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Facebook, camera phones and inexpensive facial recognition software have made mass surveillance a near certainty. Huxley would be proud.

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SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS have long imagined a future in which facial recognition technology makes anonymity in public obsolete.  A research study at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that this Minority Report future has already arrived, thanks to facial recognition products now commercially available, combined with the 750-million-person identity database called Facebook.

Carnegie Mellon prof Alessandro Acquisti—the real guy, with his biometric face print—worries technology may expose everyone to constant scrutiny

A CMU research team led by associate professor Alessandro Acquisti took candid photos of 93 random students on campus using a $35 webcam. Within seconds the researchers were able to determine the identities of a third of their photogenic guinea pigs, using of fthe- shelf facial recognition software from PittPatt, a software company recently acquired by Google, and publicly available profile photos from Facebook. The researchers had an even higher rate of success using the same technology to identify more than 100,000 Pittsburgh singles with otherwise pseudonymous accounts on a dating site, adding yet more complexity to the world of online dating. “We’ve been thinking about privacy in cyberspace, but we need to start thinking about it in the real world, with augmented reality,” says Acquisti. He was also able to determine the first five digits of some of the identified students’ Social Security numbers based on previous research he has done showing that those numbers are predictable if you know a person’s birth date and birthplace. That information is usually available on a person’s Face- book profile page.

It seems that Aldous Huxley was right and George Orwell was wrong. Ubiquitous surveillance isn’t being orchestrated by the governmental- Big Brother of 1984 but by advances in technology designed for convenience’s sake adopted eagerly by private citizens. Acquisti calls it the “democratization of surveillance”. And it’s coming fast. Soon after the riots broke out in London at the beginning of August, a technophile band of vigilantes formed a Google Group to discuss applying the methods pioneered by Acquisti’s research team to online photos and videos of rioters, in order to help identify looters for prosecution by law enforcement. Facial recognition tools identify a person by analyzing dozens of features, such as the length of a forehead and the distance between the eyes and the nose. Google, Facebook and Apple have already made them freely available for people to tag their friends and family in photo albums. But at what point will you have the option to snap a photo of a stranger and then pull up his or her name and whatever information the Internet offers up about them? The capability is there, but the willingness to unleash it isn’t. Yet. Google has said that its image search tool, Goggles—which uses a photo instead of text as a search term, letting you snap a photo of a painting, for example, and find out who its creator is—has the capability to find people’s identities based on a photo. But the search giant had chosen not to enable the feature because it was deemed too creepy.

When Facebook recently rolled out an internal facial recognition tool allowing friends to automatically tag other friends in photos, it inflamed some privacy advocates (whose combustion levels tend to be high around anything new that Facebook does). Those advocates seemed to overlook the fact that the very existence of Facebook’s extensive database of photos linked to people’s names creates the possibility for third parties to build a facial biometric print. While Facebook’s terms of service prohibit the scraping of information from its site, there are no technological tools in place to prevent it. And, even if there were, scraping is certainly not limited to Facebook.

“For most of us there are already identified photos of us somewhere on the Internet, and this trend will only increase,” says Acquisti. (Face.com did the doctoring on the photo on page 58.) The CMU researchers wrote a facial recognition iPhone app but decided not to release it to the public. “We developed the app to make a point,” says Acquisti. “A future in which we infer sensitive information from faces is already here, and we better start thinking whether we really want to live in that future.” Their tool, though, would be valuable only for those seeking to identify the 25,000 CMU students whose photos the researchers grabbed from Facebook. We’re still a few years away from an app that would work on a national or global scale. The two main hurdles, Acquisti says, are finding a large and reliable source of facial images (hello, DMV!) and securing enough computing power. Comparing a photo to a database of, say, 300 million photos would take many hours, whereas a functional app would need to do it in ten seconds. “If I had to guess, I would say that we are less than five years away,” says Acquisti.

