There are few times that I find myself the least interesting person in the room. As I saunter around I get talking to Brian, a Kenyan investment banker based in London.
“What do you mean you want to wait 5 more years to go to Ghana? Go now! Africa needs you now!”
I’m taking in his every word as we animatedly discuss everything from my plan to one day quit my city job to his plans to eventually start his own private equity firm back home. He has an easy confidence about him – it’s refreshing more than anything else. Like so many others in this hotel conference suite, he belongs to a new breed; an ever-evolving generation of ambitious, creative and highly-skilled Africans with a yearning to transform their continent.
I am at a TEDxEuston salon event titled Harnessing Africa’s Energy Held on June 13 at London’s Crowne Plaza, the salon event follows the much larger TEDxEuston 2014 – an awe-inspiring, locally organised event run by young Africans dedicated to “ideas worth spreading”.
Now in its fifth year, the event aims to reflect the ideas, opportunities and ambitions of a new generation of African leaders. Having attended the December event I could say that despite the atmosphere being more intimate, there was an exciting energy in the place.
Eunice Baguma Ball walks on stage. She is dressed casually, her Afro hair cropped tightly with highlights of brown. She soon has the whole crowd laughing. She wants you know that she is a proud Ugandan woman, a self-starter, a tech entrepreneur who has seen it all. Behind the warm smile that comes so easily to her there is a fierceness in her eyes. She shares her frustrations of being a professional working in rapidly urbanising Kampala.
“Did you know that PayPal doesn’t work in Uganda? Can you believe it!”
The thing is, we do believe it. Everyone in the room can empathise with the young African girl who has dreams far bigger than the lot it seems life has given her. We all empathise with the entrepreneur with a spark of genius who finds all her ideas aborted in an environment of mind-boggling bureaucracy, corruption, erratic energy supply, inadequate schools and lack of access to funding.
Olasimbo Sonjinrin shares her story. She is a ‘Solar Sister‘, a feminist, citizen lobbyist, and an advocate for climate change progress and women’s rights across Africa. She has flown in from Lagos just for the event. She talks passionately about the women in her life that inspire her, her mother in particular. Olasimbo is the Nigeria Country Manager for Solar Sister, a women’s empowerment organisation. She leads a network of women entrepreneurs bring affordable, clean energy solutions to communities.
“I know what you are thinking and the answer is no!”
Thus begins Andrew Hunt‘s impassioned and energetic speech. As a white guy about to talk about Africa, he knows we all think he’s a South African. He’s not. He is a young, English entrepreneur passionate about Africa and he is trying to get the crowd to invest in Aduna. A young, fresh Africa-inspired health and beauty brand, the company is competing in Virgin’s Pitch to Rich contest, details of which can be found here: www.virginmediabusiness.co.uk/pitch-to-rich.
Afterwards, Richard ‘Rich Blk‘ Mkoloma takes the stage. He is a poet, an artist, a fashion designer, an author. He ‘spits’ in perfect melody – an unmistakeable East London drawl that I know so well. The son of a Caribbean mother and Malawian father, Rich straddles multiple identities and weaves them into his rhymes. We speak afterwards on the nuances of identity and the intricacies of poetry. Rich’s poetry has been published in ‘Contemporary Black Writing’ anthologies by Peepal Press and Penguin. He has featured on Sky, OHTV, Channel 4 and BBC Radio 1Xtra as well as numerous venues including London Sadler’s Wells.
For more information on the speakers at the TEDxEuston salon event, please visit:
Olasimbo Sonjinrin – solarsister.org
Eunice Baguma Ball – meetup.com/AfricaTBN
Rich Blk – twitter.com/richblkthinks
Andrew Hunt – aduna.com