Home / News / How Kurt Davis quit the tech life to help people in Africa for a year

How Kurt Davis quit the tech life to help people in Africa for a year

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Kurt Davis labored for over 20 years in Silicon Valley and Asia, operating the tech rat race as a industry building specialist. He used to be at the street to burnout.

Jobs took him to corporations like Mitsui & Co., Boku, Asia Sports activities Cell Video games, and GE Capital. However in 2017, he took a shuttle to Africa. He idea it will be for a few weeks, however he ended up staying for the simpler a part of a 12 months. And he were given sucked into the challenge of doing excellent.

Davis started operating with more than a few nonprofits to assist the proficient other folks he present in Africa and fit them up with alternatives. He traveled to a large number of corporations and got here into touch with nonprofits and ventures akin to Ghana Mest (funded by way of Meltwater), Malawi mhub, Funmi’s Kindle Africa, Bounce Faculty, Uganda Dance and Sun, Uganda Reaplife, and Zambia Bongohive.

Partway into his shuttle, he were given unwell and had to go back house to the U.S., settling in Tennessee all through the pandemic. He wrote a e book about his adventures, Discovering Soul: From Silicon Valley to Africa — A shuttle memoir and private adventure thru twenty international locations in Africa. He additionally cofounded a startup, Kakuma Ventures, that is helping refugees get started companies.

I talked to him about this private odyssey and his observations about era in Africa. He mentioned dealing with his “traveler’s melancholy” as he met extraordinarily impoverish other folks and the way he advanced empathy and a keenness for instructing. He began a nonprofit, Kakuma Ventures, to create jobs for a refugee camp. He additionally hiked Kilimanjaro. His takeaways let us know one thing in regards to the human situation. And he’s operating on a 2d e book now and a startup on well-being.

Right here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

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Above: Kurt Davis took an overland bus shuttle from Zambia to Capetown at the Namibian coast.

Symbol Credit score: Kurt Davis

Kurt Davis: I’ve settled down. I’m in Tennessee. I simply began writing. I used to be construction out my shuttle weblog, and I made up our minds I might write about my African revel in. Display other folks what I realized round my time in Africa, issues round how the entrepreneurship scene is rising and getting very thrilling. There’s a large number of cellular sport job taking place in faculties and within the streets. Issues are selecting up over there from a era point of view, and the marketers wish to do increasingly more. In addition to different issues round empathy, the ability of shuttle, taking a look on the global in a different way.

VentureBeat: Was once there one thing that made you a hit, that gave you adequate convenience to believe one thing like a 12 months off?

Davis: It used to be extra that I used to be in poor health of operating at all times in industry building and gross sales. I were given truly uninterested in it. I’ve at all times beloved to shuttle. I lived in Asia for 10 years. I lived in London. However I felt that Africa used to be coming of age. I sought after to take a little time for myself to do one thing I beloved to do, which used to be to look a brand new a part of the arena. I had stored up some cash operating in tech, however I wasn’t whatsoever — there used to be no go out from Boku. I didn’t make some huge cash. I simply had sufficient stored up in order that I may simply shuttle thru Africa.

VentureBeat: Did you intend on doing this for the entire 12 months, or have been you simply taking a holiday in the beginning?

Davis: I began off as a result of I used to be going to head with Staff for Tech, a Silicon Valley nonprofit. I had some buddies operating there, they usually did a program the place they let unbiased other folks join. They have been going simply after the 2016 election. I to begin with idea I might pass with them, after which I arrange one different team assembly in Nigeria with every other Silicon Valley good friend who runs a spot known as Meltwater.org. My friend there is a part of the Sherpa Foundry. He labored with Meltwater in Ghana and Nigeria for 2 years.

I used to be considering I might pass there round Thanksgiving and are available again proper after Christmas. However I simply stored going. It used to be an excessive amount of amusing, too attention-grabbing. I finished up being there for 9 months.

VentureBeat: The place used to be the primary position you landed?