Specialized facial recognition products are already on the market. BI2 Technologies has developed a $3,000 iPhone add-on called MORIS (Mobile Offender Recognition and Identification System) that dozens of police departments across the country started adopting this year. Police officers can use MORIS to take photos of suspects, and the app, using iris scans and facial recognition, will identify anyone who already has a photo in a criminal database. Microsoft and Intel have worked together to create digital billboards with face-detecting cameras that pick up on the gender and age of passersby to show them relevant ads. A startup named SceneTap installed similar cameras in bars in Chicago earlier this year, so that Windy City nightlife lovers can use their smartphones to check the crowdedness, gender ratio and average age of patrons at a given bar before deciding where to go. So far law enforcement officials are tentative about using the technology to identify people not already in criminal databases.

Though a Canadian insurance corporation graciously volunteered the use of its driver’s license photo database to Vancouver police after the devastating post-Stanley Cup hockey riot there in July, authorities declined the offer after privacy advocates expressed concerns about violation of Canadians’ civil liberties. In London, Scotland Yard is using facial recognition tools along with tips from the community to identify rioters. As good as the technology has become, it still has accuracy problems that can cause significant harm. A Massachusetts driver sued his state DMV after his license was wrongfully revoked because he looked too much like another driver, leading to ten days of administrative wrangling to get it reinstated. “We are not the beautiful and unique snowflakes we think we are.

There are many people who look likeus,” says Acquisti. More than 30 state DMVs already apply facial recognition algorithms to driver’s license photos to prevent identity fraud. If you’re worried about your privacy, now might be a good time to change your Facebook profile photo to one in which you’re wearing ridiculously oversize sunglasses.

 

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Lifting The Heavy Veil On Wedding Costs

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With pockets as deep as gold mines, how far are couples willing to go to have the picture-perfect luxe wedding?


The lagoons overlook the snow-white beaches with its swaying coconut trees, embraced by the turquoise waters of the sea in the island nation of Mauritius. It’s a scene straight out of a movie, with a couple cavorting in the distance.

Over 100 guests from South Africa have also gathered on these sands for the weekend wedding of businessman Lebo Gunguluza and his long-term girlfriend Lebo Mokoena. 

The total cost of this union: almost $300,000. 

“I didn’t mind exceeding the budget, because you only do this once,” says new bride Mokoena.

The couple flew over 30 guests and provided them with five-star accommodation at the LUX* Grand Gaube.  Part of the guest contingency included the behind-the-scenes crew for the wedding, as well as the speakers who had to spend four to seven days in Mauritius to prep up.

“We did not want to have a local wedding because we wanted our guests and family to have a different experience. We also wanted our family members who did not have passports and have never flown out of the country to experience a different country,” Gunguluza says.

Snow-white beaches of Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

The weekend celebrations started on a Friday last September with a cocktail meet-and-greet party. Belly dancers who were dressed in floral red and yellow danced the evening away with guests, with a local band taking them to the all-white party on Saturday.

This was just a build-up to the romantic wedding reception with shades of blush, ivory, and gold which was to take place on Sunday at 4PM.

“Every time I think about that day, I want to do it again,” the new bride says.

The couple chose not to have bridesmaids and groomsmen and the guests were encouraged to dress in black and white.

“I didn’t have bridesmaids because it makes you choose between your friends. I felt that if you got an invite to our wedding, you were worthy enough. So, we wanted everyone to be bridesmaids and groomsmen. I think we made it intimate and everybody felt like they were VIPs,” says Mokoena.

Everything fit perfectly as the bride’s two white wedding dresses were designed by Antherline Couture.

For the ceremony, she wore a white ball gown with a diamanté top heavily embellished with beads; while the groom looked dapper in a white tuxedo jacket designed by Master Suit SA.  

The color white was indeed conspicuous.

“I have always felt that white is pure and because I was signing my life away, I felt I needed to be pure, hence I said my husband needed to wear white as well,” she adds.

The lavish white wedding was organized by renowned wedding planner Precious Tumisho Thamaga who ditched her seven-year career in Public Relations & Marketing to become an event planner.

Thamaga organizes events and weddings for affluent clients such as the Gunguluzas.

“They are busy people and they don’t have time to do the administration and the back and forth of vetting in suppliers,” Thamaga says, as she takes over the pain of wedding planning.

Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza (middle) with wedding guests in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

While working in the corporate world, she had attended many weddings that she felt were put together in a way that created a disconnect between the guests and the wedding couple.

