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Internet For Africa, Olé!

After a rough start in 2004, satellite internet and electronic security company Global Telesat now services 16 African countries and boasts a $6 million annual turnover.




While Spain faces a 23.6% unemployment rate and a forecasted 1.7% economic decline this year, Angola is the world’s fastest growing economy of the last decade, with an impressive 12% growth forecast for 2012. Ten years after the civil war (1975-2002), Angola has risen like a phoenix from the ashes.

Few could have predicted this. Ivan Pizarro (37), along with his brother, David (43), and José María Sánchez Soler (52) opted for Angola in the middle of Spain’s construction bubble. “People lived in a Peter Pan world, they spent crazy amounts of money. Our friends called us nuts when we left,” Ivan recalls.

Eight years later, Global Telesat has been named Most Innovative Company in Africa by Spanish newspaper El Mundo, while most of the Pizarros’ friends in Spain are struggling. “Do you see this pile here? All Spanish and Portuguese applications. Most of our Spanish friends have tried to get a job at Global Telesat. We’ve hired 10 of them.”

More than that, the European economic meltdown has been advantageous for Global Telesat. “We are able to recruit Europeans we didn’t have access to before. And all the European companies fleeing to Angola need the internet.”

Global Telesat’s history began in 2003. Its founders were commissioned to build a satellite cyber cafe for the Spanish soldiers in Iraq, which they did from their parents’ garage during the Christmas holidays. “The company that commissioned us then offered us a telecommunications license in Equatorial Guinea via José María, so we rushed to create Global Telesat and flew there,” Ivan says. They “escaped” after three days.

Instead, they decided to embark on a similar adventure in Angola. Off they went, with $10,000 among the three of them plus “two very cheap, old and tired second-hand jeeps”.

“José María and I managed to find a house in the city center, which was in a really bad state. It cost $2,500 a month and needed $50,000 worth of renovations,” Ivan says. Due to investment expenses, the three only managed to cover costs during the second year. “We almost went bankrupt twice. Luanda’s incredibly high cost of living was the toughest aspect of getting started.” For Sánchez Soler, finding the appropriate local partners in Angola was the number one difficulty, before “bureaucracy and a very slow business rhythm”.

The Pizarros and Sánchez Soler started out doing a bit of everything, including fixing and selling computers and VSATs (very small aperture terminals). They briefly ran an LED display business. “It was a rough time, in a tense environment. We knew nothing and no-one, lived without furniture and worked from our sitting room for almost two years, until we could afford our current office.”

Soon, Global Telesat embarked on one international high-profile satellite internet project after the other. It created the well-publicized, first continental satellite internet connection from Morocco to Europe via the Strait of Gibraltar in 2004; connected the Spanish army in Herat and Kabul to the world-wide web in 2006; and built satellite cyber cafes for soldiers in Libreville and Kinshasa during the UN supervision of the Congo elections in 2007.

Officially registering Global Telesat in Angola was not easy. Sanchez Soler and David bought an existing, but inactive debt-free, Angolan company in 2004. It had a so-called ‘alvara’ (permit), which allows you to import and export and is “a must for every company in Angola”. Ivan points to a huge pile of documents in the cupboard behind him. “Never start a company in Angola,” he says jokingly. “You need each one of those, and each requires 20 letters to a given ministry. It takes years to complete the whole process.”

Angola ranks 168 out of 182 countries on Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, but Ivan says Global Telesat won’t accept or pay bribes. “That has both disadvantages and advantages. We miss out on many business opportunities because of that, but at the same time, it secures lots of deals with the type of people we want to work with: embassies, NGOs and international companies and organizations.”

Judging from Global Telesat’s achievements, one might wonder exactly what opportunities it has missed out on. The company recently became the first in Angola to own a European teleport. It has the exclusive rights to RascomStar in Angola and owns RascomStar’s only European teleport. Global Telesat is also the only Angolan representative of MWEB and Israeli joint venture company SkyVision, one of the world’s leading satellite operators.

With around 50 employees, the majority of them Angolan, Global Telesat provides satellite internet and electronic security equipment to major clients, including the Cuban and Angolan governments; Angolan state oil company Sonangol; Interpol; the Angolan Immigration Service (SME); beer brands Cuca, Ekka and Nocal; Unicef; the Angolan armed forces (FAA); embassies; and international NGOs. Its annual turnover in 2011 was between $4 and $6 million. This year, it forecasts an $8 million turnover. Global Telesat has grown a steady 25% annually.

The fact that Multitel, MS Telecom, ITA and Dimension Data are Global Telesat’s main competitors is anything but a problem. “What makes doing business in Angolan telecommunications unique and fun is the fact that almost all of the competitors are friends. We even share houses sometimes,” Ivan says.

Ivan studied electro-technical engineering after specializing in telecommunications in Ireland. He accepted a job there at Dell and experienced the boom and burst of the dotcom bubble while at Dell. He then moved to Hewlett-Packard in Barcelona and various smaller IT companies before becoming project manager of Siemens Germany. For four years, he oversaw the implementation of GSM satellite stations in the Middle East, USA, China, Pakistan and Brazil. He also brings extensive satellite internet experience from some time as a political activist.

