Reflection on the summer internship with CTIC Dakar Hangyul Song

My name is Hangyul and I am a graduate student studying international financial affairs at Georgetown University in Washington DC, USA. I have a background in government financing of imports and exports and got more involved in entrepreneurial promotion during my graduate studies because I think I see entrepreneurship as a promising system for innovation and development.

In what framework did you initiate this internship and what prompted you to select CTIC Dakar?

My master’s degree is in International Affairs with a particular focus to international business and finance. I got interested in startup development because startups have an amazing ability to scale out and impact people and businesses across borders. To me, startups feel like grassroot actors that disrupt and recreate global orders. I also enjoy working with creative entrepreneurs who have a vision and the bravery to achieve their goals. Eventually, I would like to work with macro-level funds for global entrepreneurship development, but thought that I first needed to gain more experience working with startup ecosystems to better understand the inner workings of startups and funders. Also, after taking a course on private equity in Africa, I became really curious about the capital acquisition process for Francophone West African startups – I wanted to better understand why Francophone West Africa receives less private equity and how that affects startup growth. So my search for the summer internship was narrowed down to finding a startup development organization in West Africa. I did google searches on prominent startup incubators/ accelerators in West Africa and found CTIC Dakar’s name showing on many different platforms so I decided to reach out to CTIC Dakar. I liked that CTIC Dakar worked across West Africa and that it had a track record of successful startups. So I accepted CTIC Dakar’s summer internship offer.

What were your goals in interning with CTIC Dakar and have you achieved them?

My goal of coming to CTIC Dakar was to

    1. learn as much about Senegalese and West African startup ecosystem
    2. add value to the organization using my capacities
    3. gain new skills I can take with me.

I think I did achieve these goals in different ways:

1) I now have a better sense of understanding of the Senegalese startup scene. I wrote a report on the financing landscape for Senegalese startups, which helped me realize the diversity of funding opportunities and its gaps. I also attended multiple pitch competitions and company presentations to recognize that many startups focused on connecting existing infrastructure more efficiently using digital solutions. I particularly found the startups improving agriculture supply chain, transportation, and e-health to be promising and value adding to the Senegalese society. I have also recognized that there are so many structural challenges to the scalability and the efficiency of Senegalese startups. Some of the obstacles that I personally witnessed were general low digital literacy, the lack of trust in and access to digital information, and decentralization of digital platforms. I think these basic digitization efforts are the key to helping Senegalese startups scale out within Senegal.

2) I think I have added to the CTIC’s knowledge base by introducing key softwares to the team. First, I introduced how to create better presentation using Canva and Google Sheets. Second, I led the efforts to upgrade CTIC’s Google Suite to a professional account to centralize file storage and to increase document sharing. I also created an intranet with an SAP consultant to centralize CTIC’s data entry practice and evaluation process. Throughout this project, I trained many of the CTIC staff on how to utilize Google Suite functions in order to increase the team’s familiarity and digital capacity in the long run. During my last week here at CTIC, I will do my last bit of training on integrating Google Calendar and centralizing file management system via Google Suite Group Drives.

3) My french proficiency has certainly improved while working with my French speaking coworkers at CTIC. I also learned a lot about G Suite management and data management practices as the SAP consultant team and I worked on creating an evaluative tool for CTIC. I also learned a lot from working with a team that differed from me in languages spoken, cultural background, and working style.

How did you interact with the startups accompanied by CTIC?

I mostly interacted with startups indirectly. I attended some coaching sessions with the CTIC team and saw their pitches. I also communicated with them by sending out information about the upcoming pitch competitions and offering help on pitching practices. When not interacting directly with the current cohort, I helped the partnership team to recruit more partners in order to secure funding that can add new cohorts to CTIC. I also had the opportunity to dissect what CTIC looks for when they recruit  startups since I worked on ameliorating their recruitment process.

Was it your first time in Senegal and Africa and how did you cope to adjust to the cultural environment, the heat, the Ramadan period etc?

Yes, this was my first time in Senegal and Africa in general. I personally did not find the adjustment too difficult. I experimented with different food to see what I like, found things I can cook, learned to use the taxi better etc. I unfortunately do not speak Wolof but I do have basic French proficiency so I felt I had access to whatever I chose to do. I was lucky to have some friends in Dakar and experience many of the amazing parts of Dakar and in Senegal. I visited Lampoul, St. Louis, Louga, Mbour and Saly during my time here. Ramadan was a little difficult since I was unfamiliar with the customs of (not) having lunch at work and I kept accidentally asking my roommate, who observed the holiday, if she wanted to eat with me. But I do think it was good to experience the difference between the Ramadan period and afterwards. I found it fascinating to observe the gradual increase in foot traffic in the plateau. I also loved having lunch ordered and eating with the coworkers after Ramadan. Some things that took longer for me to get used to were the slower pace of life here, the lack of sidewalks, and always standing out as someone who’s not from here. But as anything goes, I think I am used to those now and will miss them when I go back.

How was it coming from background to work with people from african cultures but also SAP Consultants that were there at the same time than you?

Since this is my first time being in Africa, I don’t think I really have a good point of comparison for my experience. But I will speak about few of the distinctive things I have noticed at CTIC. The sense of time is a lot more flexible than the Korean or the American culture. I realized this when nothing actually started on time and I learned to give everything a two-hour window. Saying “Yes” does not always mean “Yes” – always double check and be ready to be flexible or re-open the topic! There is much more discussion than action, which I have heard is a key characteristic of the francophone culture. I prefer having more structures and aligning the discussion along the set agenda so being in a room of continuous discussions challenged me to adjust my working style. Working with the SAP consultants from Germany, Prague, and the US for a month brought back more structure and rigor to my work at CTIC. But it also meant that I was a middle person coordinating between the two different work styles. There were times I had to convince the SAP team to slow down or the CTIC team to speed up. While it was difficult to adjust everyone’s expectations based on my experience and understanding of both cultures, it was worth it for me and the team since my ability to connect and coordinate the two teams propelled the project to progress efficiently and harmoniously.

 

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