Sunday, October 27, 2013

Running and serving in Senegal (part 3): common sense?

End of week 2 in Senegal already, half way through our engagement in Africa, and taking full advantage of the opportunity to make an impact in this emerging country while learning from the local culture and discovering the Senegalese as well as their country.

Running-wise, quite a few miles this week. No run on Monday to catch-up with some sleep deficit, but 95 kilometers total from Tuesday to Friday and a good long run (21 miles, 33 kilometers) in a new place, Saly! Saly is a very touristic place with many 5-star resorts and beaches along the Ocean. Half the group stayed overnight to enjoy the occidental comfort and party ambiance, the other half, included myself, returned to Dakar on Saturday night to go to the Pink Lake (Lac Rose) on Sunday.

I did run 6 miles South of the Lamentin Beach resort, down to the harbor which, unfortunately was disgusting with all the garbage on the sand. At one point, a young girl cut in front of me to throw the whole content of her trash bin in the Ocean. While the Ocean feeds these poor families, it's quite disconcerting to see such lack of consideration for the environment. With that, I turned back and, after stopping at the resort to say hi to the group which was enjoying the beach, I continued further North for another 5 miles. The beach stopped about a mile away from the resort on that end, replaced by rocks and private villas "les pieds dans l'eau", so I ran inland on nice sandy roads and very local and traditional neighborhood. I could tell from the weird look of the people that tourists don't venture in this area.
While going through Saly, I got quite a few "Allez le sportif!" from locals trying to get my attention and sell me something. As I stopped to buy (bargain...) a bottle of cold water, one guy approached me to introduce me to their local running champion. Remembering the pleasure I had to meet elite runners in Ethiopia, I decided to give it a try. I eventually met his friend who didn't even know the length of a marathon. Sure enough this was a scam and we ended up in a house where they asked me to buy some rice for the local community. Exactly as the guide warns tourist, and conforming to what my sister, Marie, told me, sharing about her experience of two humanitarian medical missions in Senegal. I left the scene without being ripped off, good ending, phew!

While I was running and fighting the oppressing mid-day heat, I was thinking of Alex who was running his first marathon this Sunday, the Marine Corps in DC. And, yes, despite limited training and no competitive goal, he not only made it but in a very respectable 3:46 (8:38 min/mile)! Very proud of him especially as he has never been found of running while in High School. On Saturday, thanks to his job at the Department of State, he got an invitation for Agnès and Max to visit the White House Garden, cool way to welcome the visiting family in town!

Work-wise, this has been a very productive week as we spent time interviewing and consulting with the three selected project teams of Coders4Africa.

We first met, first on Monday then again on Wednesday, Pape Samba and Yazid from the Kenefa team. Kenefa is a project to build a platform to gather public information related to healthcare providers in Senegal.
On Tuesday, it was the turn of the QuickCollect team to get grilled. The team was augmented with a few other coders whose project hasn't been selected for our engagement. QuickCollect is a platform for building online and mobile-accessible surveys. While the idea is extremely appropriate for the emerging countries in general and Senegal in particular, this is a space which has quite a few players already, Datadyne's Magpi being not the least important and visible competitor in the space.

You can see a demo of the QuickCollect project on YouTube.

One Wednesday, we met the third team to discuss the most intriguing Daral project, another platform aiming at addressing the issues of the farmers and their cattle.
You can actually watch a video about Daral on YouTube too. Even the BBC was in Senegal recently to interview the team in Dakar and the farmers in Foundiougne (coincidentally the small village my sister Marie provided medical support to a few years ago!).

Poor coders, we bombarded them with tough questions about their business ideas like potential investors would do. Of course, with all our consideration and to help them assessing the viability of their initial options or come up with new ones. And in a methodical manner which we will further document next week and teach them so they can apply it after we leave.
Overall, I remain intrigued or puzzled with what our work will produce. On one hand, the teams are so eager to learn from us any tip which can help them building successful (i.e. revenue-generating and profitable) businesses. On the other hand, none of us have created a company in Senegal, so I wonder how applicable our generic business concepts will prove to be. While things may be common sense to us, what does "common" means across our cultures, mindsets and backgrounds which are so far apart. At least, our client is actually aiming at infusing the Occidental entrepreneurship spirit in Africa, so we are certainly aligning with that objective.

To the point of changing mindsets and behaviors through education, we met the Managing Director, Mr. Didier Diop and Professor Léon Coly, of Sup'Info, one of the many private colleges/universities in Senegal (mostly Dakar).
We are going to meet the IBM Senegal management team next week to discuss partnership options with local institutions, while Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Oracle, HP are quite active already. To address a demand from these institutions to access to all the worldwide IT leaders.

As you recall, our group (14 IBMers) work on 4 projects across Dakar so, between the geographical spread and our own project constraints of meeting the coders after their day job, in the evening, we mostly meet for excursions on weekends or for our weekly group coordination meeting where we exchange experiences and opportunity to make connections between our clients.

I keep adding pictures to my Picasa album; here are a few direct pointers to specific sections so you don't have to rewind from the beginning of the tape:
  1. Beach cleaning (Sunday October 13)
  2. Team building (Sunday October 13)
  3. Kick-off @ ITA (Monday October 14)
  4. Tabaski (Wednesday October 16)
  5. All-hands with Coders4Africa (Friday October 18)
  6. Ile de Gorée (Saturday October 19)
  7. Safari @ Bandia (Sunday October 20)
  8. Western Corniche run (Sunday October 20)
  9. Metings with Coders4Africa at iDEV (Monday-Friday October 21-25)
  10. Saly (Saturday October 26) (I actually need to upload pictures from my BlackBerry)
  11. Pink Lake (Sunday October 27)

#ibmcsc senegal

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