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Preaching by: John J. Malone, Sr - JABSBG*

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The African Venture Grows Up - Comments (0)

Printer Friendly Category: Behind the Lines,Venture in Africa
Author: John Malone
Date: 21st June, 2006 @ 04:27:34 PM

The joint venture we started with the JKUAT was inconveniently called “The JKUAT-MMS Information Technology Centre.” We didn’t mind the second billing because, despite the fact that MMS provided the main manpower and funding for the curriculum development, and the initial computer and software capital, it was the JKUAT that was providing the brand for the education, and that was very important.

Additionally, the university supplied a couple of broken down buildings (scarcely more than concrete huts) – which we shared with a university program – and the dirt between and around them. The university – actually, professors Thairu, and Vice-Chancellor Ratemo Michieka – helped the venture succeed by keeping money-grubbing faculty away from the funds being generated, and out of the classrooms.

The program curriculum was developed along the lines of Cambridge University’s, and the delivery of that content was done by well-trained tutors who worked on an incentive basis. You would think the university personnel would have done the bulk of the curriculum work, but that was not the case.

In fact, these tutors – all with degrees – ended up making more money than their faculty counterparts.

The students paid their own tuition: approximately $1,500-2,000 per year each. No additional funding was received, or needed. The bills were paid from the outset by the venture. We never lacked funds. We internally generated enough capital that no infusions beyond the retained earnings of the partners was required. In fact, we were limited by infrastructure in how quickly we could actually absorb capital, anyway.

The venture did not use university resources, but in fact contributed to them. Projects plagued by earlier corruption, such as student transportation, a science building, and other unfinished projects, were supplemented to completion by the funds generated out of the venture and allocated to the university as a partner.

We plowed everything we made back into a facility and operation at Diamond Systems in Nairobi’s business district in order to serve a two-fold purpose: incubate and test a remote training facility, and extend the reach of the IT program into Nairobi proper (the university and thus the “Centre” being 25 km away) as a satellite location.

The satellite concept was so popular that the program began to be “franchised” out into other schools, including the university’s brand. Over a relatively short span – the first five years of the venture – the program extended into 14 locations: large and small, near and far. In fact, one location of the program was remote Lamu island, an island off the east coast of Kenya which was served a small, Islamic community.

The first five years was so successful, that a senior USAID official proclaimed the project to be a model for the African continent. Speaking about me, Lane Smith of USAID told the Omaha World Herald in 2000: “He was able to introduce what I think was a very powerful concept for Africa: a private sector model for training people in Information Technology. ” Smith went on,”I have frequently referred to that model on my travels in Africa in discussions with people here (in Washington). He’s pushed the envelope in some pretty innovative ways.”

That was very kind of Lane Smith. But he saw professor Thairu and I up close as we rescued the Mickey Leland initiative in Kenya. That initiative was intended to bring the Internet affordably into Africa, and USAID had faced consistent failure with intransigent ministries in Kenya.

As J/V partners, Michieka, Thairu and I commended an association of Kenyan universities – we dubbed it KENET – and hijacked a meeting one morning to press upon USAID (and Smith) that he should reroute the Leland initiative through the Ministry of education, where Michieka and Thairu could have a benign influence.

Of course, the Leland Initiative would find its place then in association with KENET, whose Secretariat was safely in the hands of Michieka and Thairu.

The fact is this: it may sound pretty cool that I “pushed the envelope,” and “innovated.” But what really happened is that two Christian men serving Jesus Christ in their day-to-day work simply believed God would give them success if they would trust each other and Him, and that’s exactly what we did. No tax money. No chicanery. No grants.

And it worked. Before the end of 2000, we were delivering an undergraduate degree program.

By the end of the first MOA (2002), we had over 2,000 graduates, and were tabling a Master’s program in the University Senate.

You would think the Harvard (MIT) of East Africa was in process.

But cracks began to form.

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