Entrepreneurs must take failure in their stride: Malik Fal
At 49, Malik Fal, managing director, Omidyar Network, Africa seems to have done it all. With more than 15 years of experience across multinational corporations like Pepsi-Cola International, Microsoft and The Monitor Group, Malik has tried his hand across functions, be it operations, consulting, strategy or social development. But, ask what really makes him tick and his answer says it all: Entrepreneurs!
So, for all you entrepreneurs out there in Mauritius, here is an opportunity to tap into the mind of a man who knows it all, has done it all and can help you realize your dreams. If you want to know how Malik can help you get your start-ups going, do read on Africa Money about Omidyar Network, the organization he is currently associated with, and whose Africa operations he has been heading since 2012.
Omidyar Network has been associated with entrepreneurs since 2004 and is now bringing its unique perspective on what makes entrepreneurs work, all the way to an exciting, emerging Africa. Started by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam in 2004, Omidyar Network takes an unusual approach to entrepreneurship. In a tete-a-tete with the dynamic Malik as he takes a lunch ‘break’ from the path-breaking African Entrepreneurship Summit that the Omidyar Network is hosting, we ask him how he does it all:
How do you think the host country, Mauritius, can benefit from the initiatives of Omidyar Network?
See, the report that the Omidyar Network has compiled on entrepreneurship in Africa, titled ‘Accelerating Entrepreneurship in Africa’ (http://www.omidyar.com/sites/default/files/file/ON%20Africa%20Report_April%202013_FInal.pdf) is of equal relevance to all countries in the continent. The report looks at four broad frameworks for understanding the issues faced by entrepreneurs: Entrepreneurial assets, Business support, Policy Accelerators and finally, Motivation and Mindset. Out of all the findings of the report, the one that I believe will especially help Mauritian entrepreneurs is a policy that the government must action – providing angel investors with tax concessions. Funding continues to be a big issue that is faced by entrepreneurs across the African continent and giving tax breaks to the individuals and companies that are willing to step in and help start-ups would be a critical first step towards unlock funding for entrepreneurs. Incidentally, I started my career in Mauritius as a Pepsi-Cola manager in the mid-1990s when this beautiful island was spearheading entrepreneurship in tourism, sugarcane and textiles. And today, Mauritius is held out as a beacon to the rest of the world on what Africa is capable of achieving.
Can you explain the four pillars of the policy framework of the report?
To put it simply, Entrepreneurial assets refers to access to skills, hiring and retaining talent and infrastructure bottlenecks that an entrepreneur must consider when he tries to set up a new business. The Business support aspect addresses the ‘incubators’ that provide mentoring and support to entrepreneurs. In this context, I must mention that there were several occasions when we had to question the quality of government incubators and in the process we identified a sore need for private-public partnership. The Policy accelerators pillar refers to the regulatory framework especially in terms of the ease of doing business in a particular country. I believe Mauritius has really taken some exceptional initiatives and is now the top country in Africa as far as ease of doing business is concerned. And finally, motivation and mindset is another aspect that must be factored in – on a culture-by-culture basis. In certain cultures, the mindset towards failure is such that it freezes new initiatives and leads to hesitance in trying out new ideas. This is one unfortunate mindset that is especially hard to uproot in an African context where family honour is paramount and word-of-mouth can make or break reputations. Encouraging entrepreneurs to take failure in their stride is as important as asking them to try out their ideas in the first place.
Can you tell us how Omidyar Network helps an entrepreneur realize his dreams?
In a nutshell, Omidyar is a mix of a venture capitalist firm – which lends money as an investment into a sound business idea – and a foundation – which takes up a business proposal for its social impact. Overall, the term ‘impact investment’ firm exactly describes the work that we do here. Started in 2004 with part proceeds of eBay’s IPO, Omidyar Network has invested more than $634 million since inception to help entrepreneurs. The firm invests upward of $120 million globally every year to help entrepreneurs across the globe.
So, how does Omidyar Network identify a proposal worth funding?
See, there are five segments that we have identified for priority funding – education, financial inclusion, CIM (Customer internet and mobile), government transparency and entrepreneurial ventures. The CIM segment is one that I am especially passionate about as it revolves around the internet economy. We at Omidyar Network believe that the internet is a great tool to accelerate social change. We have had exceptional results with mobile applications, created by the unlikeliest of candidates. Take the case of this troubled teenager, headed for self-destruction, out-of-work for seven years who ended up creating a job search tool for others like him! It not only raised him out of unemployment after a long, seven year stretch, but it used by more than 3 million youth today to look for jobs and empower themselves! In another instance, a young boy took his own experiences to shape an app for drug counselling and reach out to other struggling adolescents. These are the experiences which keep us going here at Omidyar Network and make us believe that the CIM segment is going to power the future.
Tell us a little about your activities in the financial inclusion space.
The financial inclusion aspect of the work we do at Omidyar Network is important indeed, considering that over 75% of the developing world is unbanked. Banking, insurance and credit services protect the poor from shock in terms of financial crisis. Even when the overall economy is booming, having to walk over 10 kilometers to access an ATM is a reality in the lives of many Africans in rural areas. That is why Omidyar Network is always on the lookout for initiatives like the Zoona (http://www.zoona.co.za/) platform in Zambia. We took up the funding of this mobile payment proposal and made it work for Zambians, especially those in rural areas who may not have access to formalized banking institutions but are covered by the wide outreach of mobiles and telecom networks. So, we believe that mobile payment platforms like M-pesa in Kenya and now Zoona in Zambia are the financial inclusion tools which will have the maximum coverage and impact, especially for the rural population.
Which countries in Africa is Omidyar Network present in?
Currently, we are only present in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria. However, as our Africa team grows and we have more investment officers to bank on, we will certainly expand.
But, does that mean if I am an entrepreneur in Mauritius and have a viable business plan in a priority segment for Omidyar Network, I will not be able to apply for funding?
No, our efforts at providing funding to entrepreneurs are not limited by geographical constraints. Even if you are an entrepreneur who is based out of Mauritius and you have a business plan in, say, the financial inclusion space, we will be ready to come to your assistance with the necessary funding. However, we must be convinced that it is a unique platform indeed and that it will have a social impact on the community – be it job creation, immediate access to financial services or any other.