Inside USD

The Message Drum

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The sound emitted from traditional African djembes drums, present for weddings, birthdays and countless treasured occasions throughout the country, is strong, rhythmic and true. The sacred instrument delivers consistent communication that resonates, much like that of a heartbeat.

Though symbolic to the country’s music, in today’s landscape, a new generation is eager to communicate its own message — just as strong and just as powerful. Tipiwa Mabutho, a native of Botswana, developed The Message Drum to help African businessmen and women share their vision, their message, and their heartbeat with those in the diaspora.

“The image that is many of us have seen portrayed of Africa isn’t exactly a business-suggested environment. What many people don’t realize is that there’s a lot of growth in Africa, a very young population that represents a young workforce and an emerging middle class with money that’s looking for basic commodities and basic services,” said Mabutho, a current University of San Diego MBA student.

The Message Drum, she said, is “a platform dedicated to communicating information to the African diaspora about the business opportunities available in Africa.”

Mabutho, who earned $3,000 in last year’s inaugural Social Innovation Challenge (SIC), put forth by USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce, offers “information, inspiration and innovation” through The Message Drum website she created with her SIC seed money.

The website content includes resources such as successful business profiles, interviewed and written by Mabutho. Among those she’s spotlighted are Lepang Ferguson, CEO of the public relations firm BF Lifestyle, and Mikul Shah, co-founder and managing director of the online restaurant guide Eat Out.

“Most speak at least two languages, have dual citizenship and they’ve had the benefit of living here or in another country. They’ve seen their business work in a different culture and see they can apply their business model in the diaspora,” Mabutho said.

Her questions deliver smart insights for web readers and lessons for prospective entrepreneurs and investors.

“Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge about the region and the dynamics and changes and taking the initiative to network with people in your field,” Ferguson answered when Mabutho sought advice for those wanting to start a business in Southern Africa.

“It’s important to drive traffic to the site and provide ideas for people,” Mabutho said of her inspiring, relevant examples. “People are inspired by seeing people get things done. It tells them ‘you can do this.’”

Mabutho seems to be following her own advice. She plans to establish short and long-term goals for The Message Drum, which include evolving the business model, attending and presenting at conferences, networking and developing partnerships.

Website feedback has been positive and it’s validated her desire to enhance her original idea.

“It’s more scalable than I originally thought,” she said. “My passion isn’t an online platform, my passion is about getting the diaspora involved in Africa and I’m learning there are more ways to do it than just online. I want to open my mind up to what I can do.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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