#sfrome: Demystify public-private partnership - thoughts on the keynote by Mark Davies

Written by Anna Spiteri

Wednesday's keynote continued to enlighten us on what is happening out there in the real world of entrepreneurship. Mark Davies talk was direct and dynamic and for me he certainly did “Demystify public-private partnership” with his honest approach! His description of the whole journey ...from geeks, suits and angels to sex and marriage...gave a concise view how the whole field evolved over the years. And by the time he set up his company esoke in Ghana, and 16 other countries in Africa since, he poured not just his energy and time , but a lifetime of experience into it as well, to make it the success it is today. Times have changes, he said, it is no longer the crazy expectation, that if you build something, demand will follow. His team, that grew from 2 to 30, all young local whizz kids are learning to respond to the field as there is constant change, which he admitted, it s exciting but also confusing. Amongst his successes he counts that he was the first to publish a commodities price index in Ghana, which puts a context into his trade. His business is to send farmers commodity prices through smses, which is a trend that is empowering the farmers as it enables them to negotiate with the traders. And thus marriages are saved as no longer the wife or husband quarrel whether the selling price should have been higher! Farmers say they have made 40% increase in savings, across the board, but esoke is only made up of hundreds of farmers, not the required hundreds of thousands to make the business viable.

He openly advocated that “we need to experiment and make mistakes”, but we need also to go out there, meet the farmers face to face, and ask them what they want, and start building a farmer profile, very much the same what Su was saying the day before with icow! It is a fact that technologies are emerging in Africa, and there is growing interest from operaters such as airtel, orangel and Vodafone as cities are saturated and the potential growth is in rural areas.
For the entrepreneurs he advises that it takes time to develop markets and takes money to incubate projects, and advocacy to attract innovators, and not forgetting experience! For the public sector he mentioned credibility, evaluation and of course the money! And for both...public and private he said the partnership will not work unless there is a clear and articulated institutional strategy with a legal and operational framework that binds them together.

His clear message was that angels are very important too as investment funds will launch the business, and large organisations should put aside 5% of their budgets for private partnerships .