Originally a technical engineer with a telecommunica-tions specialization, David has seven years of electronic security experience at Digisoft in Spain.

Sánchez Soler studied piloting then physics in Granada. He worked as a salesman at Spain’s first private, commercial IT group, Centre de Càlcul de Sabadell, for eight years. At the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, and together with David, he developed software to feed 20,000 people a day on behalf of the company, Jomipsa. Next, as Jomipsa’s commercial director, he dealt with more than 50 countries, including Angola, until 2003. Jomipsa designed and manufactured combat food rations for armies.

After Angola’s civil war ended in 2002, the nature of doing business with Angola changed drastically. “But Jomipsa didn’t want to invest in Angola, so I jumped out and looked for partners. In December 2003, we founded food company SPA (Societdade de Produtos Alimentares, Lda.), which we closed after internal differences.” Global Telesat was next.

What makes Global Telesat stand out, as much as its breakthroughs, is its well of remarkable stories. One example is that of its first employees.

“Our guards were constantly being harassed by Jehovah’s Witnesses or Igreja Universal members,” Ivan says. “When I came back from work one day and caught them reading these pamphlets, I got angry. ‘If you’re bored,’ I said, ‘I’ll give you something interesting to read.’ I gave them books on telecommunications and IT, and they got excited. After work, we allowed them to sell satellite internet connections and electronic security products. They decided to copy the church guys and attack in couples, which worked. They were then hired by Global Telesat.”

One of these former guards specialized in satellite internet installations, one in sales and the other in electronic security. Two of them now own their own companies.

Global Telesat is trying to make a difference in Angola. “Among other projects, we have offered hundreds of professional courses for internet installers. We may soon get support from the Ministry of Education,” says Ivan.

Global Telesat consists of a satellite internet and an electronic security department. Ivan heads the internet branch; David the security branch. Sánchez Soler, the company’s CEO, lives in Spain. All three own equal shares. It is a structure that works.

Global Telesat’s satellites are located in a ring around the earth at a distance of 38,000km from the earth. From that position, they perform a 24-hour rotation around the globe.

Monthly corporate rates for Global Telesat’s satellite internet connections start at $300 and can reach upwards of $50,000. A once-off investment starts at $3,000. “After that, the price difference with a terrestrial is not that big,” Ivan says. “Satellite internet reaches any place in Angola, including its most deserted areas and oil rigs in the middle of the sea. This is the key advantage of satellite internet over fiber-optic internet.” And prices are going down, mainly because of Global Telesat’s access to Africa’s RascomStar satellite.

“Look!” Ivan says. He hands me his mobile phone, which shows moving images of Global Telesat’s office. “What you’re seeing is being recorded right now by our camera systems and broadcast over the satellite. A simple internet connection allows me to check my premises on my iPhone. “This is a killer in Angola, because people can monitor their business without being present, even from another continent.”

Adds David: “Since the war, Angolans feel the need for more safety. That includes electronic security, which is lacking.” Global Telesat also offers automatic fire detection and extinguishing equipment.

“We had two competitors in 2004, Infortel and AfriAlarm, but their prices were double what ours were. We’re not the biggest electronic security firm in Angola, but unlike our competitors, we operate professionally according to European quality standards. We offer the best equipment available. Our surveillance cameras’ definition, for example, is up to four times sharper than those of our competitors.”

Many of Global Telesat’s electronic security systems are used to prevent labor abstinence, for instance, through fingerprint controls. At the end of the month, the fingerprints are reviewed and registered and salaries are paid accordingly.

“Apart from equipment that could, in theory, be used for spying, we also offer anti-spying equipment such as mobile phone frequency blockers or tools that can localize hidden cameras,” David says.

The Pizarros and Sánchez Soler have never regretted setting foot in Angola. “Unlike Europe, rules and regulations are no major obstacle here,” David says. “You can truly set up your business according to your wishes. Plus, Angola is a country full of companies rich in financial resources.”

“After 27 years of war, Angola offers immense room for growth and so many opportunities,” Sánchez Soler agrees. “Competition is not as high as it is in Europe. We moved to Angola at a time when hardly anyone in Spain knew Angola. We bet on Angola, and we won.”

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‘AI Is A Powerful Tool’



Research forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans. Murat Sonmez, member of the managing board, and Head of the Centre for the WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Network, expands on the role humans might play.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is at the center of the current economic frontier. In reality, is Africa prepared for such changes?

Moving quickly and being agile are key principles of success in the 4IR. Any country can succeed if they take on this mindset. A few years ago, Rwanda saw the opportunities drones, a 4IR technology, brought to their country.

They helped save over 800 lives by delivering blood to remote villages. To scale this, the government worked with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) drones’ team to create the world’s first agile airspace regulation. Now, we see countries in Africa and around the world looking to the Rwandan model.

READ MORE | 5 Ways Tech Can Revolutionize Education

What feasible solutions can  artificial intelligence (AI) offer in terms of forecasting natural disasters, droughts food security on the African continent?