“So I saw an opportunity in the fact that there were not a lot of wedding planners that were black,”  Thamaga says. 

She decided to focus on corporate clients in order to turn her passion into a profitable business.

“A lot of people did not expect a black person to be professional and take the business seriously.

“It was not just a hobby or someone helping out a family. It was an actual business and I made sure that I got taken seriously from the onset,” Thamaga says.

In order for Precious Celebrations (the name of her company) to prosper, she had to have a business strategy in place.

“I made sure that I put a lot of time and effort and strategized properly what it was that I wanted to actually focus on, and find a niche [in]. I believed that would separate me from somebody that was already in the industry,” Thamaga says.

However, her job is not always alluring.


Lebo Mokoena and Lebo Gunguluza’s wedding in Mauritius. Picture: Supplied

“When I started in the industry there weren’t so many wedding planners and now it is a different story and everyone thinks it is easy-peasy and it is glamorous,” she says. 

Planning a luxurious wedding takes eight to 12 months and can cost anywhere between R300,000 ($20,813) to R4.5 million ($312,203).

The most expensive wedding Thamaga planned was for a public figure she cannot disclose the name of. 

“It was a destination wedding and the experience from when the guests arrived to the wedding day was memorable. When they arrived, we had a cocktail party and we had activities like canoeing and on Sunday we had an all-white party. [This is] so that people don’t depart on Sunday and may leave on Monday.” 

Only the affluent sign up.

“The smallest wedding that I have had to plan had 80 people and it cost R2 million ($138,000),”  Thamaga says.

She has turned away some clients in the past because their budget was insufficient for the type of wedding they envisioned. 

Thamaga organizes 26 weddings, on average, annually, from countries such as Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and now she plans on taking her bespoke company global.

One of the unique aspects of her business is that she has maintained a good relationship with the suppliers she has in each country, and has kept her expenses to a minimum.

“The wedding planning-event planning industry is quite lucrative if you do it right. I am not the type that would have too much inventory because I want to feel like the inventory belongs to me; that would limit my creativity,” she says.

“I make sure that I don’t have a lot of expenses, I have coordinators that I have worked with for years and they have full-time jobs.”

Thamaga’s greatest challenge so far was whether or not to outsource other wedding planners when her business was increasing.

“It can be a bit daunting to realize that your business is growing,” she says.

But she opted to remain boutique.

“I had to decide that it is not about the money. I am building an empire where I want a legacy and an ongoing relationship with my clients.” 

She involves her clients every step of the way to bring their vision to an unforgettable reality, and believes that weddings are expensive because of the growing aspirations of the young.

“It is not just in South Africa, it is worldwide,” she says.

Despite the tangible costs of conducting these dream events, the wedding industry in South Africa is largely unregistered as it is a fluid market where services and costs are difficult to track and document accurately.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied

Africans, no doubt, spend millions per year on costs associated with marital ceremonies. This is the reality of the unregistered wedding industry. Despite the recession and slow economic growth, the wedding industry continues to attract many entrepreneurs to its lucrative opportunities.

As, people never stop getting married.

The Marriages and Divorces report released by Statistics South Africa last May shows an upward trend in civil marriages. Civil marriages increased by 0.6%, from 138,627 marriages registered in 2015 to 139,512 in 2016.

A wedding dress is an important part of a celebration and the bridal couture market continues to show growth.

Wise Guy Reports Database Global Wedding Dress Market Insights, forecast to 2025, states: “The wedding market demand grows continually, and the wedding garments market has notable increase every year. In this case, the competition is also very intense among companies. The involved companies should seize the opportunities to expand the gold mine.”

A previous client of Thamaga’s has spent R200,000 ($13,876) on two wedding dresses and this is nothing for Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. 

He moved to South Africa in 1992 at a time when African designs were not being celebrated globally. 

Twenty years ago, Eboka sold wedding dresses for R15,000 ($1,041) a piece, and now sells for R250,000 ($17,344) a piece, depending on the design. 

