines, you add web content, you have email services. and that was pretty much it since then, things have moved along and with convergence, which is basically the, you know, consolidation of all different types of media onto IP.
You now have video, you have voice, you have data, you have all manner of human interactions happening on a single. protocol so to speak or using, using the same technologies. So the world has, the world is completely different and the way in which people use the internet in the UK is probably totally different, different from the way that people use the internet in places like Malawi, which is where I live and work at this point in time.
And even just within the continent of Africa. The way a person uses the internet in Kenya, which is a little bit, much, a little bit more advanced and, you know, South Africa, which are a bit more advanced than other countries, is it looks very different. Why do I say this, technologies today are being used for everything from banking to shopping to, you know, I mean, when was the last time, you know, you bought something and, you know, Did you buy it physically?
Or did you buy it using your card
Vim: [00:07:30] online?
Tim: [00:07:31] It's all online pretty much. I mean, particularly with the
Brian: [00:07:35] pandemic. Absolutely. So, you know, in, in, in, in a, in the developed world, You know, it's taken it's, it's almost for granted. You can get anything you want, you know, order it and have it delivered, you know, whether it's, a sandwich or a pizza or a bicycle, or a book with, in Malawi, just to draw a parallel, you can't get that.
You can't have that. It can't happen. Right. First of all, only 7% of. The population is banked. That means only 7% of the population has a bank account with a card attached to it. secondly, the logistics, and distribution networks to be able to support this type of commerce. Just simply don't exist a third, you know, the content, delivery networks or the physical server infrastructure, the computing, storage, and processing that allows for these types of commerce, these types of shops to pop up, you know, literally at the click of a button, don't exist.
the supply chain networks. That to support the types of trades that you know, and has become pretty much commonplace, in countries like yours. other parts of Europe, the Americas, Asia, still isn't there, in much of Africa. So the internet here looks very different. It's still a lot about the connectivity.
And it's still about connecting to something that is out of there as opposed to connecting to start with his route is right here. Right. there is still quite a bit of work to be done in terms of just opening up the space and creating the right kinds of, of infrastructure and systems to support, the kinds of, you know, applications and services.
That really, we'll be able to give people a similar experience to what people enjoy the developed countries. Yeah. I'm sorry to sound very bleak.
Vim: [00:09:38] No, no, no. It's, it's it's made me think then what's your dream. What's your kind of dream for the connectivities of the services? How would you. One that wants it to be, because I think particularly in dependency, immediacy and online, yeah.
Isn't necessarily a good thing because having an impact on the environment it's led to employer contracts, that means people to get people's working conditions, to get any views that it comes with all of these social issues. So what would your dream be for Malawian future?
Brian: [00:10:10] Yeah. So that's a great question.
Thank you. I like talking about it as a two winged bird, but right. you have on one hand the connectivity, which is one week and that's, that is beginning to flow pretty well now. and then you have, on the other hand, the content, right? The content is all of the shops. The content is all of the, online videos and movies and music, and, you know, you name it, whatever it is that people need, and use on a daily basis.
But now in a form that can actually be delivered digitally or that can be accessed or triggered, using digital, you know, connectivity. So that's the other wing and that wing is a little bit. It's not really there yet. So right now, what we have kind of really one really strong wind flapping and flapping putting round in circles.
Cause the other wing is not really strong enough. and this is really, I think what needs to happen over the next few years. it has began to happen to a significant extent in economies like Nigeria, Kenya. South Africa, Egypt, which are much more advanced than other countries, but, we still have a long way to go across the other 54 countries in Africa, which are lower on the ladder, so to speak.
Tim: [00:11:37] So how does like, kind of for just basic stuff and if I want to access the internet and in Malawi, what do I, What do I do? Do I, do I do this on my phone? Do I get it, on my mobile phone? Do I get it down a land line?
Brian: [00:11:51] yeah, so there are a couple of different options available. the most readily available in most African countries is, your mobile. Data, right. Your mobile, internet connection, mobile operators have coverage across probably in between 90 to 96, 98%, is most African countries. However, you then find that this very low utilization of that connectivity and.
