Connected is the story of two Nigerian entrepreneurs who leave behind successful careers in Silicon Valley to start a technology company in Africa, bringing e-government solutions to improve the transparency and efficiency of the provision of social services. We begin five years into their journey, when a nervous pitch to the Nigerian government lands them a new project that will triple their revenue from $30 million to $100 million a year and requires that they hire 5,000 new skilled workers. The project is the official registration of all Nigerian citizens, imbedded biometrically in drivers’ licenses, passports, and cell phone SIM cards, providing a legal identity to the millions of Nigerians who live and work outside of the formal economyand whose livelihoods and assets are therefore highly insecure. The project will from the backdrop for us to venture throughout Nigeria and witness the fundamental and profound ways in which cell phones are transforming life for Africans. Though most villages lack sanitation, electricity and medical services, every African has a cell phone and entire industries of small businesses have built up around them. The image of a fisherman receiving a text message to tell him where the fish are biting an in which market his catch will fetch the most, or of a farmer receiving a market report or a weather forecast, are jarring to Westerners all too accustomed to the heartbreaking images of poverty malnourished children and desperate poverty that daily saturate pleas for aid. But the most dramatic scene captures the essence of our story; a mother at the end of a long day receives an SMS that is electronic funds transfer for her weeks’ labor. She walks her small daughter by the hand to the schoolhouse and uses that SMS to pay the fees that will allow her daughter to attend classes for the first time.
The story will also illustrate the role of entrepreneurs in economic development, as we’ll see the prosperous African business class in their elegant homes and modernist glass office buildings, indistinguishable from any work environment in the West. Thus we will watch as millions of the poorest are lifted out of poverty, the working poor join a burgeoning middle class, and entrepreneurs overcome great challenges to become millionaires, as they are all Connected to global commerce. This is a story full of surprises and of the hope for prosperity, the only means to alleviate poverty.
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