AI can help predict diseases, increase agriculture yields and help first responders. It is a powerful tool for governments and businesses, but it needs a lot of data to be effective.

For AI to be all that it can be, countries and companies need to work together to build frameworks for better management and protection of our data and ensure that it is shared and not stored in silos. Data is the oxygen of the (4IR). If countries do not leverage data and have their policies in place, they will be left behind.

There is a growing concern that the 4IR will strip people of jobs, of which there is already a shortage. How true is this?

The world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a seismic shift in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms.

Latest research from the WEF forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans, compared to 71% being performed by humans today.

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The rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.

Consumers have real concerns around the potential harm technology can cause in areas such as privacy, misinformation, surveillance, job loss, environmental damage and increased inequality. What ethical precautions are being considered in the robotics space?

Now more than ever, it is important to incorporate ethics into the design, deployment and use of emerging technology. Innovating in the 4IR requires addressing concerns around privacy and data ownership, while attracting the skills and forward-looking thinkers of the future.

There are big challenges and bigger opportunities ahead. We have seen many companies and countries create ethical and human rights-based frameworks. What’s important is they are co-designed with members of both communities along with academia, civil society and start-ups.

A multi-stakeholder approach will result in a more holistic set of guidelines and principles that can be adopted in many different industries and geographies.

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What changes need to take place for the African continent to be on par with global developments, and are there tangible goals set?

The 4IR provides governments the opportunity to be global leaders in shaping the next 20 to 30 years of science and technology. It is important they create an environment where companies can innovate.

The other tenet is to be open to working across borders and learning from each other. The global health industry has access to mountains of data on rare diseases, but it is trapped within countries and sometimes even within the hospital walls.

If we can build trust and find innovative ways to share the data while protecting privacy, we can employ tools like AI to help us cure disease faster. Countries and companies need to have the right governance frameworks and mechanisms in place for these breakthroughs to happen. It is possible to do these things now, but we need to work together to make it happen.

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Current Affairs

Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future




With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.

Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.

Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.

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Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.

“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.

An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.

Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.

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“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.

The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable. 

“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.

A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.

“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily  have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.

“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”

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Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.

According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.

Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.

The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.

It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.

-Buhle Ntusi

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Current Affairs

Ex-Google Staffer Says After Split With Chief Legal Officer David Drummond: ‘Hell Does Not Begin To Capture My Life’





Former Google employee Jennifer Blakely has written a scathing blog post with allegations about how her affair with chief legal officer David Drummond unfolded.

A former member of Google’s legal team who says she had a child with the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has written a scathing blog post about the way that their relationship unfolded within the search engine giant, including that he issued “terrifying threats” to take custody of their child after initially refusing to pay child support.

In a Medium post, Jennifer Blakely says that she was inspired to detail her experience after an explosive New York Times story last fall put a spotlight on how the company shielded top executives from harassment claims and sparked massive employee protests.

“Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful,” Blakely writes.

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“Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top.” 

While her relationship with the married Drummond was included in the Times story and first reported byThe Information in November 2017, this is the first time Blakely has written about the experience herself.

Drummond is one of several current and former Google executives who has reportedly had relationships with employees or extramarital affairs, including Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Andy Rubin.

READ MORE | Calling Out Sexual Harassment

Blakely alleges that after their relationship ended, Drummond had another relationship with a subordinate, which is against Google’s workplace policy. He is still employed by Google and made more than $47 million last year. 

Blakely says that she started working in Google’s legal department under Drummond in 2001 and that after he told her that he was estranged from his wife, they began a relationship in 2004. She says the two had a child together in 2007 and that Google’s human resources department then told her that one of them had to leave the department.

She moved to sales, an area where she had no experience, and subsequently struggled with her work. Blakely alleges that after she ultimately left the company at Drummond’s urging in 2008, but that while they were living together in Palo Alto, he broke off their relationship via text message.

“‘Hell’ does not begin to capture my life since that day,” she writes. “I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms.” 

She alleges that Drummond initially refused to see their son or pay child support, and then fought against her in a custody battle. While she says they ultimately reached a settlement and he began paying child support, she writes that “months or years” would go by when he wouldn’t see their son. In 2014, Drummond allegedly showed her an article about Eric Schmidt’s reported history of extramarital affairs during an argument, implying that the executive’s position granted him impunity.

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“His ‘personal life’ (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his ‘personal life’ it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child,” Blakely writes.

Blakely’s story is the latest in a string of public posts from former Google employees highlighting issues with the company’s culture and policies (or their lack of enforcement).

One of the women who helped organize last fall’s protests, Claire Stapelton, recently wrote about her experience with retaliation, another employee detailed the disappointing way the company’s human resources department dealt with her harassment reports, and former senior engineer Liz Fong-Jones posted about “grave concerns” with the company’s decision making in general.

The outspokenness of Google employees exemplifies — and has helped spur — a broader activism in the tech sector that has seen workers speaking out against their employer’s internal policies and business decisions.

Blakely’s post also taps into the larger #MeToo movement which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across industries.

“Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace,” she writes.

Neither Google nor Drummond immediately responded to a request for comment. 

This story is developing.

-Jillian D’Onfro; Forbes

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