It then begs the question. Why, if it's there, why are people not using it? And it comes down to the question of cost, a recent report that has created a lot of controversy. it came out about three weeks ago. it had been put, it was put out by a company in the UK, interestingly enough. it, it was pretty accurate in my view.
And it was the survey or mobile data costs across every single country in the world. And Malawi was the most it's expensive. Yeah. Coincidentally. So this has triggered a lot of debate in this country because according to the report, one gigabyte of mobile data costs, $27,000. Against something like six us cents for the least costly camp country.
and obviously everybody's up in arms and really shouting at the mobile operators and saying thieves, you know, you're stealing, we better prices. So there's been a social proxy, an online and social media protest going on recently called, you know, reduce data costs. You know, all these hashtags have been flying around #datamustfall this week.
Okay. Last week. The minister of information in the new government, you know, get my directive to the communications regulator. You must do that. Something about this. And this week, the regulator had meetings on Monday with the consumers' association and a number of different human rights and civil society bodies.
And on Tuesday they met with industry service providers, the telcos, et cetera. I was on that call and it was interesting to just see, you know, everybody taking hard positions and sort of just arguing, about all this. So price, cost is a big factor in terms of the availability or the accessibility or some of these, technologies, Malawi as a country has.
13,000 fixed broadband connections. So I am assuming Tim that you are sitting in your house right now and your house is connected to the internet.
Tim: [00:14:30] Yes. Yes.
Brian: [00:14:31] that's a fixed broadband connection and I guess the same for you Vim. Malawi has only 13,000 of those types of connections. You have more of those on one street in London.
Hmm. It was on one street in Nairobi, in Legos in Johannesburg. Yeah. So, there's a lot of work to be done in this country and that's one of the reasons that's driven me to start this company, and try to see if I can find a way to, I want to use the cliche term bridge, the digital divide. I'll just say, you know, reduce the gap.
Vim: [00:15:04] Yeah. And so you mentioned there, the minister minister for information, what role do you think government has to play in, in this? And then in making it fair, but also helping with the infrastructure.
Brian: [00:15:20] Right. so we have a new government as of about exactly one month ago. and the new guys, have all been very busy, just trying to understand what.
Is the current situation that the country is in. And what are the areas of prioritization that are needed? Unfortunately, they've inherited a mess. I'm sorry, I'm sorry to say that. Because the previous government, the previous regime really mess things up a lot. there's too much corruption. it's just been clean every day.
We've just been getting stories and stories of stuff that was, you know, stolen and, you know, The scam after that's scam after the other scam, you know, today I saw a report that $13 million was spent to buy underwear and uniforms in handcuffs for the prisons at $13 million. Oh my God. So anyway, yeah.
So besides sort of trying to clean up the mess, you have, of course, different ministries, really trying to think about how can we improve. Things in our sector, in our, in our area and, among some of the things that government needs to do. and I believe is hoping and wanting to do is to introduce policy frameworks that are conducive to investments.
identify some of the low hanging fruits. That, in terms, just call it interventions, maybe legislative or, you know, sort of stimulus incentives, to promote more players. Because the problem that we have in Malawi is a lack of competition. We only have two mobile operators and we have a handful of ISP that are really, really, really small.
So, you know, there's just simply no competition. you know, and these two guys have really been, you know, having a great time, not just having the cake, but eating it and, not leaving any, any for anybody else. So, these are some of the measures that I think we will see, over the next weeks months.
and, you know, at the end of the day business and the private sector are the Indian's engines for development. So the more that this government can create a, conducive atmosphere for companies, startups, SMEs, to start to get going and start doing, whatever it is that they want to do and have the right kind of support frameworks in terms of funding, in terms of tax, incentives and the likes, then the better,
Tim: [00:17:45] what sort of, kind of practical and, and I guess, Licensing issues are that towards if I just suddenly decided that, you know, I wanted to do invest in an ISP in Malawi, what would that ISP have to do
in order to get going?
I mean, apart from having a chunk of money, like where would it get its connectivity from what licenses would it need to operate? What sort of, like what sort of infrastructure could it get? Hold of like, is there a. A good peering points in Malawi, but those sorts of things.
