Diversity is Key in the 2019 MEST Cohort: We’re different but the same

MEST, Wednesday October 17th 2018

This post was written by MEST EIT Bekithemba Ngulube. Born in Zimbabwe, Beki grew up in Botswana and has spent most of his adult life in South Africa. He studied economics and has experience in Research & Strategy Consulting as well as the Transport, Logistics and Supply Chain industries. He is passionate about Sport and Technology.

Spend a day walking around the MEST campus and incubator, and what strikes you right off the bat is how diverse the people you encounter are. The current cohort of Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs) is comprised of people representing twelve different countries across the African continent. The nineteen women in the cohort represent the highest number admitted in a single year. Diversity has become a big part of the MEST identity, and this bodes well for the future of the program that aims to be truly Pan-African.

We all experience life differently, and this forms the basis of who we grow up to be. Opening ourselves up to learn from the people we meet every day enables us to be more open-minded. The interactions with the people around us are windows into the world they live in and the experiences they have had.

It has been a great pleasure getting to know all of the EITs within the 2019 cohort a little better. Many have shared stories about the countries and communities they grew up in. Some have expressed their pride in where they come from by cooking meals that were shared and enjoyed by all. Some of the meals sampled so far have been Eba from Nigeria, Garba from the Ivory Coast, and Chapati and Beef Stew from Kenya. Each day has been an opportunity to get to learn a little bit more about a different part of this continent we all call home.

Though our paths to this point have been wide and varied, one quickly learns that as diverse as we appear to be there is more that binds us together than divides us. Surrounding oneself with people that are different from you is an important aspect of building companies that are more inclusive. It is important that whilst remaining respectful we continuously engage with each other on important topics that affect the lives of Africans every day. This kind of discourse is crucial to expanding our point of view as entrepreneurs and allowing us to see the continent beyond its many challenges.

Diversity not only challenges our thinking but also pushes us to be more culturally and socially aware. The 2016 African Human Development report highlighted that on average, since 2010, the gender gap costs sub-Saharan Africa $95 billion a year. The solutions we create can empower more people on the continent to be economically active.  In order to narrow the gender gap or alleviate poverty, there will increasingly be a need for entrepreneurs who actively practice corporate citizenship.

One cannot divorce the technologies we create from the people we are. Artificial Intelligence (AI) for example, is becoming more prevalent. This is a collection of algorithms which, when combined, are now able to perform tasks beyond that which the human mind alone can perform. However, it still requires human input to have any real impact on a business. The algorithms themselves are fed by data that is input by humans. When we build AI, we code our own principles into the algorithms that we write. Much like other technologies, AI will thus come to represent who we are as a society.

It is incredibly humbling and inspiring to see the passion, and dedication that many of the 2019 cohort have for making Africa a better place. Even more encouraging has been the willingness to learn from each other every day, by acknowledging that every single person has something different to offer. Diverse thinking amongst the cohort and the greater MEST community will certainly encourage more innovation allowing us to create truly impactful value chains within the MEST ecosystem.