Davis: I went into South Africa and labored within the townships, round Johannesburg. I rented a automobile, drove thru Lesotho and Swaziland, went as much as Mozambique. Then I went to West Africa, and from there to East Africa, after which labored my manner back off to South Africa once more. In the end, I labored my long ago as much as Ethiopia. I jumped round somewhat. As I stored going, I stored discovering new tasks. There’s a groovy undertaking. There’s an entrepreneurial hub. I’ll pass there and achieve out to them.

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Above: Kurt Davis’ Kakuma Ventures is helping other folks in refugee camps change into marketers.

Symbol Credit score: Kurt Davis

VentureBeat: Have been you ever interested in private protection, or simply coping with the surroundings of poverty in a few of these spaces?

Davis: I name it traveler’s melancholy whilst you’re in those puts. We went to a couple very deficient, impoverished puts. You simply need to discover ways to — I communicate so much about how I realized about empathy, being in those puts and dealing with the folk there. I ended getting unhappy as a lot and began getting extra pushed to assist and do issues. It’s onerous. Within the foreword, I speak about crying within the refugee camp. It’s so onerous. How that adjustments through the years, I speak about that within the e book.

So far as feeling threatened, although, no, now not truly. There may be nonetheless surely rigidity between white and Black [people], leftover from apartheid. However if you get into different international locations with much less of that damaging historical past, they don’t truly care. Other folks simply say, “What are you doing right here? Why are you roaming round?” They’re extra curious. In puts like Kenya and West Africa, other folks simply wish to know what you’re as much as. There’s much less of that friction. There may be damaging historical past round colonialism in all of those international locations, with the exception of perhaps Ethiopia, however it’s now not as unhealthy because it used to be in South Africa.

VentureBeat: Did you will have other folks to be informed from so far as the right way to pass about serving to nonprofits?

Davis: No longer truly. I took my studies from promoting at Boku, doing industry building, and I put a 100-page Powerpoint in combination, which is someplace on slide proportion. By way of the way in which, I’m writing my 2d e book on industry building and gross sales for marketers. It’s all in favour of other folks outdoor Silicon Valley, individuals who wish to shut offers. Boku ended up succeeding as a result of we closed offers with Apple, iTunes, Xbox, PlayStation, and Spotify. Instructing other folks the right way to shut offers at that stage. The e book makes a speciality of the way you pass from remaining $10,000 offers, $100,000 offers, to $10 million offers.

It put the slides in combination and I might pass to puts and I’d stroll thru them. I’d alter as I’m going. “Does this practice to what you’re doing? You’ll be able to use this.” On occasion I’d be told that what I used to be speaking about didn’t practice the place I used to be as a result of Africa may well be other, however nonetheless, in Africa, you’ll be able to promote services and products to telecom carriers, to media corporations. There’s nonetheless a large number of the similar dynamics.

VentureBeat: Watching tech entrepreneurship there, what used to be memorable in regards to the corporations the place a large number of job used to be happening?

Davis: The recent spots are Nigeria and Kenya. Nigeria is hopping. Kenya is hopping. They’re extra refined, advanced economically, such things as that. There’s some huge cash flowing out and in of the ones puts. Nigeria is the middle of West Africa. You get that entire hall. Additionally Ghana. It’s simple to run between Nigeria and Ghana. There’s a large number of smaller international locations as properly. When you do West Africa, you’ll be able to do this. Then in East Africa and Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda … Rwanda is just like the Singapore of Africa. It’s arranged and blank. Kenya is a scorching spot to carrier East Africa. Higher construction, higher criminal machine, such things as that. South Africa is the new spot for the southern Africa area. Startups there, a large number of fintech startups are rising and growing cellular wallets and such things as that. They simply pass up. The ingenious global truly lies in West Africa. Tune, artwork, such things as that take a seat in West Africa.

VentureBeat: Did you run into other folks doing the similar roughly stuff you did? Going from Silicon Valley to Africa?

Davis: No, I didn’t meet someone like me whilst I used to be there. I know that during Meltwater, proper when I left, that they had a customer from Fb. He got here and spent a couple of days available in the market. They infrequently get guests. They invite other folks. A large number of those corporations paintings with the U.S. consulates to assist carry other folks over. BongoHive used to be backed by way of the U.S. embassy to carry 5 other folks over. After I met them, they paid for my flight from South Africa. That used to be truly great.