Brian: [00:18:17] Yeah. Okay. So, as far as the regulations is concerned, which has to do with the licensing, there's never been a better time to be able to set up an internet service business in, in Malawi.
the regulator recently introduced what they call, The CLF, which is the acronym for converge d licensing framework, what cool. But basically what it means is they reworked the licensing framework to separate services from infrastructure and also to make it completely technology neutral. So you can get an infrastructure license or you can get a
services license. and then somewhere in between for different categories, you have a sort of hybrid of the two where you can get a services license, which allows you to build infrastructure. But I think the most exciting part of the new framework is that they broke it down, so that you can be able to get a license for the whole country.
You can get a license for a region like the North or the South or the center. You can get a license for a district. And you can even get a license for a city or a village or a town. So what that means is that literally with the $200, you can get a communications license and start running an ISP in your village or in your town.
and you know, now the next, I think step would be okay, what infrastructure can I ride on? You know, What are the options available for international connectivity and the like. And that's where things become a little bit tricky. Because, as I mentioned earlier, there's really two competition. So you don't have many alternatives.
As far as international gateways are concerned and the international gateway fees for the regulator are quite high. So, that's an area that is going to need to have some looking into over the next, I think I would say weeks or months, just to try and see what kind of stimulus. or stimuli, can we apply here, you know, to either bring in new actors or get the existing players to really just sort of reinvent themselves and make their services more accessible and affordable.
Then, I guess, you know, one of the other things that probably, I know that a lot of people in the ICT sector in Malawi are pushing, just trying to see if it's possible to get the government cause zero rates tax on the importation of communications equipment, computers, iPads, tablets, you know, whatever it is that can help people connect to the internet, whether it be devices end user devices.
Or the network infrastructure components that sit in between the user and the content. I'm just trying to sort of make it as easy as possible and, to get those into the country and keep their pricing low enough so that these, can be, you know, pushed out as many as, as far as possible
Tim: [00:21:14] so that the, the international gateways are run by.
By the government or by who?
Brian: [00:21:22] No, none of them are owned by the government. Actually. They're all privately held, both mobile operators have international gateway licenses. then you have, two other, two other companies that have international gateway licenses. So there's four, in, and none of them are government owned.
They're all private.
Tim: [00:21:40] Okay. And how does that get to Malawi? Cause it's not, I mean, you don't have a fiber cable that lands in Malawi because it's not on the coast if I remember rightly so. So how does your internet actually arrive there? Does it come through?
Brian: [00:21:55] Yeah, that's true.
Landlocked country. that is surrounded by, Tanzania to the East and Mozambique and Zambia to the West. actually kind of Zen, but Mozambique sort of encloses the East, the West and the South it's like Malawi sits in the middle of Mozambique. Then you have sort of Zambia and Tanaznia handling the rest.
but yeah, the only access that Malawi has to submarine fiber cables that serve the African continent is via Mozambique and via Tanzania. Which are both on the East African seaboard. so obviously the networks in those companies are sorry. The networks in those countries, then have to provide transit for anybody who wants to get bandwidth into an out of Malawi.
And, up until now, the pricing that these guys have been putting forward is extremely high. They've been taking advantage of the fact that we are a captive market, you know, we can't really sort of push them aside and say, okay, let us peek through, you know, so you know, right now, I remember earlier this week, when we're on the call with the regulator, one of the things that came up was this issue.
And we were kind of saying, look, why don't we have a sort of radical approach and try to just, you know, maybe talk to our neighboring countries and ask them guys. This is not working. Can you give us right away and let us build our own cable, which connects us all the way to the submarine, to the, to the, to the sea.
because this whole situation is just not sustainable and it's not helping us achieve our growth objectives where we're really way back in terms of development, and your private sector companies, which are the ones that. Charge us for carrying our trucks. I think across your, your, your, your, your land are just too expensive.
so that's probably a diplomatic intervention that will be happening at some point in the next, I would say few weeks.
Tim: [00:23:50] Wow. It's like, once you start looking at the practicalities of this, it, it, it, it does turn into kind of politics, doesn't it? it's not just, you know, Hey, I want to buy a Cisco router and some cable it's it's I need a license for this, and I need to get the diplomats to agree that.