“A designer of my caliber in South Africa is undersold because there are people in the United States selling wedding gowns for $250 and I am here selling them for maybe $80, it just doesn’t make sense. It shows that our economy is really bad because a designer of my caliber should be operating on the same level as them, or very close,” Eboka says.

He is a luxury designer. 

“When you think of luxury, it is not just the product, it is not just the textile – it is the whole experience from when you drive in, to when you sit down and have the designer talk to you and learn about your life. The whole artistic process contributes to the cost value of the gown.”

He says that the reason wedding gowns are expensive is because they are meant to be timeless pieces.

“Traditionally, wedding gowns are classical couture. It is not like the normal evening dress that you wear to look beautiful on one night. A wedding dress is like training for the Olympics. You train for them for the rest of your life,” he says.

Eboka also says when designing a wedding gown, you need to take time to know the client, family and their fancies in order to meet the clients’ need.

The material of the wedding gown is usually expensive because he sources the textiles from across the world, and he takes two to three months to create a gown, depending on the embellishments.

Fred Elu Eboka, a Nigerian designer who dresses delegates as well as the rich and famous. Picture: Supplied 

“My designs have a lot of artistry,” he says.

Eboka is a wealthy man but he still believes that the industry is not as lucrative as it could be.

“But we do well, without being arrogant about it… You have to be fully aware of the industry and have the intellectual capacity to understand the potential of the market,” he says.

Pictures are an important element of a wedding because they capture the moment for life.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West meets his clients in a restaurant so he can get to know them better and learn the history of their relationship.

“We, as photographers, need to click with each couple, it is actually vital because we are going to be in their space from the beginning to end.

“So, when we do not gel, we are going to find ourselves in an awkward situation on the day because we, as photographers, are also problem-solvers. We don’t just take pictures on the day,” West says.

His packages start from R18,000 ($1,248) to R60,000 ($4,163) and he says it is because the couple is paying for the quality of the work. His packages include waterproof genuine leather-bound photo albums that he says last a lifetime, as well as 500 images that are both edited and unedited. He also arranges the location for the photoshoots.

“It is more than about taking pictures on the day, anybody can take pictures but the work that I do has more of a boutique feel,” he says.

“You pay to have something like this on the table that will last you a lifetime,” West says.

He does not only take pictures on the day but the photoshoots can take up to three months.

“Each couple that I take pictures of has a different story and that is where I draw my inspiration.”

West says that it takes a while for the business to get to a point that is profitable because photographic equipment is expensive.

“In the beginning, it is unfortunately not lucrative because you have to look into getting the equipment that is up to standard, however, it took me about seven years where I could get to a point that I could make a business out of it,” West says.

International award-winning photographer Daniel West with his clients. Picture: Supplied

His annual turnover before expenses is R800,000 ($55,502) and he has about 25 clients a year.

He believes that the industry is regarded as valuable in South Africa and it is growing because people are becoming more enlightened about the photography industry. And social media has become an important motivator driving this industry.

“It is vital to have a good photographer for your wedding, because you as a bride are not quite educated of what is out there and what is not [in terms of photography].”

A good photographer needs to have foresight.

“The quality and charisma of your photographer is really one of the most important things you pay for because if something were to go wrong on your wedding, like rain, what does your photographer do? Do they stand back or make a plan?” he says.

Other luxe services associated with weddings include limos and chauffeur services, and florists, live music bands and gourmet caterers flown from around the world. The more money you are willing to throw, the more sparkling the champagne, crystal and caviar on the beach

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Why Science Matters So Much In The Era Of Fake News And Fallacies

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Democracy and social progress die without science and fact-based knowledge. Science and facts are the foundational basis for rational and logical disputation and the possibility of reaching some truths.

Fake news, on the other hand, is a calculated assault on democratic freedoms.

The power of the notion of fake news and of its practitioners is demonstrated by how we have all quickly come to accept that there is a category of news called fake news. By doing so, we are running the real risk of being complicit in its legitimisation. My point is: if it’s fake then it’s not news. There is news, and then there is fake stuff, dodgy facts, distortions and lies.

So what’s the connection between science, knowledge and facts?

