Inspiring Story Behind The Launch of Africa’s Medical Supplies Platform

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Africa Union’s Special Envoy for Innovation Strive Masiyiwa narrates how the journey to to come up with the Africa’s first platform for medical supply came to pass. He admits that it was not easy but he had to do it. Here is the story;

“Use what is in your hand to save lives.

In his first encounter with God, Moses was asked, “What is that in your hand?” to which he replied, “My shepherd’s rod.” God then said to him (my paraphrase): “OK, I can use that. It’s enough.” And by the end of the story, that simple rod had become a symbol of deliverance. I use this story as an entrepreneur to remind each of us, that we must start to solve problems with whatever is in our hands. Even if it seems insignificant against the challenge at hand.

Now as I’ve shared here before, a few weeks ago I was asked by President Ramaphosa to try and address the acute shortage of medical supplies required in the fight against the deadly Coronavirus.

When I set out to investigate the problem, people told me that Africa cannot do anything because rich and powerful nations were also looking for the same medical supplies.

One person told me bluntly: “We cannot be seen to send medical supplies to Africa, whilst our own people here are dying.”

__“What is in my hand?”

Over the last two years I have spent a lot of time building digital platforms. I have built businesses like Vaya Africa, Cassava Fintech and now our Sasai App. This skill is now “something in my hand” for sure!

Looking at each of the challenges I had to address, I knew that I must apply this skill. So I mobilized a team of young developers from our Group who had been working on these digital platforms.

I also approached Fatoumata Ba, one of the co-founders of Jumia, who left them several years ago. A passionate entrepreneur from Senegal (based in Paris now) currently running a company called Janngo, Fatoumata told me she herself had already suffered from COVID and now just wanted to fight and destroy it!

__“I want you guys to build a digital platform and to invite any approved suppliers from across the world including Africa willing to supply to Africa to post their products on the platform,” I told her and Oswald Jumira, one of my Econet Group senior executives.

“We can do it!” they replied on our Sasai #TeamTalk call.

When I mentioned the solution, someone laughed and said: “Have you not heard about the shortages? No one is going to offer you any products!”

“Let’s see!”

Next, I asked the Head of the Africa Center for Disease Control (CDC) to compile a complete list of all our needs in Africa, country by country. Dr John Nkengasong was enthusiastic once he saw the vision of what I had in mind.

I also went to see my old friend, Prof Ben Oramah, President of the Afreximbank. Remember I told you that he is the best banker in Africa.

“This idea of yours,” he said. “We have been thinking about it as well. We actually have a live project working on pharmaceuticals with Vera Songwe’s team at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). With your tech skills we can turn it around very quickly.”

__You see how a partnership is formed… Search for people who are also holding something in their hands that you need. People who are passionate and smart, and can catch the vision.

For several weeks, all the developers at Vaya and Cassava, were put at the disposal of Fatoumata (who is only 34 years old) and Oswald (who also works on some of our innovation partnerships). They were now joined by technical staff from Afrieximbank, UNECA and Africa CDC.

“We have the market, but we must show suppliers we can pay, on the spot.” I explained to Prof Oramah, and the other Special Envoys. “Any supplier will ask me to show them the money.”

“Do you have a plan?” asked one of the other envoys.

We discussed the plans, and debated the best approach to the “money problems.” They are some of the smartest and most experienced money people in Africa. We agreed on the approach, and also on the best partners to approach to support us.

__I went back to my platform, and saw that it was a “supply chain challenge.”

When I was ready, I called President Ramaphosa and presented my plan.

He listened carefully, and then said: “I will play my part. You get that platfom ready.”

I knew what was in “his hand” as Chair of the African Union Heads of State.

__“Time is not on our side, we must launch by the 15th June,” he said.

“Mr President, we will be ready.”

“Do you need more resources?”

“Smart people, from your system.”

“I suppose you know who you want?” he laughed. “You can have them.”

Now our group working on the project was over 50 people!

Partners on the platform had expanded to include over 10 global organizations.

People were calling me from everywhere.

“Strive, we hear you are working on the supply chain problem for Africa. Can we help?” asked Richard Branson.

“I need a cheap ventilator, which can be produced in Africa, by African companies,” I said.

“Our space engineers at Virgin Galactic have teamed up with engineers at NASA to design something very simple,” he answered. “We can get it to you!”

__Our new platform is called: “The Africa Medical Supplies Platform” (AMSP). If you want to check it out now, go to the Sasai App and Explore. I want to know what you think! (Unless you are an authorized African government minister or official though, probably in the health ministry, you can’t place an order).

This new Platform now has all the approved and certified medical supplies the countries have asked for so far, and we have overshot their original requirements!

On prices, we have secured the units at prices that are comparable to those being paid by the biggest and richest countries. After all we are the biggest potential customer with 1,2bn people!

AMSP is basically an eCommerce platform where African governments purchasers can log on and place orders. We pool their demands to drive down the prices. It also makes it possible for small countries to buy together with the bigger countries. We also offer a quota management facility to manage allocations for scarce medical supplies such as ventilators.

Financing is being availed through Afrexim Bank. A number of African airlines, logistics and shipping companies who will assist us to transport the supplies to African countries have also joined the platform. Africa is now the biggest single buyer of these supplies.

__The marketplace is worth billions of dollars. And yes we have the money!

Last week I presented the whole platform to all the ministers of health and finance from across Africa. I did the English presentation and Fatoumata presented it in French.

Tonight (Thursday evening) President Ramaphosa officially launched the platform online. It was not your usual kind of historic briefing and press event… I think most of us were speaking from our homes, but these are the times we live in! You can read the President’s remarks here:

The work is far from done. We must ensure that African countries buy these supplies quickly and start testing citizens on a mass scale, so that those with the virus can know and isolate themselves.

This is how we will stop the spread. Remember you could be spreading the virus, even when you are not feeling sick, and yet it can go on to kill others. We must test, and test now!

So… What is your hand, again?

It’s enough! You can save lives with it, today.” Strive Masiyiwa

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