And it's, yeah, it's pretty scary stuff actually. But then we do enjoy that space.
Brian: [00:24:14] And, and politicians are not the best at making these decisions, you know?
Vim: [00:24:18] no, I guess you need to understand some of the fundamentals of the, it's not just a business decision and it's not just a, a political decision.
It's like it's integral to life now to know, to have these things. So how, how do, how do you take that conversation on.
Brian: [00:24:36] Yeah, very true. you know, I was really impressed, and I'll just sort of digress a little bit and talk about, one of the tiger nations. So-called tiger nations. I was very impressed to see the president of South Korea. And read about him as well. But I first read about this and I didn't really believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.
This was several years back when I was still living and working in Kenya and the president of South Korea came on an official visit to Kenya. And of course, when one president visits another, another president in, in their country, you know, it becomes a big sort of all of the pomp and hype and whatever, and you know, official meetings and stuff and the media all over it.
and the most shocking thing about this guys, he didn't have a single minister with him. He had an entourage about 30 people with him. And it was just him, his personal assistant, I think his body guard and all of the restaurant businessmen from companies in South Korea, Korea, and apparently that's how he does all of his official visits.
If he travels outside of the country. The only reason is going outside of the country is to look for business for South Korea. And it goes with his businessmen. That's the kind of attitude that we need here in Africa. You know, we need to get off of our sort of high horses. And stop feeling important by traveling with, you know, 20, you know, all of our ministers who of course are, you know, sort of, kowtowing to their boss, and, you know, get into the habit of carrying business people around with us who ask hard questions and demand hard things and actually have the industry knowledge and insight.
And. You know, technical ability to be able to actually negotiate on things that are good for the whole country. Yeah.
Tim: [00:26:27] So how I was writing a note a little while ago to, to remind myself, to ask you this. So it's kind of tracking back a little in the conversation, but, but how do you think, Satellite and particularly, you know, Musk's Starlink is going to affect the market.
Is it going to shake things up or is it too slow to be useful?
Brian: [00:26:48] Okay. I am totally the wrong person to ask that question. because, because I'm extremely skeptical about this starlink network that Elon Musk is putting up. I have my own release. Sort of weird and crazy theories about all these different satellite based networks that are going up around the world.
one of them is starlink. Then you have the Google loon project, which is putting up balloons. And right now you have 35 balloons that are floating around east Africa, Eastern, central Africa.
Tim: [00:27:16] I read about that, but I didn't know that actually kind of put them in the air.
Brian: [00:27:20] Yeah, yeah. Up and running.
Yeah, they're up and running and, you know, they claim that they are services running off of them in Kenya. you know, my theory, if you look at the amount of money that has, that's being sunk into these deploying these, these constellations of networks, and different types of infrastructure there.
It's just not commercially feasible, that you'd never be able to make any kind of money, back on that kind of investment. unless you had another reason for that network to be up there and the only feasible solution I can think of this espionage. So they left.
Tim: [00:27:55] So
Brian: [00:27:56] let's take a closer look at these Africans in theory, what they're really.
Tim: [00:28:00] Yeah. So I've I'm mean I've heard, I, I I'm equally skeptical, but my conclusions are a little different. I think that the, the story I've heard on the, on the Musk one is that actually, and it's true. Also, I think for the Google is that they're negotiating tactics. They are attempting to drive the price down.
I mean, it's in Musk has a problem that every Tesla has a GSM connection. he must be paying a fortune in those, in the, in, in bandwidth fees and he needs a card on the table, so he can negotiate with whoever it is, Verizon or whoever his carriers are in each country. And so the ability to say, Hey, well, send it all through the satellite and you'll get no money.
Allows him to drive the prices down. I think, I think that's my, my take on it. And I think the Google project is similar. It's an attempt to. To kind of force, the price is down from the mobile operators, but it sounds to me like you don't even believe that that's true.
Brian: [00:29:01] I don't think so. Because if you look at the amount of money that Musk, for example has put into starlink, he could have bought each of the equal, have bought a mobile company in each of the countries. And sorted out his mobile connectivity issues in one block, even if the network was only just for running his cars.
