Q&A with Edgar Kasenene

During the RAN Innovation Fireplace Digital Series-Episode 4

For the fourth episode of the Digital Innovation Fireplace Series held on Monday May s18th, 2020, the ResilientAfrica Network took things up a notch, hosting Edgar Kasenene, a passionate and disruptive thinker to speak to the theme ‘Re-skilling and Creating New Value in an ‘Open’ World. During the session, Edgar spoke to the core of what it means to be an entrepreneur in the internet era. If you missed the live session, you can watch the recording via this link. We followed up with Edgar after the session to answer some of the questions raised by the session participants.  Below are the responses he shared, which he also noted should serve as a ‘trigger’ for participants to think deeper and not answers to existing community challenges: 

Q: I am excited to hear from our speaker, hopefully Edgar can share his perspective on who an innovator is and whether we are all innovators by default.

We are all innovators by default. Innovation is really about bringing new ideas to life and when we are driven by a deep sense of purpose, we all have the natural ability to think of new value. The key thing is to gravitate to your purpose.

 Q: How should we relate success and failure as one builds a business?

The best way to measure success of failure is feedback from the customers/and or rate of adoption scale. In the digital era it is not about marketing but hitting a customer’s sweet spot. Any modern business that does not have data as a means of understanding behavior/growth/trends is not going to make it. The truth in the modern context of building a business is not so much about “failure” but learning at speed what “customers do not want or what is not working”. Success is simply getting to the point where customers “validate” your offering whether digital or not. Build in as many or as much engagement as possible.

 Q: How can I integrate technology in my business model designed for low income families in rural communities?

We would need to speak more specifically around what “offering you have”. With this question it is a little vague. You can reach out directly on email for a brief chat.

Q: So, I have been asking some of my friends in Uganda about creating an ecosystem to foster innovation. There seems to be a lot of frustration in regard to collaboration and getting stakeholders on the same page. Many are working towards same goal but transactional leadership instead of transformational, leads many to work in silos that work against exponential growth locally. I am currently in the US and I am troubled by the mentality that we need foreign investments to thrive. What am I missing when it comes to both public and private sector investing in local talent?

This is a very strong point. We have a lot of work to do with the leadership in both the public and private sector. The biggest challenge is that the massive shift in creating value has happened very quickly and most of our leaders were trained and prepared for an ‘old era’. Making the shift into a world that needs agility and innovation and rapid experimentation is not easy.

The mental models are a little off simply because as a “society” a lot of our preparation was for a world where rapid learning was not the norm. If you look around you most modern businesses are failing to make the shift when a lot of the modern users are now driven by behavior of the platform companies and ubiquitous access to a world of choice. In all the audiences that I am in I am trying very hard to labor this point but I am also empathetic based on my journey of deep learning and “failure” that allowed me through some “pain” to start to “understand” the new models. It is not fun to see companies fail and organizations become irrelevant but it is also human nature that we mainly learn through failure. I am not sure who asked this but some of us are passionate in all forums whether it is with boards and with leadership teams as we hope to slowly trigger a new mindset.

We need a new mindset that understands that collaboration is important and that innovation is a long play with learnings and investment. That digital models are imperative in the world that is largely moving online and that value is more important than size and past experience. We need to encourage a new wave of “curiosity”. We need to repurpose institutions of learning where critical thinking is more important than the “outcome”. We need to ask the right questions and understand why platform companies thrive and why “Safe Boda” is now more relevant than “Stanbic bank”. It is not an easy one but 90 to 95% of the thinking is predicated in a world that was very structured and predictable and not exponential and agile.

In essence we can spend the time being very “critical” of the thinking or spend the time working hard and passionately to “show the new mindset” required. I am certainly spending most of my energy trying to influence and inspire this new way of thinking. We do not have an option and we must keep pushing on. IDEX was born out of a deep desire to drive transformational change on the continent and we are optimistic that after a lot of resistance and effort we shall achieve breakthrough. It is certainly naïve to give people the hope that things will go back to the “good old days”

Q: Edgar could you please comment on regulatory environment for Tech solutions especially in low- and middle-income countries?

That is a bit of a broad question and I am not an expert on regulation. If you can be more specific (feel free to reach out directly on email). Tech is a very generic term. I think the priority on low to middle income countries should be to get every citizen online.

I think institutions of learning have to focus on driving critical thinking and not focus on people getting the “right answer”. Asking questions (curiosity) is now a much more powerful attribute than having the answer.

I believe that we should ease regulatory restrictions in many aspects of policy to allow people to do things easier.

In essence regulation will now follow innovation and not the other way around. So focus on identifying a customer need and then figure out how to solve it. Share the idea with the public and regulation will follow. Same way mobile money become regulated by the central bank when they saw how it was driving financial inclusion.

Q: Agriculture is such an important part of the Ugandan economy.  What do you see as the main opportunities of the new operating environment in Agribusiness?

Some of you want me to do the hard work for you (laughs). A lot of these questions are questions consultants hired to drive your growth answer! Lol! Reach out and IDEX can help you grow. Jokes aside there are so many opportunities in agriculture. Many I am sure are already in ideation or execution. How do we ease access to relevant information to farmers (weather, market trends, financing options etc). How do we simplify the supply chain or create a platform where farmers can create supply based on Realtime information to meet demand? And so on ….

Q: You have talked about not considering geography in innovation but don’t you think it sometimes contradicts with the concept of having a target market.

I believe we discussed this. Building for a customer need is critical (target market). Spend some time on design thinking it explains this well. However what I said is that the world is now your market place… when you build an app/platform it can be used by anyone in the world. Dream big…. Start small!

Q: Edgar, how would you advise the Entrepreneurs in the service industry, where value is based on experience that sometimes is skewed by opinions?

Nobody has ever solved a real problem/need and failed to be successful. The metrics of past experience as a substrate of future success are now flawed. Look at businesses all around you that were successful all the way up to 2019 and are now failing. The experience based measure was when we had a world that only had iterative changes not exponential ones…. Do not “listen to the noise”… focus holistically on the unique value you are bringing to reality.

Q: How do we deal with innovation-inertia that’s still prevalent in our society (‘if it is not broken, do not fix it’?)

Well clearly a lot of things “were broken” as companies seem to be failing at speed. Simply because their culture and models were already flawed. I think everyone will now talk about “innovation” and not fully understand it. Yes pre-COVID most of the companies in our space were reluctant to experiment because they perceived they were fine even when we passionately told them they were not. Look, change is difficult at all human levels. Innovation is now not optional but what is more important is understanding “why” (purpose). This is the catalyst to true innovation. A deep desire for impact. A focus on “purpose”. Most will now understand they need to change but they will have to fight the structural resistance to change. Modern organisations and institutions were not built for agility. We need to work and help them now. Some will figure it out faster than others and those will be the ones with a clear sense of purpose.

My advice is if you have a burning idea that you believe can have impact… find the right environment to drive it. If you feel your organization is not getting you there, it is highly likely you do not belong there. Don’t give up on your idea… simply give up on your organization!


Find the recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTYSQpQsGvU