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Afroes: Anne Githuku-Shongwe

An idea for Afro-centric computer games takes off as a start-up company gets to grips with mobile digital media that delivers positive messages to children across the continent.

Juliet Pitman

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Anne Githuku-Shongwe of Afroes

When Anne Githuku-Shongwe decided to end an illustrious 13-year career with the United Nations Development Programme to start an interactive digital media company, her colleagues thought she’d lost her mind. “One even bet me $1 000 I would come back to the UN within six months – I need hardly tell you how that motivated me to succeed,” she says.

An idea is born

But another, more powerful motivator lay behind her vision for Afroes, the company she formed with the express purpose of delivering positive Africa-focused mobile phone entertainment to young people across the continent.

The idea was sparked by conversations with her own children. When her daughter was doing a school project on her role model and couldn’t decide between Hannah Montana and Beyonce, and her son chose Bill Gates as the subject for a project on a global business leader, Githuku-Shongwe began to worry that her children weren’t being exposed to any positive African media content. “I was concerned that their ideas and aspirations for Africa would be coloured by the Western media’s pervasively negative messages about the continent, and I wanted to do something to change that,” she explains. But it was only when her son excitedly started relating things he’d learned while playing the computer game, Civilisations, that the penny dropped. “That’s it! I thought. Kids who play computer games are a captive audience for anything you want to teach them. I knew there had to be a way to harness computer games to deliver positive messages to African children,” she relates.

Learning the market

Githuku-Shongwe knew, however, that consol-based computer games are reserved for the priviliged elite. “If Afroes was to be successful it would have to use mobile phones, the true medium of the masses, to deliver its games,” she says. The market was certainly there – Africa has the highest mobile growth rate in the world, with South Africa alone counting 6,3 million users aged between 10 and 24.

But, having a good idea and a market is only half the battle won. “I’m no techno-geek and I had to learn everything there was to know about computer games and how to tailor them for mobile phones so that they still delivered great graphics. They also had to be low-cost enough for African children to afford and then there was the challenge of how to make them easily accessible,” says Githuku-Shongwe.

Testing the waters

Extensive market research was critical to understanding the needs and limitations of the market and helping her to formulate a business plan. The cost of the games is kept low by employing ‘Game Masters’, working on commission in different communities, who will sell SMS codes that children can use to download the games.

The launch of the first two games has been incredibly successful. The first, Champ’s Chase, was developed as part of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund Champions for Children campaign to raise awareness of the potential risks facing children during the FIFA 2010 World Cup. “Children choose a character which then has to ‘save’ other children from potentially harmful situations and predators,” Githuku-Shongwe explains. The second game, TekaChamps, is a commercial venture. A soccer game with a difference, it’s set in the African townships with which African children will be familiar. “The game is an example of how the medium can be used to engage children in a fun and cool way that builds a positive image of Africa,” she adds.

Overcoming challenges

One of the company’s biggest challenges lies with the network operators, as Githuku-Shongwe explains: “They charge so much for you to make your application available on their network and this makes the games prohibitively expensive. So we’ve had to come up with creative alternatives, like partnering with organisations, big brands and companies who share Afroes’ agenda.” She’s adamant that the business must remain true to its roots, however, and that the games developed should deliver a strongly positive social message that is also Afro-centric. The Champ’s Chase project with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund is a good example of how such partnerships can work.

Accessing assistance

As a start-up entrepreneur Githuku-Shongwe recognises the importance of mentorship and support. She applied for and was recently selected from 600 applicants across Africa as one of the continent’s three finalists in the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, a global programme to recognise and support female entrepreneurs.

Recognition of this kind can be game-changing and Githuku-Shongwe knows it. In October she will be travelling to France for the announcement of the winners and to attend the Women’s Forum Annual Global Meeting, an excellent networking opportunity if nothing else. If she’s among the winners she will receive $20 000 in prize money and mentorship from McKinsey & Co, Cartier and INSEAD. “I’ve already benefited so much from the mentorship and coaching to date and from the contacts I’ve made, and I’m hoping the experience in France will open new doors for me and the business,” she concludes.

Afroes
Player: Anne Githuku-Shongwe
Est: 2008
Contact +27 12 347 1986, www.afroes.com

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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