And he wasn't making money on it. He put up basically deploy the mobile network in every single country where he wants to have his cars used and bought. And, and that's it, you know, he gets his connectivity that way. So, but anyway, we could argue about this, whatever that, well, let me, let me stay with my conspiracy theory.
Tim: [00:29:37] Yeah. I mean, coming back to the, kind of the, the other half of the question is you don't see that moving the market very much those initiatives.
Brian: [00:29:45] Well, if you look at, if you look at, for example, let's look at Google's loon. Yeah. So they're, they're already, have services running in Kenya. What was their approach?
They went and they got into a partnership with the PPT. The former incumbent public telephone company. And they said we are helping Telkom Kenya extend four G connectivity to the rural areas. So what have they done? They've reinforced the public telephone companies, high prices and push them deeper the community because it's not like telecom.
I've come up with a special tariff. Well, the people in the village who can't afford their services currently, it's not as if the people who are not using the services before didn't have coverage of three G or four G it's just that they couldn't afford it. So, you know, they've taken the model of basically partnering with.
you know, existing operators who are already gatekeepers, who are already keeping people away from accessing these technologies due to their high prices and they're profiteering. so, you know, to me, that's not gonna work if they put that up that infrastructure up and made it open access said to everybody, okay, come and connect.
As many as you can. We're charging, you know, five us cents. Per month, per subscriber and they opened it up to everybody, then that would have a major impact because essentially that would even maybe create the emergence of new specialized, localized, you know, never seen the four types of outfits that can actually get on the ground and connect people and train them and help them.
but these models that actually just sort of run as an overlay, existing hierarchies, I've acted as a barrier. I'm sorry that isn't gonna work.
Tim: [00:31:36] Right, right. And you said, you said something about, the idea that's kind of new, that they might be new, different ways of working that would come out of, of keeping those prices down.
And you also said earlier that, that the, the banking penetration isn't that high. So like, can you talk a little bit, I know it's not really internet, but can you talk a little bit about, money on phones. Cause I like, that's something that we basically don't don't know about. We don't do it. it's like, I'm completely ignorant to the Mpesa service that, right?
Brian: [00:32:08] Yeah. Yeah. So Mpesa is massive in Kenya actually, you know, a majority of world transactions runs a course in PSI in Kenya and it, it keeps us growing by the day. And how
Tim: [00:32:19] does that work? I mean, know, I've no idea what it feels like to use. What, how does it, how does it go?
Brian: [00:32:25] Well, just think of it like this, right?
your wallet on a phone. So anytime you want to spend money, you just use your phone, and you sort of have a digital wallet that allows you to pay for services. And they've gone a bit, they've gone a few steps further where they've been able to actually integrate all manner of different vendors.
Into different, menu items in line items on the phone. So, you know, you click a button, it pops up a menu, you have the option to pay bills. You click on pay bills and you have a whole list of service providers, your utilities, electricity, water, You know, you name it. you, you, you, you, you have, you walk into a supermarket and you have a pay bill number and Mpesa pay bill number.
So if you want to pay with your mobile money, you just send a payment to that table number and it comes with your name attached to it and they confirm it and you walk out. So you literally, you know, when I'm in Kenya there, in fact, there are some places which say we don't accept cash. Because now they've reduced the cash risk.
So there are a lot of outlets where they just simply say, Mpesa only that way, you know, nobody's going to walk in with a gun and say, give me all the money.
Tim: [00:33:36] So who owns that network?
Brian: [00:33:38] It's owned by the one of the mobile operators, the largest Safaricom, and you know, their, their profits, a good number of years.
I think the first time they made huge profits. The first time they, they reported massive, massive profits. this is going back maybe about eight or nine years. I remember it was, it was just such big news because they reported their annual profits. And for that particular year, they had made more money than all the banks in Kenya combined, just to give you a sense of the scale.
Okay. And they've continued to do that year. Upon. Year. and it's not like the banks in Kenya, not really performing, they're doing great, great and amazing work. And that they're doing. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, probably billions, in terms of turnover and profits, but M-Pesa makes more than all of them combined because probably I think today, maybe about 70% of them, well, transactions in Kenya go over there in M-Pesa network.