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Above: Kurt Davis climbing at Mount Kilimanjaro.

Symbol Credit score: Kurt Davis

VentureBeat: Did you ever work out how a lot the entire 12 months value you, simply how a lot financial savings you needed to undergo?

Davis: I budgeted perhaps $50 an afternoon, and I surely spent greater than that. I speak about this within the e book. I wasn’t making any cash, charging anyone for what I did. I simply did it. You’ll be able to undoubtedly do it in that quantity. The accommodations and stuff like that, for those who’re now not staying at American accommodations, you’ll be able to simply to find puts for $30-$40. If you wish to do it on $50 an afternoon, you completely can. However for those who get started including in flights, for those who do a safari that prices a couple of thousand greenbacks, for those who do X, Y, and Z — if I did it at the again of the envelope with all of the different issues I did, I most definitely did it on about $20,000, $25,000.

In case you have been to spend a 12 months and also you had $30,000, for those who sought after to discover — now not all the continent, however for those who needed to take some journeys, perform a little lengthy overland shuttle, $30,000 would do it conveniently. Taking buses up to conceivable, getting assist with housing up to conceivable. A large number of those incubators paid for my housing. However my tough estimate used to be about $20,000, $25,000. I used to be beautiful strict about how I used to be spending my cash.

VentureBeat: That doesn’t sound as dear as it’s possible you’ll suppose. It sounds love it might be possible for a large number of other folks.

Davis: The essential phase is that you simply to find the appropriate sponsors and other folks that will help you. I stayed in Ghana without spending a dime. Then I simply took a bus down the coast and frolicked at a hostel for 10 greenbacks. It wasn’t onerous. The accommodations I stayed in have been generally Chinese language accommodations. The Chinese language have constructed accommodations throughout, and a pleasant one is $30.

VentureBeat: What do you assume spurred that urge to do one thing like this, to head outdoor the Silicon Valley tech existence?

Davis: It’s at all times been a private function of mine to look part the arena, to shuttle to part the arena. That used to be a part of it. I’d labored in tech, and I do know what it’s. It’s simply tech. Promote every other widget, make every other widget, make every other sport, make every other fee machine. Possibly there’s every other fee machine with a larger concept than yours. Nevertheless it’s the similar factor. I simply began to really feel that a large number of that used to be now not pleasurable to me. It wasn’t impacting others. It wasn’t serving to others.

I’m now not going to mention — I feel era does assist other folks. Stripe and Google, they’ve helped other folks, evidently. However I couldn’t to find pleasure in it. I began to appreciate that I love to be round other folks. I’ve a keenness for instructing. I assumed I might do one thing other. What I might say used to be, “Do one thing that supposed not anything.” In our global of Silicon Valley, we’re at all times seeking to do one thing that implies one thing. We’re seeking to provoke any individual. We’re seeking to one-up any individual. I didn’t wish to do the rest that supposed the rest like that. I sought after to do one thing that supposed one thing to me.

VentureBeat: It virtually sounds extra like attacking it as a industry downside. This complete area wishes assist, however a large number of the answer is taking one of the stuff you realized from the industry existence and passing it on.

Davis: It’s that straightforward. What do I do know? In fact, I do know stuff. I do know finance. I do know gross sales. I do know era, the right way to construct and prepare an organization slightly bit. However that’s sufficient. Those individuals are taking a look at Silicon Valley with stars of their eyes considering, “We wish to construct the ones corporations in Africa. We wish the era. We wish to do that for our continent, what the ones corporations have completed.” They wish to be told and be a part of it. They’re no other than any folks.

Have a look at the sport trade. There are a ton of other folks available in the market who’re going to wish to play video games, who will get started enjoying video games. I got here throughout a couple of guys who have been seeking to make — because the Chinese language have their very own factor, their very own characters, to take the similar roughly scripts and make their very own characters, Africans wish to do this as properly. There’s undoubtedly a marketplace that may be thrilling for a large number of those corporations — perhaps now not nowadays, however someday.

