Wednesday, November 28, 2007

IBM Researchers Look to Africa

We have shared the 411 with BETF-Blog Readers about Mark Dean in the past. Also, IBM is a consistent BDPA sponsor and BETF donor. So we thought that this recent article would be of interest to you:

"We believe that Africa is that next emerging opportunity," said Mark Dean, head of IBM'S Almaden Research Center in Silicon Valley. "We need to be familiar with different cultures and languages and operations in the African countries. What we want is the African people and African businesses to look at IBM as a trusted provider."

When technology companies talk up the potential of the developing world, they usually mean places that already are hotbeds like China or India. IBM Corp. is placing bets on African countries where it has launched a mentoring program for college students.

The project, called Makocha Minds, using the Swahili word for "teachers," puts 250 of IBM's top researchers in regular contact with engineering, math and computing students at universities in 10 sub-Saharan countries: Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Botswana, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria.

The participants chat mainly by e-mail or phone, but in-person meetings could happen eventually.

The students usually want general guidance on becoming successful or pursuing advanced degrees, rather than help with their homework, said Mark Dean, head of IBM'S Almaden Research Center in Silicon Valley and leader of the project.

Dean said the project lays groundwork for IBM to do business in Africa, where potentially groundbreaking research is being pursued on diverse topics like plant genomics and nuclear power.

"We believe that Africa is that next emerging opportunity," he said. "We need to be familiar with different cultures and languages and operations in the African countries. What we want is the African people and African businesses to look at IBM as a trusted provider."

Other technology companies have tried strengthening their interactions in Africa, including Google Inc., whose foundation has backed business-plan competitions in Ghana and Tanzania. However, experts in international technology development said IBM's mentoring program appears unique.
Well, BETF-Blog Readers, what say u?


Unknown said...

Thanks villager for passing by and for this article too.It's time we start exploring and taking advantage of the business possibilities and opportunities in Africa.I hope this topic will have continuity in your platform and sure i'll be back!

Bennett Kankuzi said...

This is good news. However, I have two comments. Firstly, I feel that the number of sub-Saharan countries involved is just two small. I could have wished if more sub-Saharan countries could have been involved in this exciting program.Surely sub-Saharan Africa constitutes more countries than just the selected few. Maybe, this is just a starting point.

Secondly, I wish to comment about the picture on this post of the Masai (I should guess) holding a radio. Honestly speaking, I fail to understand why Africa is associated with such stereotypic pictures. Africa is not just about poverty and need as the picture portrays. Why can you not post pictures of healthy looking smiling Africans? Much as we accept that there is poverty in Africa as also in other continents, we have to accept the fact just as in other continents that there are rich and poor people, the literate and the illiterate, the fat and the skinny, war torn countries as well as peaceful countries.

I find it very insulting to see such stereotyping images about Africa. Africa is not just about poverty, hunger, strife and conflict.


Unknown said...

Felix - Thanks for your comment. We will continue to explore ways to increase IT knowledge for all people of African descent throughout the diaspora. You are welcome back whenever you have time or inclination.

Bennett - IBM is a corporate sponsor for BDPA. I will pass along your comment to our contact within the company. Do you have other countries in mind? Also, do you have a better picture that depicts African using technology that I can use to replace the current photo?

Thanks for sharing your candid comments with us. I hope you'll come back again in the future.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for bringing this to light. And thanks Villager for cue-ing me in to this article.
There are a lot of folks including myself and the team over at who recognize the potential of "Mama Africa" and are working to mobilize and participate in the Africa development through a comprehensive and Pan-African approach throughout the Diaspora...Let's all connect!

clnmike said...


Following the Villager has led me to this blog which I find very interesting.

I think American companies interest in Africa is some what of a double edge sword. While the emergence of the African economic power will lead to more respect for the continent, as well as jobs. I can not help but think of the dollar being the bottom line, which can compromise cultural values and enforce stereo types as
Bennett Kankuzi has pointed out.

I would like more details on what IBM is doing to hiring Africans as there buisness represenitives to those nations that they are selling to.

And also how much of this is influenced by the expansion of other nations in to Africa like China. And I know the old colonial powers of Europe are not going to take Americans wanting a piece of the pie lightly.

But I look foward to more posts about this.

Unknown said...

Saba, Ink - I do hope that we can create some synergy between brothers and sisters in Africa and here in America. Every other ethnic group that I know has a strong connection to their mother country. We need to make efforts to do the same between African Americans and Africans. Please let me know if you have any ideas on next steps. Also, let me know if you are aware of BDPA?

Unknown said...

clnMike - Do you have images of Africa/technology that you can share with me ( so that I don't use photos that feed stereotypes in the future?

More importantly, do you have thoughts on next steps for bringing together IT professionals and entrepreneurs in America with our counterparts in Africa?

Anonymous said...

Africa is such an interesting place with alot of dynamism.

However, for a person like me and an Economics and projects graduate from an African University, there are alot of hiccups that have to be straightened prior to success of such projects.

They are always well intentioned but what derails them is the lack of outright participation of the stakeholders.

You cannot develop a critical mass of IT gurus without a roadmap that is long term and what happens when IBM takes on these promising IT students, we have loads of them here in Uganda, pays their tuition to further their studies? It will be brain drain parked at Sillicon valley to further IBM's strategies, just thinking.

And like someone pointed out, who is IBM's contact in these countries responsible for identification of these brilliant IT lads? Africa and looking at Uganda in particular has got tons of tribes, that means there is alot of tribalism especially amongst the older generation, this ussually happens when a particular tribe is in power.

So until, especially IBM has factored in a couple of control factors to ensure that their proteges' come back to serve Africa, certain brains aint left out, all their intentions will never be projects but rather creative ideas that do not yield innovations.

Unknown said...

Den - Thank you for sharing your insights with us. I hope you come back often. As for the IBM effort ... my hope is that someone from IBM leadership team will see our thread and respond directly. However, I appreciate and agree with your comments.

Bennett Kankuzi said...

Villager, I did Google Images search for "computers students africa" and I got lots of great pictures which could fit into the context of the post. What about pictures at:
I think as long as you recognize the source of the images, it should not be a copyright violation.

Receive my compliments for also being very open-minded.


Unknown said...

Bennett - We have updated the photo in our original blog post to one that is less stereotypical as per your suggestion from earlier in the week. Thank you very much for providing a source for new photo. I'll take chance on the copywrite violation as our blog is very small in size at this point (smile).

I still am hopeful that we can find an IBM official to join us with more insights ... or an African govenment or IT industry official that can give perspective from that part of the diaspora.