And you're talking about more transactions, you know, paying your taxi driver, But painful your, your burger in the restaurant, buying that book online, up all the way up to paying for school fees, and, you know, paying your rent and paying your utilities. so today it, you know, in Kenya that's become just, you know, the, the, the, the standard way of doing things it's picking up in many other African countries.
but I think the really exciting thing. And this is what is probably going to inform the future of, technology and digital development in Africa is the emergence of what we call Neo banks. Right? So these are basically branchless and digital banks that can offer all manner of services all the way from deposit taking to loans, to cards, virtual cards, physical cards, payment services.
merchant services, and these are just basically totally entirely digital. one big example of this is a company called Everson. It's a, Ugandan example, a Ugandan company. they just did a raise. I don't know if you came across this news. they used CDRs, which is one of the big European crowdfunding platforms.
And they were able to raise about, was it a million, a million dollars they ate, they set out to aim. They set out to raise 200 and I think 75,000, a dollar. And they ended up over subscribed to the tune of about, I mean, yeah. So I think these are the kind of I'm new companies that are going to, you know, transform and inform.
the digital evolution of Africa, you know, completely unprecedented did completely untraditional and unconventional. I mean the CEO of that company is a young Ugandan guy who is just so passionate about comments, you know, and he's also just so controversial. Look him up on Twitter, you know, you'll see his, his views and, you know, he's just, you know, a brilliant mind, but.
Totally different from your typical banking CEO, from your Barclay's or your standard chartered, CEO.
Tim: [00:36:44] I wanted to talk about that as well. Like, you know what, what's these new companies who's going to staff them. Is there the educated talent available, to do that or, or is the education the first step that you need to create?
Brian: [00:37:01] Yeah, I think, in the more traditional, the more traditional industries are where you really have, you know, you tend to need to find people who have years and years and years of training and experience in the digital world. you really just need to know your tech well, and you know, generally speaking, I think that's what you see in most of the, you know, sort of so-called unicorns.
You look at Facebook, you look at Microsoft, even, you know, what, what amount of training spend an experience did any of their founders have? and some of their initial teams, they were just passionate about technology and were able to get. You know, people with people around them who maybe have the skills and knowledge to help them with their things, like, you know, the boring stuff, like accounting and legal, legal stuff.
And, you know, for the large part, they're able to outsource a lot of that. and just focus on technology and building and doing new stuff. and they, they had to keep on hiring new skills, new, new people, And so in Africa, I think, you know, the skills pool is massive. Africa, you can population is a young population.
70% of the population in Africa is below the age of 40 and will continue to be so for many years, so I think the labor pool in Africa will not only be able to serve the African continent, but probably to serve the rest of the world in the years, coming in the years ahead of us. However, ensuring that these guys all have the necessary skills and knowledge and training that they need is a big challenge because we don't have enough schools.
We don't have enough colleges. So I think another big area. Is education and that's probably a, not so much talked about, thing and technology again, has a big role to play in terms of being able to, to provide access to education, access, to quality education, access to the best minds, for, you know, even the, the least, of, of, of, the least of, the African population.
Tim: [00:39:00] So, how do you, I mean, if I'm a school kid in Malawi, what does my internet look like? Do I, do I use it at school? Do I use it at the library? Do I have internet at home? How does that feel for a 14 year
Brian: [00:39:15] old? It's a crying shame actually. as a school kid in Malawi, you just don't have internet period. last week I was really, I was really saddened to see the college of medicine.
you know, the, the main medical university, closing down their own online school. They shut it down. of course, with the outbreak of. the corona virus, in March, the earlier this year, which resulted in lock down measures, which meant that all institutions like all learning institutions were closed.
most of the universities and schools looked at ways of doing online, learning the college of medicine, shut down. Last week because such a small percentage of their students were able to connect online that they decided if we continue training these few who can connect and we leave all the others behind, what are we going to do?
Yeah. It's better for us to just shut down shut this whole thing down and wait until we can reopen. Hmm. So that we can be able to have the whole class going ahead. We can't have 10, 10% of the class or 5% of the class. Learning while the rest of them are just languishing because they can't afford connectivity because they can't access the online learning.