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Above: Kurt Davis operating with Uganda Sun

Symbol Credit score: Kurt Davis

VentureBeat: The successes there, are they extra localized tech corporations, or are they seeking to be world someway?

Davis: Maximum of them are localized. A large number of them are replicas. Jumia, the ecommerce corporate. Supply services and products are getting large on account of the low value of work. Construction cellular radio services and products. The ones are well-liked. However then you will have stuff that’s now not like any place else. The entire cellular farming networks. They’re the use of cell phone platforms to proportion other farming tools, to value other vegetation at other instances since the farmers are so disintegrated. Platforms for small church buildings are large. A large number of monetary services and products, like cellular wallets.

VentureBeat: It sort of feels like they have got a bonus in being mobile-first.

Davis: Yeah, basically. They have got higher cellular carrier throughout Africa than we do in far flung portions of the U.S. Even the place I’m in Tennessee, I were given higher cellular carrier in Africa than I do in Knoxville.

VentureBeat: Did you notice many places of work for the massive tech corporations there?

Davis: I didn’t. I noticed a large number of Chinese language places of work. Chinese language producers, handset corporations. The Chinese language wish to spend money on corporations. About that point, Alibaba and Jack Ma did a large show off out in Rwanda. The Chinese language have a large tech convention they do there once a year. Huawei does a large number of the networks. I did see a large number of Chinese language corporations.

VentureBeat: You don’t see the FANG corporations, then? Fb, Amazon, Netflix, and Google?

Davis: None of them. They will have to get started taking a look. Apple had some shops, however they’re simply too dear. They’re promoting smartphones for 50 greenbacks available in the market. Fb has somewhat of presence in South Africa, I feel. I feel they have got places of work. However I don’t know what they do there. Google.org does so much there.

VentureBeat: I ponder whether a part of the answer is speaking the ones corporations into putting in there. Or do you assume it’s extra about Africans growing their very own corporations?

Davis: I undoubtedly assume the Googles and Facebooks of the arena are taking a look at it. They’re performing some stuff. However I simply don’t know. Can some Africans construct their very own serps, their very own social networks that compete? I’m positive they may be able to someday. The only factor that slows the world down is the loss of engineering. I don’t imply to mention solely as a continent, however there’s now not a large number of engineers. A large number of the engineering comes out of Zimbabwe, oddly, and that’s a truly tricky position. They’d the Zimbabwe Faculty of Engineering. However there’s now not a large number of engineering prowess in Africa at huge. A large number of East African international locations outsource that to India.

VentureBeat: What did you take into consideration whilst you have been completing up and getting ready to return again? What made you make a decision to get again to the U.S.?

Davis: Probably the most major causes I left is as a result of I were given in poor health. I couldn’t work out what used to be incorrect. However that used to be my fault. I swam in a lake and ended up getting a parasite. I got here again and in the end were given over it. I used to be going between Tennessee and California. I sought after to return as a result of I began slightly project company in a refugee camp, Kakuma Ventures. We’re nonetheless operating on it, and we’re doing properly. We simply were given some grants. We’re construction Wi-Fi networks in refugee camps.

I wish to do extra. However until you’re independently rich or in a different way have a large number of assets, it’s onerous to make large strikes. You don’t should be. I simply planted a small seed to get going. The height of the e book is my time within the refugee camp. We began it whilst we have been there, and we stored going. We were given into the Miller Middle program for entrepreneurship in Santa Clara. We graduated from there and we simply raised our first $20,000. Now we’re seeking to lift $100,000 to construct out the Wi-Fi platform in all of Kakuma. We want about that a lot to complete it.

I’m nonetheless doing that. My plan used to be to return out remaining 12 months, however then all these items began taking place and clearly I’m now not touring. I went again to the Valley and began taking a look at jobs, and in truth I simply couldn’t get fascinated by the rest, promoting stuff. I went again to spend time with my circle of relatives right here and get started a brand new profession writing books. I’ll write a 2d e book about industry building, after which I’m operating on a well-being undertaking. Possibly I’ll do my very own factor. We’ll see.

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Above: Kurt Davis instructing a category for Kakuma Ventures.

