13 May 2013

A STROLL WITH MAWUNA KOUTONIN (for World Creativity and Innovation Week)

I read an article written by Mawuna in 2012, and the next thing I did was to search for him on Google. . . I was so thrilled by his story and creativity that I vowed to myself that I was going to meet him someday. Well Creativity and Innovation Week came along, and Africa had been the center of attraction for a couple of months now as regards Creativity. . .So I contacted Mawuna to have a stroll with me considering the fact that he has a burning passion for Africa and wants to see Africa develop. Plus he's been making a lot of 'GoodBuzz' (smiles). . . Here is what we discussed;

Ebenezar: Please can you tell me more about yourself?

Mawuna: I'm 39 years old. I'm a village boy, born in 1973 in a small village 120km from the capital of Togo. I was the first of my father's 36 children to attend University and graduated with two Master degrees. I have a Master's degree in Philosophy and a Master's degree in Business Administration. 

I'm also a self-taught computer programmer, and prolific writer on various topics. I love spending time with people and in nature. My dream is to open a school in 2017 in Africa where young people could learn robotics, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship. 

In 1993, when I was forced to walk ten miles a day to go to school, I discovered a formula that completely changed my life. (The full story is here: http://www.goodbuzz.org/blog/business-strategy/knowledge-for-food/).

In 1994, I traded my basic food allowance to pay for my first class in computers while studying art and philosophy at university. With friends, I created one of the first Togo news website on the Internet in 1995. 

My passion for the Internet was born from then, and has never left alone again. 

I live in couple and I have a son of 8 years old. 

Ebenezar: So what inspired you to set up Goodbuzz? And what problem do you
wish to solve with it?

Mawuna: In 1999, I was recruited by a European Union program in Togo (West Africa) to help the local entertainment industry produce and eventually export more cultural goods. The program was based on a research paper done by a consulting firm which discovered that cultural goods were one of the most successful products african countries produce and export.
Working on this program was very exciting, however I quickly discovered that producing goods is one thing, but marketing them is a much bigger challenge, specially in the entertainment business. Interestingly, the program didn’t allow us to use any money for advertising purposes, where most of the musicians, artists and entrepreneurs I was working with had no clue about marketing.
I came out of this program one year later with the conclusion that production of goods is not the biggest challenge small entrepreneurs face, but how to advertise effectively and profitably.
In 2008, I started a project called “linkcrafter” with the purpose to solve the above problem. I hired an animator to create a video, and what came out his work was one of the most engaging and moving animation I’ve ever been involved into. Here is it: http://youtu.be/bxr-5rfHyOI
Despite my best intention, this product was not a success. The basic idea was to use a question-and-answer platform to provide free leads to small businesses. We built a tool that intelligently turns people questions from a Q&A portal into leads source for professional in our network. The typical example is a user question related to divorce or loans which will be converted into potential leads for a lawyer or a finance advisor.
In 2010 we pivot to a new idea, again based on free leads generation for small businesses, but this time focused on event organizers and entertainment industry. I felt I needed to be back to the root of my motivation.
The unfolding project from this pivot was a peer to peer network where events organizers support each other by sharing their peers’s events with their contacts and followers. The typical example is a network of local musicians and bands who will use the platform to promote each other gigs.
This product was far more successful and attracted lot of attention and following. More than 1500 event professionals joined the network and thousands of leads were exchanged through the system. However, after 9 months of operations, we started getting feedback from our members saying that many event professionals circles of friends and contacts were not big enough to guarantee successful promotions even when they recommend each other. Their request was to find ways to reach out to more people outside of their circles.
Slowly, it dawns on us the idea of using the most widespread social incentive system (tipping) to leverage the most widespread social behavior on the web: sharing, to help our members succeed their event promotion.
From September 2011, we went on to completely redesign the application, and the current version positioning of Goodbuzz as a Play marketing company is the offspring of that pivot. We are doing well.
Ebenezar: You've been a major contributing author at siliconafrica.com for quite a while, what do you think is the future of entrepreneurship in Africa?
Mawuna: We have no choice other than encouraging, supporting and nurturing entrepreneurship in Africa. Governments and big companies can’t provide job and opportunities to all people anymore. People should be empowered to create their own job through entrepreneurship. 
The challenges are however big. Governments' role is critical, and role models are necessary.

Ebenezar: Potential, Potential, Potential. . .that’s what many people classify Africa as--a land of potential-- what do you think is holding Africans from maximizing their potential?

Mawuna: Our education system is very weak, and our community bonds are slowly narrowed to monetary transaction. Also, we lack a strong ideology regarding people leaving legacy for future generation. Short term thinking and impulsivity are real threats. Self-reliance, resolve and discipline are key to human development. 

Ebenezar: Talking about potential, i also gathered that; you're working on an Academy that'd help Africans reach their potential. Can you tell me more about this?

Mawuna: Yes. My mission in life is to be a Pathfinder and an Enlightener. The school will open in 2017 in Togo. I've already bought the land, and some primitive work has started. It'll be a place like no other, a place where ordinary people will come to learn to do extraordinary things, while becoming themselves people with compassion and activism. 

This will be a school without diploma. We won't deliver any diploma. Our diploma is when people discover their mission in life and are fully equipped with the necessary knowledge and connections to go a make the world a better place for themselves and their fellows. Each individual will deliver himself his diploma when he feels ready to go into to the world as a change agent to make the world a better place.

There will be no teacher or students. There will be only story tellers, coaches, tutors, enlightener, and pilgrims. Anyone with a story worth telling is welcome to share it at our school. An astronaut who went to the space is welcomed, as the beggar who lived 20 years on the street, or a Wall street repentant. Anyone thirsty of knowledge and hungry of love is welcome to our school.

While fun in its settings, the 3 main focus of the school still will be robotics, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship.

Ebenezar; Finally, since this week is World Creativity and Innovation week.
what advice do you have for young entrepreneurs around the world?
Mawuna: Relax. Every day above the ground is already a successful day. But make no compromise about your resolve to become what you want to become. Never stop learning. Love people, because as entrepreneurs you are here to solve people problems.

Thank you so much for having this stroll with me sir, I wish you success in all your projects. And I'd love to be part of the Academy when it kicks off in 2017. 
 For more on Mr Mawuna, you can contact him with the details below;  
Mawuna R. Koutonin
Founder and CEO
Palo Alto: +1 650 681 9805
Vilnius: +370 69 21 30 25

By: Ebenezar Wikina (@Poeticjazz)
6paragraphs Interview, April 2013.

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