So, it was really sad, but that is basically what you have,
Tim: [00:40:36] but, but that was content that was, generated locally. There was no need for that content to leave the country. So it's not like it had to go through an international gateway or anything. I, I. I kind of feel like somehow that should have been cheaper.
Brian: [00:40:51] Yeah, it should have been, but it isn't, and this is a big debate that we're having. And it's a big pressure that is being put on the existing, operators and providers, because they charge exactly the same to access local, local content as they do to access international content. And, it's just ridiculous because, you know, you, you, you download a library book.
From the online library and one GB of data is gone. there's a big, there's a big question Mark, around how they meter, how they meet at and data goes, it just goes so fast. but when you're talking about spending, you know, $27 per GB, that's a lot of money. Right.
Tim: [00:41:29] and
Brian: [00:41:29] then even just the book itself.
Right. Yeah. so yeah, there's a lot of work to be done. I think as far as just generally the whole, pricing availability of access, pervasive you know, the pervasiveness, there is a project that's funded by the world bank called digital Malawi. it's a $72 million. Well, a project, which kicked off about a year ago and under it, it has about 34 different interventions, 34 different projects, or looking at different aspects of helping allow you to become more and more of a digital economy.
and one of the things that's in there is, is really just trying to tackle this issue of access. they'll they'll be looking to connect as many universities, give them internal wifi. Availability. So in this particular case, in the college of medicine, what they could have done is just told the students, okay, come pick up a tablet.
And if you, as long as you're anywhere on the campus, you can access. Your online classes. So rather than including them in a sitting in, in, in, in a, in a lecture hall, which violates lock down measures, they could probably just come dis you know, sit anywhere in the comp in the campus, in the compound, which is tens and tens and tens of acres.
and it's all covered in wifi and basically be able to participate on that if they can't get connectivity at home. so this is something that's going to be happening and probably we'll begin to see slightly different ways of people accessing, such content, but there is a big, a lot of work to be done.
Tim: [00:43:07] So what, what I mean. naturally Vim time to ask some final questions, I guess.
Vim: [00:43:12] Yeah, I was going to say, so one of the questions I always ask guests is kind of the final thing is what's, what's your, what do you see the future looking like? What's your star gazing moment into the future?
Brian: [00:43:26] so. My stargazing moment, I would say is a situation where three out of five Malawians have affordable access to the internet no matter where they live in, no matter where they work and you know, to see a plethora of content and services digitally available, all the way from healthcare.
Telemedicine education, banking, burgers, pizzas, bicycles, books. And you know, you name it popcorn, whatever. Yeah,
Vim: [00:44:06] it's amazing.
Tim: [00:44:07] So w w what we, like to do with this podcast is, is when we put it out, we like to put some links with it. So if people have got kind of wanting to dig deeper into anything that that's cropped up in the conversation, then maybe there's a link there that lets them.
Read into that some more. So, so if you wouldn't mind, like sending over anything that you think would be good to put there, you know, three or four links would be great. that's, that's, that's always good for people and, and yeah, thanks for your insight. I really do appreciate it. It's kind of, I'm still sitting here reeling from, from some of the kind of, you know, the, the 13,000, connections.
It's like. Yeah, I have those within a couple of miles of me here. It's
Brian: [00:44:50] amazing. Yeah. I tell you. Yeah.
Tim: [00:44:54] Yeah. Well, there you go. See, I mean, we're talking to the right person from that point of view, so that's so that's great. Cool. No, so thank you very much for that. And if you've got anything else, you kind of wanted to say just, you know, either say it now or drop it in the email and we'll add it to the podcast.
Brian: [00:45:08] No, thank you very much. I really appreciate this opportunity to tell you a little bit about what we do and a bit about, the environment we work in. and I hope that your listeners will be able to learn and be encouraged.
Tim: [00:45:19] Yeah, I'm sure they will. Thank you so
Vim: [00:45:21] much. Great. Okay.
Tim: [00:45:23] Bye.
Brian: [00:45:24] Bye.