Dints international: Part 3
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Lastly, de Mowbray is keen to talk about the application of this approach to finance. Citing the boom of novel, tech-driven approaches to financing such as crowdfunding, he predicts that banks will move in similar directions; but what he argues is overlooked is the application of this paradigm to development. Crowdfunding, he argues, has a natural home in those African villages where people are used to coming together to solve problems.
He postulates a model whereby local communities can use mobile financing, requiring no more sophisticated a platform than SMS systems already in existence such as M-pesa in Kenya, to themselves invest small amounts in local elements of the mine supply chain. “All of the mechanisms are there. Crowdfunding is there; mobile paying is there; the supply chain finance is there. Again, it just needs bringing together. I see this platform generating a source of funds independent of NGOs.” Apart from the obvious benefits of the platform itself it also opens up wider possibilities for funding approaches too: “perhaps you could explore fund matching options from clients to civil society.”
Additionally, crowd-based approaches can also be applied to needs assessments. Following the example of technologies that crowdsource information—such as Ushahidi, again in Kenya—it’s already clear that technology has great potential to help in more accurate assessments of the needs of local communities. “And why would you not let people decide freely what they want to be done with the money? What do they actually need?” There’s huge potential in bringing these approaches together to create platforms for microfinance and investment in businesses. Governments, de Mowbray points out, ought to love this, because increased use of open platforms like this would bring business above board, making them more transparent and therefore taxable—which, if good governance is in place—is a further benefit for everyone.
Not all of these products will come out under the Dints brand. De Mowbray describes his long term goal for his companies as a group structure, in which Dints will be a single operating element, composed of a number of separated brands and separated operating units that will eventually collaborate. The other elements of this structure, he says, are, currently being registered.
“Ultimately, without meaning to sound like too much of a hippy, I believe that in life everything is driven by love or fear. If we look at Africa, there’s a lot of corruption; and corruption and greed come from a place of fear.”
De Mowbray sees not only the work of his companies but their very structure as responses to that fear: “the important point of what we do is that if we want it to self-perpetuate and to live on for a long time, it cannot be owned by any one person. Otherwise it will stagnate: people have the best of intentions, but power and greed get to them. If I have it my way—well, I will have it my way—eventually it will be owned by whoever participates.”
Given the uniqueness of the approach, de Mowbray has always been keen to keep control of all this. With a reluctance to take outside money—he never has—he acknowledges that a lot of what’s planned is aspirational; but, he says, “to me there’s a very clear path, and endgame, and way in which it needs to be done.”
One final innovation underlines what it is that seems to set this approach apart. “Although we’re a profit-driven company, all the IP we develop will be put into a charitable foundation: the IP is owned by a charity, not by a business. The business will licence it off the charity. That’s the plan.”
We say goodbye then, and de Mowbray is immediately off to another meeting. The exhibition floor is buzzing and there’s lots for everybody to do. In a brief moment of calm for us, we’re left to reflect as we wander off in search of someone else to talk to. It’s been a fascinating conversation and an eye opener. We’d love to see this approach succeed. With a bit of luck, we’ll follow up in the coming months and see how it goes. Watch this space.
IMAGE courtesy of Lifa Communications: Dints Sales Director Edward Robinson onsite in Madagascar, 2015