What makes good science

Science is one important means of producing knowledge and getting to what approximates the truth. Good science results from rigorous processes. Part of the rigour in science and knowledge creation is the peer review process, which is a means of ensuring not only the correctness of facts, but also transparency.

Science must generally also meet the test of replicability. These days data used in scientific experiments often also has to be preserved so it can be assessed or analysed if results are disputed. Ethical norms also govern scientific experiments to prevent harm.

Science is not the absolute truth. Scientific findings are the beginning, not the end, of the quest for truth. Empirical data used in science that can be verified forms a sound basis for robust discussion, debate and decision-making. Science brings a degree of rationality that creates a higher probability that the best interest of society or the public interest will be taken into account in, for example, decision-making.

Science, then, is the habit of exercising the mind to help think through especially difficult and complex phenomena.

This makes science important in the exercise of democracy. This isn’t possible without facts and information that enable – or aid – voters to make an informed choice in elections, for example, or help the making of sound policies that best promote the public interest. Science also enables discerning members of the public to make sense of their worlds and the world.

So-called fake news

Fake news, on other hand, is a set of at worst, manufactured or concocted facts that are a perversion of reality. It is the direct antithesis of science.

But fake news isn’t new. It’s as old as news itself and has a variety of aims, including propaganda and spin doctoring. It can be argued that the growth of spin doctoring in the 1990s is the precursor to the exponential growth of fakery. It has also been enabled by the decline of content that enriches public discourse in the context of commercialisation and concentration of media since the 1980s.

These developments led to a decline in the influence of public interest media or media that strikes the balance between commercial enterprise and the public good. And this has led to the reduction in the kind of news and media content that focuses on science.

Science journalism and investigative journalism, in particular, have seriously declined. This has meant that the ability to shine a light on the dark areas of lack of knowledge, superstition, and myths has seriously been diminished.

Specialist reporting is now confined to the content-rich ghettos of those who are highly educated or interested.

Another reason for the growth of fake news and its increasing influence is the loss of confidence in public institutions, including media institutions and the profession of journalism. Fakery has risen to fill the vacuum, driven by individuals and political organisations who position themselves as messiahs with instant solutions to multiple social crises. In their discourse knowledge institutions, science, facts, evidence, experts and reason or rationality are thrown out of the window as the sophistry of the elite.

The role of social media

Digital technologies and social media have made it much easier to produce and disseminate fake news. It is a paradox: unprecedented scientific advances and technologies are enabling us to transcend traditional constraints of distribution and literally place information at people’s fingertips. Yet these same technologies seem to facilitate more fake news and information that doesn’t necessarily advance the public good.

In addition, social media largely exists outside the professional norms of fact checking and the use of evidence to support assertions, arguments and positions taken in relation to social phenomena.

Fact checking and peer review are more important than ever because of the reality that false information now flows freely. This can be extremely harmful, particularly in public health campaigns.

The attraction of fake news is its apparent simplicity. It has a ring of truth around its claims, even when these are outlandish, and its ability to seem to resonate with what people think are their life-worlds or everyday life. Its ability to reinforce stereotypes, including prejudices, makes a bad situation even worse.

Science, facts and knowledge will save humanity

Science journalism and investigative journalism which seek to pursue the truth rather than just the reporting of events, are critically important in this age of fake news and fallacies.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the sustainability of the idea of humanity and the environment in the broadest sense of the word depends on science – or the respect for facts, evidence and experts.

Science that allows the public to have a nuanced understanding of life is important to building inclusive, open societies that enable public participation in decision making and progressive social agendas. Science disseminated in ways that are understood by the public and resonate with their life-worlds is important for building trust in reformed institutions and creating new forms of social cohesion in diverse societies.

Tawana Kupe; Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University, University of Pretoria

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Entrepreneurship Funds In Africa: Distinguishing The Good From The Bad

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Entrepreneurs have a pivotal role to play in Africa’s unemployment crisis. Today over a third of the continent’s young workforce (those aged 15-35) are unemployed. Another third are in vulnerable employment. By 2035, Africa will contribute more people to the workforce each year than the rest of the world combined. By 2050 it will be home to 1.25 billion people working aged.

