Betty Enoyonam Kumahor is an inspiring, dedicated and dynamic individual. Her professional expertise ranges from developing software to working as a founder and CEO. She’s a featured speaker at this year’s YOW! Conference in Melbourne, Australia, where she’ll talk about frugal innovation and overcoming unique challenges in her home continent of Africa.
How did you get to where you are today?
I didn’t plan to become a software developer, systems analyst, product manager, management consultant, CEO, entrepreneur, business owner, public speaker, or to wear any of the other hats I’ve put on. But I always planned to do three things:
- Notice the opportunities that came my way
- Work hard at them
- Return the favor
The journey that these simple three rules have taken me on is beyond my imagination and has been great fun. I got to where I am today by taking chances, working hard, and paying it forward.
You founded The Cobalt Partners, which helps African businesses with productivity, growth consulting, design thinking, software development and more. What inspired you to create the company?
It was merely a practical solution. I had just left ThoughtWorks with the plan to take a six-month sabbatical. Before I had informed anyone, I was already receiving requests for advisory assistance in one form or another. Within two weeks of requests coming in, I had started a spreadsheet to list them all. I counted 21 asks on my growing list.
The common thread was that increasingly more organisations and leaders — both foreign and local to Africa — were looking for growth catalysts. I had a unique blend of technology, productivity, and consulting experience, along with the leadership style and access to needed talent.
It was clear that there was a gap in the market, so we formed The Cobalt Partners in hopes of being catalysts for pan-African businesses in need of help applying technology, design thinking, and productivity consulting.
You’re doing incredible things. What’s the most challenging part of your day-to-day routine? What’s the most rewarding?
The most challenging and the most rewarding are actually one and the same: solving problems. I’ve always been a management consultant at the core. We seek clients, projects, and strategies that differ by their nature, so there isn’t necessarily a playbook for replicated success.
Every day presents a new challenge — whether it’s internal (such as, “how do we reach a new audience of small medium-sized enterprises who don’t even have email or social media services today?”) or for a client (“how do we formulate an innovative collaboration platform for makers in Ghana’s largest e-waste dump?”). It can be frustrating to formulate a thoughtful and robust solution, but it’s certainly rewarding when you see a solution in action.
Which obstacles do African businesses face most often today?
The challenges are big. I’d say talent is the most significant, especially for knowledge roles and business. The African context is unique in that it’s unlike both the East and West. Because of this, solutions in African context must be heavily tailored — but they should also leverage experience and knowledge gained from other parts of the world. Finding people who can do this is both competitive and difficult.
There are other challenges, too. Access to capital, even though capital is available, is still very difficult. Infrastructure costs such as power, transportation, and telecommunications also mean that the cost of operation in many African locations is comparatively higher than elsewhere.
But possibly even more important to address than all these is the challenge of the outdated narrative of Africa as a struggling (war-torn and disease-ridden) continent.
That narrative is myopic and truly ignores the riches, possibilities, and achievements of the continent. The more that this narrative starts to change, the more we’ll see more partners from the East and West working with us on the solutions that solve all current challenges.
You’ve spent your life and career change the age-old narrative. What are some the creative and innovative solutions you see happening already?
Those of us who grew up on the continent can tell you that we always saw creativity and innovation around us.
It was the pool table made completely out of wood and mud; the radio made out of spare parts; the bicycle that was able to transport an entire family to work and school.
We’re currently involved with a simple barcode hospital record filing system that has reduced wait times in clinics from an average of more than two hours to a mere 10 minutes. This solution boasts many innovations, using the elderly in the community to collect abandoned files, nine data points to uniquely identify patients (even if they show up with a different name or are fraudulently using another person’s insurance), to one-hour power sources in the event that there is no electricity (ensuring new data is not lost and patient intake/checkout can still occur).
You’re speaking at the YOW! 2015 Conference in Australia. Why this event? What are you looking forward to most?
When it comes to technology — and in particular, software development — I’ve had several interactions with Australian conferences, technologists, consulates and businesses (especially in South Africa). Each has been so positive that I believe there is much opportunity to collaborate together in this space.
I am most looking forward to having conversations about what’s been happening in the Australian software development space within the last year, along with what’s been happening in Ghana. I hope we can do more together.
Who do you admire?
I admire my parents. My father was a pioneer in the Big Four Accounting and Advisory firms in Africa. But more importantly, he balanced his work with being a generous person. If I can have a quarter as much impact in my chosen field and in my extended family as he has, I will be in great company.
My mother is one of the most brilliant medical doctors I know and demonstrated her management skill in the African context as a hospital administrator in Ghana. She expanded the polyclinic for the largest health district into an award-winning hospital, accomplishing all of this while raising five children.
In terms of well-known people, I point to Steve Jobs and Carly Fiorina. Steve Jobs had tremendous success, but more importantly, marched to the beat of his own drum. That takes tremendous strength and character. Carly Fiorina did a stint at my high school and went on to be a prominent female CEO in technology. She takes on challenges with poise and competence.
Where can we find you online?
Last, how do you drink your coffee?
I avoid caffeine — I get enough from life, I like to think — so no coffee or tea for me.
My favorite drink is water, but not just any water. Must be still not sparking. In a bottle, not a glass. Spring not distilled. Dress it up with some Crystal Light (especially Raspberry Lemonade) and watch me grin. 🙂