Sean Park Portrait
Quote of The Day Title
I say profound things

On the importance of leadership.

Watching this compelling TED Talk – by The Bottom Billion author Paul Collier – over the weekend reminded me how important transparency can be in fostering better governance, and aloowing better leaders to emerge. This is as true for companies as it is for nations. His call for (voluntary) international standards in ‘best practice’ governance is intelligent and, probably more importantly, pragmatic:

And it catalyzed me to rewatch Patrick Awuah’s talk from TED Africa, that for me was one of the highlights of a unforgettable gathering. He states:

The question of transformation in Africa is a question of leadership: Africa can only be transformed by enlightened leaders…but when I speak of leadership, I’m not talking about just political leaders…I’m talking about the ‘elite’: those who have been trained, who’s job it is to be the guardians of their society – the lawyers, the judges, the policemen, the doctors, the engineers, the civil servants. Those are the leaders, and we need to train them right.

Watch this video and tell me it doesn’t make you want to do better. Appreciate more. Your parents. Your schooling. Your good fortune. Your leaders (however imperfect they may seem.)

I’ve often been asked why I am interested in developing nations, and Africa in particular. And, more to the point, how it fits in with the other main themes that define my blog. I guess it comes from an intense curiosity to on the one hand study, understand and learn from failure, and an fundamental belief that in failure and distress lies great opportunity. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, it is not driven so much by compassion or the desire to ‘do good’ (although I would hope that I have at least the median amount of these attributes), but by a deep frustration and impatience with the wasted potential too often associated with these countries. It is also – and I hope you don’t think this makes me a bad person – driven by an enlightened self-interest. I am convinced that through gaining a better understanding of the failings and challenges faced in these societies, I will be smarter in the face of understanding any market, society or economy. I guess you could say it is part of the “you-learn-more-from-failure-than-success” canon.

One of the other primary themes I address on these pages is the power of traded markets. As regular readers would probably know, I have deep-seated conviction of the usefulness of markets in creating wealth and building stronger (more transparent) economies and societies. I also believe that some of the power of markets arises because they are fundamental to human culture and cognitive processes. Now I’m no anthropologist, nor sociologist, but (without any experimental robustness) I find that the emergence of fundamental market mechanisms in the most anarchic or chaotic societies – too often found in Africa, as proof that markets are fundamental to building working (even if pathological) human societies.

By becoming more knowledgeable about these markets and how to adapt products and services to be successful in what – a priori – are extremely hostile economic environments, I believe will generate many investment opportunities, primarily along two vectors: most obviously, within these developing markets themselves and, less obviously (but probably financially even more significant), by bringing learnings from operating in these markets back to developed markets and economies. Yes, I firmly belief that knowledge transfer can be a two-way street, not just one way from developed to developing economy. A good example is a company I recently discovered called Obopay:

Go mobile with your money. That’s the simple yet powerful idea behind Obopay.

obopay logoObopay is the first truly comprehensive mobile payment service in the United States. That means we’re the only service that lets you instantly get, send and spend money anywhere, anytime with anyone. With Obopay you can instantly pay back a friend, split a dinner bill, get money from your parents, get quick cash, pay up or collect on a friendly wager, track purchases, check your balance, and much, much more. And, you can do it all from your phone; anywhere, anytime with anyone.

The Obopay Story
Obopay is not your ordinary brainchild. It didn’t happen in a conference room or during a grueling brainstorming session. The concept for Obopay happened while Carol Realini, Obopay’s founder and CEO, was doing volunteer work in Africa. It was there she observed an interesting phenomenon: people living in some of the most remote corners of the world carried a mobile phone even if they didn’t carry a wallet. Combining the two seemed like an ideal marriage of empowerment and convenience. And that’s when the idea for Obopay was born. Returning to the U. S. she saw incredible opportunities within the ever-growing mobile youth market. Although Carol had not planned on rejoining the work force after a three decade run as a successful entrepreneur, her passion for this new idea changed her mind. She pulled together an all-star team of seasoned mobile and financial professionals, raised venture capital and successfully launched Obopay in 2005.

It sounds like Carol is (at least) two steps ahead of me! I’d better get back to work, if I want to have any hope of participating in future obopay’s

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  1. At 11:41 am on 02 Jun 08 Alexander Ainslie said:


    I have been studying OBOPAY for a while. Brilliant execution.

    For deeper insight into OBOPAY, sans PR speak, see the recent 8 part interview with Ms. Realini by the super talented, Sramana Mitra:

    Bringing Banking To The Cell Phone Masses : Obopay CEO Carol Realini (Part 1)

    You may want to add Sramana to your blogroll. The both of you have a complementary analytical approach! Her recent series “VISION India 2020” has a text based commonality to your brilliant AmazonBay video.


  2. At 6:23 pm on 02 Jun 08 Sean said:

    Thanks Alexander…buried deep in my 100+ feeds in netvibes is indeed Sramana Mitra’s fantastic website… and indeed – every couple months or so I try to ‘catch up’ on my feeds, which is where a couple weeks ago, I discovered Obopay via the interview you allude to (which I have not had the chance to read in its entirety… indeed not only am I impressed with the quality of Sramana’s output but the quantity is impressive/daunting to say the least, and I admit to sometimes ‘avoiding’ delving into her feed for the fear of spending the better part of a day reading and linking…!)

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