I am just now back from Nairobi, Kenya where I attended Convergence Africa and led a Master Class on the notion of “Executing on that Big idea”.
My session was sold out and the room was packed with people eager to learn more about entrepreneurship and how to overcome challenges specific to the region.
This conference was quite well done and to the point. It’s goal was simple and right on: doing business in Africa. You can see here all the reasons why I was looking forward to this Convergence. And I am most happy to report that it turned out to be everything that I was hoping for from its format, to the quality of the speakers and audience, as well as the companies that won the entrepreneurship awards at the Gala Diner.
But one thing bothered me: the Richard Branson’s part. It is important I disclose my admiration for the real Richard Branson, the charismatic, flamboyant and full of sex appeal entrepreneur who built the amazing Virgin brand. To me Virgin is Richard Branson and vice versa. You may like or dislike Virgin/Sir Branson, but you can’t be indifferent. Steve Jobs is my ultimate hero when it comes to entrepreneurs, but Branson has not been far behind.
So what bothered me about Sir Branson this past Thursday? Many things. At the top is the fact that when he was asked about his attraction to Africa he basically replied that he has been spending the past 5 years on philanthropic ventures across the Continent, the biggest of them being The Elders. He made it clear that his people handle the business part.
I thought to myself “are you freaking serious”? My admiration for Branson stems from the fact that he is a superb entrepreneur first and foremost. And he accomplished it all despite his modest background and dropping out of school when he was 15, the reality of so many young Africans today. So what I needed from and wanted for him to speak about on Thursday was exactly that! Great entrepreneurs have big, hairy, audacious goals. And at this point of his career, I expected Branson’s would be bigger and hairier than anyone’s. He missed out on an outrageous opportunity to inspire an entire audience enamored with entrepreneurship. THAT is what Africa needs more than freaking philanthropy! For a similar account on Branson’s disappointing performance, see my friend Andrea’s description here.