BY Fast Company 2 MINUTE READ

Kidus Asfaw, Kubik founder, speaking in Cape Town after receiving the 2022 African Startup of the Year Award at the Global Startup Awards.

It was all too humbling to meet Africans from all corners of the continent who are running and investing in businesses that address very real challenges on the continent. Take, for example, Dennis Addo — a former military physician who’s built a community-based blood bank system to address shortages in Ghanian hospitals; Kigen Compton , who has commercialized the use of maggots to decompose bio waste (the largest waste in Africa) into animal feed for Tanzanian farmers; and Menna Shahin — an Egyptian entrepreneur who is making sure surplus food from restaurants goes to those in need.

Observing the dozens of equally remarkable people made me realize a commonality amongst us all — we were all working towards a purpose much larger than ourselves. We were working for farmers, hospital patients, doctors, bus commuters…. for waste collectors.

Once I was called up on stage to receive our award and tell the audience about Kubik — I could not.

My heart could only allow another beat if I spoke about the people Kubik is really working for. These people are disenfranchised waste collectors, like Marti, who Kubik will be giving decent pay, dignified working conditions, and pathways to new opportunities. These people are hard working women, like Selamawit, who Kubik will be offering affordable and high-quality housing. This award only merited their voice, their needs, and the dignity this group of founders in front of me will build for them.

And so, my rehearsed speech went out the door and was replaced by the stories of these people, and the collective power my audience has to transform their lives.

Being a first-time founder has left me to harden my value on purpose. Any business is irrelevant unless it adds value to the majority of people it is intended to serve. In the case of Africa, I relish the blossoming of its economies and societies, and endlessly excited to be part of its transformation story. But I also don’t hide behind the reality that the majority of its people are still economically poor (but always rich in history & culture).

I believe that African businesses will need to have a playbook that has a core purpose to cater to the poor. It is only when they grow, that your business will also grow with them. Otherwise, you will be in a vicious cycle of catering to the 1% with new products and services that will ultimately stagnate.

What I saw last week is the Global Startup Awards bringing together founders with exactly this playbook. This has left me with hope and energy that an African Renaissance is here, and Kubik is one of many companies who will build dignity for all Africans.