Symbol Credit score: Kurt Davis

VentureBeat: How outdated are you presently?

Davis: I celebrated my 40th birthday in Mozambique.

VentureBeat: What could be a few of your greatest takeaways from all of it?

Davis: I name the e book “Discovering Soul,” as a result of something I took away is that we’re all of the identical. We’re only a soul. There’s an element in there that accentuates that idea. If we begin to take a look at every different on the floor stage, as a soul, we’ll get started to take a look at every different with a high quality of giving every different equivalent alternatives, now not letting your ego power your movements. Taking a look at others with equivalence, regardless of the place they arrive from. Have a look at every different with the soul first, and also you’ll begin to eliminate obstacles of inequality and racism since you’ll focal point extra on serving to others and seeing others in an equivalent mild.

The second one used to be to not take existence so severely. We don’t want all this cash. We don’t want all of the stuff that the American machine throws at us. We want little or no to be at liberty. And don’t be so severe. Have amusing. Have amusing with other folks. Do issues that topic to you. Do issues that make the arena a greater position. We don’t want all of the stuff that we’ve got. Our client society is solely overburdened and wasteful.

I don’t learn about your opinion, however individually, other folks in Silicon Valley are truly severe. They’re so intense. It’s simply now not a excellent tradition. That aggressive, cutthroat tradition just isn’t wholesome, I feel, for a large number of other folks.

VentureBeat: I don’t know of alternative individuals who’ve completed what you’ve completed. There are individuals who’ve began nonprofits over right here to assist out in different portions of the arena, however now not such a lot of people who’ve change into touring era missionaries.

Davis: My take has at all times been that if you wish to know a spot, you need to pass be told where. I lived in China within the early 2000s. I lived in Japan two times. I traveled thru Indonesia for 45 days once I sought after to be informed about Indonesia. I traveled thru 10 towns in India. If you wish to know puts, you need to put your ft down and take a seat with people who find themselves such as you, who haven’t completed the similar stuff you do, and simply be a neighborhood for some time.

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Above: Kurt Davis with Zambia Bongolive.

Symbol Credit score: Kurt Davis

VentureBeat: It seems like if other folks wish to mean you can, to get entangled, Kakuma Ventures is a chance for that.

Davis: Very a lot so. We haven’t publish a right kind hyperlink or the rest. We’ve a GoFundMe. However we’d love to listen to from each era minds and donors. Our imaginative and prescient for this, my spouse and I, we wish to construct Wi-Fi networks. Chances are you’ll say, why Wi-Fi? We will be able to’t resolve, say, meals issues nowadays. The quantity of assets and capital had to resolve fundamental such things as meals and water, which is most commonly treated by way of UNHCR, it’s truly onerous as an unbiased entrepreneur.

However there’s something everybody desires. They wish to get on-line, see what the arena is doing and be capable of switch cash out and in in their cellular wallets. A excellent, affordable Wi-Fi community can do this. In addition they learn about. There’s a large number of systems for college kids and students. They’ll do on-line paintings all over their Wi-Fi. That’s our factor. If we will be able to remove darkness from refugee camps with web get entry to, with environment friendly obtain and add speeds, we will be able to assist a large number of other folks.

VentureBeat: I came about to fulfill any individual named Lual Mayan, who used to be a refugee in South Sudan and Uganda. He lived 22 years in a refugee camp after which made his approach to the U.S. and turned into a sport developer. His mom gave him a $300 pc that took her perhaps 3 years to save lots of for, and he walked to a pc heart on a daily basis, a three-hour stroll, so he may fee it up. He used that as his manner out. He’s arrange his personal basis now to carry era to that specific camp in Uganda.

Davis: There are a majority of these nice tales. My spouse, I’m hoping he builds one thing huge right here. He’s a genius engineer. He used to be doing Bitcoin mining on his mobile phone. It used to be loopy. However even the founding father of WorldRemit used to be a refugee. I don’t know for those who’re acquainted with him. It’s one of the most large remittance corporations, a billion-dollar corporate now. There’s a large number of skill. You pay attention a quote about Africa. “Ability is far and wide, however alternative is nowhere.”

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