IN THE SPOTLIGHT WITH DEREK APPIAH
“I believe that if you show people the problem and you show them the solutions they will be moved to act.” — William Henry Gates III (a.k.a Bill Gates)
Undoubtedly, technology is changing the world. I believe that as a continent, Africa will soon find itself at the forefront of this revolution. But people must be “empowered to do” if they want to make their dreams a reality. Knowledge empowers and so for me listening to an agent of change from a corporation that is causing positive impact in our world was a great opportunity to gain insight into how I can also be a part of this soon-to-be history as an agent of change. Yesterday, I and a few others sat at the feet of Mr. Derek Appiah, Microsoft Ghana’s country manager to learn about Microsoft’s Vision for Africa and how we can be a part of it.
First, let me tell you a little bit about Derek Appiah. He started out in electrical engineering in KNUST at a time when people queued to use punch card computers in school. After being a teaching assistant for a while and realizing that he needed more action because of his interests and passion, he hopped on a plane to the UK where he began to help businesses grow. Much of his work began in the telecommunications industry. The success in his pursuit for an MBA ushered him into management and consultancy at Telcos like British Telecommunications in the UK as well as others in Qatar, New Zealand and Ireland and the UAE. He decided to come back to Africa because he believes in giving back to his home- our continent. After spending time with MTN in Nigeria, he moved to Ghana to join Vodafone. At the time Vodafone had just acquired Ghana Telecom and somewhere in our motherland, a younger version of myself was excited that the Telecommunication Giant’s logo was finally going to be full of red. There, he set up Vodafone’s enterprise unit before moving to head Logiciel Ghana Ltd as CEO and currently a non-executive director. Then, in 2015, He joined Microsoft as country manager for Ghana.
I can’t say it better than Sylvester Addo did: “Derek sees potential in Ghana’s young population and is excited that Microsoft has a presence in the country to help unlock this potential.” In countries like India and China, in times when the youth were the majority, these countries saw major economic growth due the availability of active and able hands to work. When IBM set up shop in India for example, they trained the youth there in software development and other ‘techy’ areas. Today, the best software engineers and computer scientists are from India. I remember in 2010 my mum always used to pass this comment when she saw me fidgeting with my new semi-smartphone: “the phone you’re using was made by some 12 year-old Chinese boy. What are you also going to create?” I hope you’re seeing the picture here. Why is this so important? Because Africa is now in that same position of advantage! Our youth population is the majority and we need to poise ourselves to take the bull by the horns. Just because we have young people doesn’t mean that they are active and working. This, among many others, is a concern that people like Mr. Appiah have. People need to learn to do things, to build stuff. He believes in “creating a value exchange between citizens, industry and government.” He says that “young people are an asset to our society, and even more so if they are adequately equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to create a brighter future for themselves and for Ghana.” Mr. Addo thanks again for your piece of writing.
Meeting Mr. Appiah and listening to his lecture affirmed what I read about him. He did share some lessons or keys to success that he believes will take anyone to the top:
The first is attitude. My teacher, Apostle Vinny Max Bani, always says that attitude is like pregnancy. So it gets to a point where you can’t hide it anymore. You can get to the top by tricks, but you’ll only be able to stay there by truth. Derek believes that to do something with excellency you need to have the right attitude for it. Honesty, integrity, excellence and no mediocrity! You need to be passionate about it. That is how you will defeat the attitude of giving up. He advised students to pick a job that they know they will enjoy, because they would be spending a third of their lifetime in it. If that job frustrates you, it’s likely you’re not going to be happy at all. You don’t want to wake up on weekdays screaming “Oh no! It’s time for work”.
