Running Behind

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Some studies indicate that 80 percent of Ethiopian intellectuals who went to work in Europe and the US have not returned. PM Abiy Ahmed addressed this issue by traveling to those places and asking Diaspora to return to help develop the country. Asmamaw Atnafu (PhD) lived in US but returned to Ethiopia to open the American College of Technology (ACT). Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet sat down with Asmamaw Atnafu to learn about what can be done to attract more intellectual Diaspora and to learn about ACT.
Asmamaw is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sholla Technology, headquartered in the US state of Maryland. Asmamaw has over 20 years of experience as an ICT professional and entrepreneur. Asmamaw received his PhD. in Management from Maharishi University, Iowa (USA), M.Sc. in Information Science, B.Sc. in Business Education and Associate Degree in Accounting. He also has been trained in Information Technology and Business Administration and received certificates in PMP from Project Management Institute and an Oracle Certified Expert (OCE) from Oracle Corporation. He has two research publications and patents in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Prior to moving to the US, Asmamaw was head of the IT-System & Software Division at a private bank and taught at Addis Ababa Commerce College and Addis Ababa University. Excerpts.

Capital: What motivated you to open ACT?
Asmamaw: The Ethiopian Diaspora has a keen interest to participate in the country’s development initiatives if situations are conducive. The Diaspora has a vast array of knowledge, skill and experience and even working capital. I can say, a majority of the Diaspora members are eager to come and give back to their country whatever they have. The main reason for my current investment is the recent peaceful environment and the call of Prime Minister Abiy. I can’t think of a better time than this one to come and contribute my part in the country.
Capital: What can be done to attract more education Diaspora here?
Asmamaw: There are thousands of Ethiopian intellectuals all over the world who are working in high-tech companies, universities, hospitals, research centers and other organizations who are interested in coming back and working in their country. There are both financial and non financial motives that may attract Diaspora intellectuals. Like any other investor, the Diaspora is expecting a financial return while maintaining emotional satisfaction, supporting their own people and getting social recognition.

Capital: What can be done to develop more innovative ideas in Ethiopia?
Asmamaw: It is not only the number of universities and colleges or the number of graduates that matters in bringing innovation, technological change and economic growth. But it’s mainly depends on the quality of graduates. Graduates of these universities shall be tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, innovators, leaders and real community problem solvers. As you mentioned, currently both international and local employers are complaining that most graduates are not what they are expected and deficient in basic skills. ACT is established to fill this gap.
The mission of ACT is to provide relevant and quality higher education to enable productive lives, conduct research and support the community through professional engagements and use of modern teaching and learning approach. ACT prepares graduates to rapidly evolve into high business flyers and entrepreneurs that assume key management and leadership positions in a globally competitive world.

Capital: Do you think we are close to seeing the ‘cashless society’ that exists in other countries?
Asmamaw: Compared to other companies in the private sector, banks are leading in modernization of their operations. I see a huge investment by banks for technology related implementations even though they are challenged by the existing power and telecommunication infrastructure issues.
In my brief survey I found out that most banks have implemented the latest technology which include automating their core banking services, mobile banking, internet banking, ATMs and placing POS in hotels and supermarkets. I really appreciate their effort which will lead them to a cashless society. However, I see challenges. The first challenge is related to power and telecommunication infrastructure which we see several system downs.
The second challenge is related to awareness of the new system by bank customers. Most banks invested millions of dollars to modernize their systems but forgot to teach their clients. Customers should be trained and properly guided to comfortably use the online system. They should aware that they can process over 90% of their transactions online without carrying cash, standing for long lines and risk free. Using online banking technology, customers can view account balances, obtain statements, check recent transaction, make payments and transfers. ACT is working with major banks to provide short term hands on training to their major customers. This training will help customers to use the available system so that they can save time, avoid risk and facilitate their business.

Capital: How can we harness new technology to create jobs for youth?
Asmamaw: To make this a reality, it requires the involvement of different stakeholders such as government, educational institutions, community organizations, the business community, NGOs and the youth. I see several startups here and there defuse technology transfer which is encouraging. It will be more productive if this can be implemented in more organized and consistent fashion. Opportunities shall be created that can equip the youth with the latest technology both in cities and rural areas. We may learn from Kenya and other countries how technology has been defused among the youth and its tremendous impact in alleviating unemployment.

Capital: How can Ethiopia at least catch up to Kenya and Nigeria technologically?
Asmamaw: There is no finishing line in technological advancement. Regardless of some of its contestants speed the technology keeps growing. Some of the contestants may drop out and become losers and others may enjoy their success. If we cannot be one of the front runners now, we should keep running with others with more power and stamina and we will definitely win the race. That is what we learn from our great runners Deraritu, Haile, Kenenisa and others. Using the current technology will help us to enjoy its benefit today and simplify to adopt the latest.

Capital: What is cyber security?
Asmamaw: We are in the era of the Internet of things (IoT) flourished where devices such as phones, computers, vehicles, machineries, home appliances, and etc. that contain electronics, software, actuators, and connectivity which allows these things to connect, interact and exchange data. Even though, we are enjoying the benefits of this interconnectivity of devices there are risks associated mainly due to cyber-attacks.
The attackers are mostly malicious pranksters, looking to access personal and business machines or disrupt services with virus programs. However, there are also more serious attackers out there whose goals could range from mining valuable data such as credit card or bank information, design and research secrets, etc to even disrupting critical systems like the stock market, power grids, air-traffic controllers programs, and even the most dangerous nuclear weapons. That’s where we need cyber security.
Cyber security is the protection of internet connected systems, including hardware, software and data from cyber attacks. The attacks could be theft or damage to hardware, software or electronic data, as well as disruption or misdirection of services.

Capital: Is there a conflict between emerging technologies such as social media and cyber security?
Asmamaw: The growth of social media poses Cyber threats for both individuals and organizations. These risks are complex, constantly evolving and widespread. The use of social media platforms as a means of communicating with clients and the general public may increase risk unless used carefully and responsibly. Information posted on social media sites, for business or personal purposes, may be used by attackers to gain entry into a firm’s systems and obtain confidential information. Social media users should be trained and adopt best practices that include cyber-attack preventative practices and a response plan when a cyber security incident occurs.

Capital: What are the negative effects of social media?
Asmamaw: Studies indicated that constant use of social media can cause psychological stress along with loneliness and negative feelings of depression which has more devastating result than time wasted. It’s recommended to parents to limit students and youth screen time on social media which will result in focus on more productive tasks, decrease feeling of depression, promote true social interaction and a good night’s sleep.

Capital: What is your advice to the younger generation?
Asmamaw: As we get older we start looking back and remember how much time we wasted over the years for things which were not important to our life. Time is important and non-renewable. Make sure you use your time to learn something important to your life. Dream big and work harder and smarter towards that goal. Make sure you understand that technology is part of your life. We are in a highly Information Technology dependent society where we have to equip ourselves with the necessary knowledge and skill. Otherwise, we will be left out behind.