A Ghanaian entrepreneur sparking a tech revolution

By Ben White on January 28, 2012

The story of Herman Chinery-Hesse and the challenges, trends and opportunities in Africa’s IT field. See this video for a portrait on this entrepreneur still on the rise.

Ghanaian information technology (IT) guru, Herman Chinery-Hesse was recently listed 62 among the top 100 global thinkers list published by the Foreign Policy magazine on November 28, 2011. The Foreign Policy magazine published its annual list of “top 100 global thinkers,” and it includes novelists, activists and heads of state from around the world. Mr. Hesse, who was the only Ghanaian on the list, received the recognition for his efforts to “bring Africa into the mobile age.”

Describing the works of Chinery-Hesse, Foreign Policy says “Twenty years ago, when Herman Chinery-Hesse returned home after studying in the United States with plans to start a Ghanaian software company, his friends told him he was crazy. But his company, SOFTtribe, is now West Africa’s leading software company, helping imagine a new Africa for a digital age.” The magazine continues “Today, Chinery-Hesse is working to develop a payment system via mobile-phone text messages that will allow African entrepreneurs to sell their products abroad. Ghana can be a world-class center of technological innovation, he insists — a Singapore for the continent — but the technology has to meet local needs by being what he calls “tropically tolerant.” His ambition is nothing less than the reimagining of an entire continent: “more tech-savvy, more prosperous, but always African.”

All this is the beginning of a new strategy. “In order to change Africa, you need to change most Africans. You need to go after the base of the pyramid,” he says. “At least the part where small businesses dwell.”

This is the thinking and approach he now puts into the launch of his new startup ShopAfrica53, an eBay like service whose objective is to “serve as intermediary for small enterprise.” The service is specifically designed for each country and allows merchants to promote products and customers to buy them. All transactions are made by SMS and builds on a new credit system he launched called the African Liberty Card. Essentially, these are scratch cards the company produces and distributes itself. They allow customers to instantly load a set amount of money onto their mobile phone.

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