He also said that hard work is key. Put your intellectual abilities to work. Learn to do something and do it well to the point where you do it best! Let me give you another quote attributed to Bill Gates to think about in regards to this: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
Last, he advised that we migrate to areas of change. He said that a person’s propensity to succeed depends on where he is. A student, in efforts to gain deeper understanding into this piece of advice, asked an important question. This was what puzzled him: If he finds himself doing something that he’s become very successful at and quite comfortable with, then why does he need to migrate to an area of change? After all, he is successful. Mr. Appiah answered him with a clear example of the former mobile giant Nokia. In 2007 when the Android OS was launched, an executive from Nokia in a speech said that he did not see how Android was a threat to their Symbian OS. Today, a little over 80% of all smartphones run on the Android Operating System. Corporations like Samsung have benefited from the decision to feature android in their smartphones despite their intentions to dominate with their own mobile OS. Nokia learned this the hard way and now they’re back in business albeit almost starting from the ground up- and they’re producing android phones. The irony, right?
The only constant thing is change. And if you do not learn to adapt, you will end up being a dinosaur.
Derek Appiah also shared Microsoft’s Vision for Africa with us. On a global scale, one of the things Microsoft is doing is to make computing more personal. That’s the reason Windows 8 icon spaces came in bigger boxes plus the touchscreen. It’s also the reason why when most of us complained that it was lousy, Microsoft didn’t cancel all that but rather improvised to produce what, many would agree with me, is the best Windows ever- Windows 10. As you can tell, windows 10 is truly personal. And it keeps improving over time. If you haven’t checked out the Creator’s Edition update of Windows 10, you should definitely do so. Mr. Appiah brought our attention to some of the innovations that have been introduced into the now stable OS. You’d probably know them already: There’s the facial recognition user authentication system- Windows Hello- which allows you to sign in with a smile. Then there’s our very popular support for touchscreen. The last example is Cortana’s Artificial Intelligence prowess which allows you to be more productive and more.
Speaking of productivity, that is also one thing Microsoft seeks to increase here in Africa. Their Office 365 suite is a perfect example. Imagine life as a secretary without Microsoft Office; no mail merges, no “autosum” and custom formulas in Excel. Gosh, work would be so slow, right? Sure there’s Google sheets and the like but truly, Ms. Office tops all- hands down.
Microsoft is partnering with a number of organizations to contribute to the economic development in Ghana. They have 150 partners employing 3000 people in Ghana. Jobs mean salaries, salaries mean taxes and taxes mean better financial stability for the government. Salaries mean mouths fed at homes, satisfied stomachs means minds at peace to learn and learning minds bring about innovation and change. In February, I happened to be a benefactor of the ripple effect of this kind of partnership from Information Systems Ghana and Mobile Web Ghana (which was birthed from MEST Africa’s EIT program).
Mr. Appiah also spoke about the 4th industrial revolution which many of us recognize is here. The 4th Industrial Revolution is a data centric one. The world is producing tons and tons of data every minute. He said that we can create value from it by making meaning out of the pieces. The more we’re able to make meaning, the more value we create. Each time we said goodbye to a product that was an agent of change, we welcomed newness, innovation and productivity. It’s time to feel what the world experienced when the steam engine, the telegraph, the combustion engine, the internet and many others were unveiled. The 4th industrial revolution is here and now. He gave an example of one of such tech companies that are taking advantage of this new wave: Snapchat. Snapchat is a virtual company. Recently, Snap Inc, the parent company of Snapchat, had an IPO where they raised $30bn. That’s twice the total worth of a lot of physical companies. You see what I’m talking about? Now, it’s important to note that Chris Dare will also be joining the round table of innovation knights. Not sure when, but it will be soon and this I know: it will happen, not once, not twice but many times. I’m eager to make this dream of mine a reality.
Yes, then there was also the part about working with Microsoft. Most people were disappointed to hear that they couldn’t take internships or national service with Microsoft as of now. But in actual fact, Microsoft is more interested in they working with you than in your working for them. The corporation is looking for more partnerships. They want to make more people rich. Did you know that Microsoft Corporation has produced over a hundred millionaires so far? So don’t be disappointed just yet. The tech giant wants to put you in a better position to add value to the lives of others.
It was an interesting time with Mr. Appiah. I learnt quite a lot. I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to Mr. Appiah for the time he spent with us. It was insightful. I refuse to be a dinosaur. Also, I think it’s time I got a haircut.
This is where I stop. I hope you enjoyed reading and learnt something as well. Till next time.