To absorb these new entrants, Africa needs to create over 18 million new jobs each year. Governments need to put in place policies that drive economic growth and competitiveness. These in turn, will enable the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is important because they currently play a significant role in low-income countries, representing nearly 80% of jobs. They are also responsible for 90% of new ones created each year.

The challenge for countries is how to support the growth of SMEs. Various African governments have experimented with ways to help address the US$140 billion funding gap for startups and SMEs. For example, one approach has been to set up entrepreneurship funds.

Based on my experience of watching their performance over the past 18 years, I would issue some words of caution. Some entrepreneurship support models work better than others. And how they are set up – particularly the governance structures put in place to manage them – is key to their success, or failure.

Funding gap

Access to financing is consistently listed as the biggest obstacle to business for SME’s in African countries. They often face double digit interest rates from local banks. And venture capital penetration is still extremely low. Top end 2018 estimates put it at about $725 million for the whole continent.

To tackle the problem, African countries continue to start new entrepreneurship funds. In July 2017 Ghana launched the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan. The aim is to provide integrated national support for start-ups and small businesses.

Almost a year later, Rwanda secured a $30 million loan from the African Development Bank for the establishment of the Rwandan Innovation Fund. This will focus on investments in tech-enabled SMEs.

As new funds are started, African countries must look to the successes and failures of both global and regional funds to replicate best practices and avoid common pitfalls. African governments should explore replicating models similar to Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and the USAID backed enterprise funds. Both include robust investment selection criteria for funds.

In doing so, African government-backed entrepreneurship funds would operate as fund-of-funds – where a fund invests in another private equity or venture fund rather than directly in businesses themselves – as do many development finance institutions globally such as the UK’s CDC or FMO of the Netherlands.

The what and the how

The fund of funds structure creates an arm’s length relationship between the government agency that houses the entrepreneurship fund and the businesses that eventually receive investment. In between, sits a professional fund manager that earns the majority of its income from making good investments, growing companies and exiting them after a period of five to seven years. In this way, there are natural disincentives for corruption and market-based selection criteria for the entrepreneurs who receive investment.

How the fund managers are selected also matters. To ensure true investment independence from the government, fund managers and board members must be chosen in a transparent and competitive process. And once selected, representatives of the government entrepreneurship fund agency can sit on the investment committee for oversight purposes but should respect the fund managers’ independent decision-making.

There are examples of funds being set up without the necessary independent, accountable fund managers. One is the YouWin program in Nigeria. Created in 2016, it was set up to help youth entrepreneurs grow businesses. But senior civil servants handed out awards to friends and relatives.

Government supported fund managers through the FoF model can also catalyse additional investment. By operating in markets and sectors often ignored by traditional private equity funds, Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and enterprise funds have mobilized additional capital for investment-starved companies. African government-backed entrepreneurship funds could do the same by participating in blended finance deals with development finance institutions, social-impact investment funds, local banks and other market players to back growing firms.

Measuring success

While not actively managing the funds’ portfolio investments, governments have a key role to play in guiding the funds priorities. Priorities may vary by country and given Africa’s growing rates of unemployment, funds should prioritise job creation by evaluating investment on key performance indicators. These would include the number of jobs created per dollar invested, indirect jobs created per dollar invested, and average salary of job. In addition to job creation, governments can direct funds to focus on specific sectors either in need of increased capital or high-growth areas in local economies.

Beyond establishing investment criteria, government-backed funds should prioritise rigorous measurement of investment results and long-term data tracking to inform future investment decisions. The UK British Bank regional growth fund found the cost per job created varied considerably by project from £4,000 to over £200,000. It concluded that a better allocation of funds could have led to thousands more jobs created for the same resources.

Data driven investments can not only lead to a better results, but further curtail issues around potential mismanagement of funds.

Tackling Africa’s job creation challenge requires innovative thinking and initiatives that support private sector-led growth. Looking to the model of Small Enterprise Assistance Funds and enterprise funds, African governments can spur local ecosystems and drive new private capital to regions today seen as unfriendly or too risky to outside investors.

Properly structured investments today could yield much larger dividends tomorrow.

-Aubrey Hruby; Senior Fellow, Africa Center, Georgetown University

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