More than 1500 entrepreneurs and policy makers from all(!) over the world flocked to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit 2015 in Nairobi, Kenya, from July 24th-26th. Due to my affiliation with the Ampion Venture Bus, I was privileged to be invited to represent Beerhouse and Springlab at this mega-event, hosted and (except flights) fully paid for by the US Government and sponsors.
The event was attended by US President Barack Obama, and several other well known figures and celebrities, amongst them Akon, Shark Tank judges, Miss Americas, etc. But first and foremost it was entrepreneurs from all stages of growth, self-made billionaires meeting rural farmers from Africa. Without knowing stats, I’d guess, that half of the audience was US American and Kenyan, while the rest of us were coming from all corners of the world, no continent left uncovered.
If you were now expecting a huge celebrity spotting event, you did not attend the right place. With the exception of Obama himself (who was obviously talking point #1 and closely guarded during his half day stay on the UN compound) they attended their panels and mingled with the crowds afterwards, but the strength of the event was the fact, that entrepreneurs from all possible backgrounds got together and spoke one universal language of creating progress, learnings, challenges, growth and opportunities together.
So I fit in really well with my Afrogerman background and could relate well - though I accidentally managed to stand out and got taught a lesson in personal branding:
My tailormade yellow suite that I purchased as a 200 US$ joke on my Thailand-India-Kenya trip earlier in 2015 turned me into something of a talking point, making me explain the yellow colour, that's linked to my Beerhouse. I really don’t ever wear a suite, but my decision to take it to #GES2015 was based on the formality of the event and that my second and only other suit is not home in South Africa, but stored in my german apartment, in case of funerals I might have to attend.
On day #1 I was dressed in jeans and repeatedly mistaken for my doppelgänger - the ‘White African’ Eric Hersman, who spoke on a morning panel.
On day #2 I was absolutely overwhelmed by the number of people approaching me and asking about the reason for wearing the full suit, leading into many interesting conversations and spontaneous photo shoots.
On day #3 this continued, but I was now also approached by people, who heard the story of a yellow german / south african / beer merchant / incubator / hospitality operator from others and approached me offering valuable introductions to beer or hospitality people or even an interest to license the concept.
This made I met another doppelgänger in red (who even got his shoes right!) and my tweeted picture of the United Colours of #GES2015Kenya went viral.
Just to give you an idea of the dimensions of this event: To protect the US president and 1500 attendees, more than 13.000 security staff were employed for this event on top of the regular Kenyan security forces. As someone who organises a yearly business event with 4000 participants, I was definitely blown away by the quality of the organisation (which certainly came at a massive cost to the US taxpayers) and enjoyed several chats with the organisers in charge, who were engaging to get feedback from participants and open to my praise and criticism (which I only had on some aspects of communication with delegates around the agenda and the state of accreditation and the event app experience).
To be clear: this event was certainly not a charitable event, but clearly driven by a US-american agenda to lead Africa towards an entrepreneurial culture to:
- counter despotic african leaders aligning themselves with the chinese agenda by supporting the capitalist / entrepreneurial culture
- instilling western values into Africa and offering an alternative world view to muslim extremism to youth.
That this does not release us of the duty to find ways to distribute the generated wealth more evenly than the US agenda might want to. Africa needs solutions tailormade to it's unique challenges and many of these can come out of entrepreneurial minds, instilled into it's local youth with support from overseas. This was the right message we all got - loud and clear!