Marine Goldenberg to run Digital For The Planet Africa
"As Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, a successful business man from Cameroon, said, Africa is condemned to emerge. I am very confident about the development of Africa"
Facing the local demands, Digital For The Planet grows and expands its activities in Africa, basing its camps in Cape Town with at its head, Marine Goldenberg.
Marine, who are you?
I am 29 years old. I grew up in the north of France. I have been studying the law in Lille and I did a business school in Paris. I had the luck to travel a lot in Europe, Asia and Africa for my personal experience but also for work. I am now living in South- Africa since 2 years.
What are your professional background and experiences ?
One year before finishing my studies I started a business of importation and distribution of medical devices in the aesthetic sector. Then I joined my parents to work in their company. I had the opportunity to launch the business on the sub-saharan market. First I was sharing my time between Western Africa and France. Then we decided I shall be based in Africa to better handle the market. That is why we chosen South-Africa as a good hub to travel in the rest of Africa.
I did not know anything about Africa before working there. I have been spending time in Ivory-coast, Cameroon, Benin, Nigeria, Kenya and South-Africa. I was full of prejudices before going there. I am now passionate about this continent and I find it really vibrant.
How did you decide to join Digital For The Planet ?
I was seeing challenges Africa is facing that are numerous (education, agriculture, energy…) and I was really willing to be part of this forward motion. Why living in Africa if it is not to bring your contribution to its development?
“I wanted to do something more meaningful and I think that is the new concern of my generation. We are looking at doing something with more social impact. Especially when you are working with developing countries where the stakes are more tangible and visible. As Baba Ahmadou Danpullo, a successful business man from Cameroon, said, Africa is condemned to emerge. I am very confident about the development of Africa. The question is how Africa decides to do it and with who.”
When I heard about Digital For The Planet and its activities, I have immediately been very interested in it and I thought they should be in Africa. It was actually the perfect timing.
DFP is a very inclusive Global Earth Project. It is all about the future and progress but in a conscious way. One of DFP’s leitmotiv is: “since technology has no limit, let’s do good with no limit”. I think it has never been so true.
When I met the DFP team in Paris, it was about to know a bit more about their project and a potential future development in Africa. But after 15 minutes listening and talking to them, I think we both realized that it was the perfect timing to go now.
You are in charge to develop the whole African market ? What competencies does it takes to run this position?
It always amused me when I am asked how is Africa. Africa is compound of 54 countries and we have to be conscious that each country has it owns specifications even if there are more and more connections between African countries.
“To work there, you have to give up your European way of seeing things and understand the local stakes. You need to be humble but also to show your determination to work there. African countries are full of paradoxes and you need to accept it and adapt your mind and strategies.”
What about sustainability in Cape Town? Is digital ecology a known topic in South Africa?
Let’s be honest, South Africa still has to make progress in the field of ecology generally speaking. There is a real awareness from the political side. Also its citizens are willing to do more regarding ecology but we have to give them the tools. When we focus on digital ecology, it is a very new concept not only in Europe but globally speaking.
Few people know what are the consequences of the digitalization of the economy. Moreover, people think that when you are choosing digital you are choosing the right option for the environment. To make this statement true, we have to make people more conscious of the fact they have to make the right choices in this field (choosing their electronic devices in a more responsible way, changing our habits when we are working on digital mediums, using renewable energies for companies to supply their numerical activities, thinking about the recycling of e-waste). It is all those topics that Digital For The Planet is willing to generalize.
Why did you chose Cape Town as head quarter?
Cape Town is a very smart and connected city. Cape Town has developed several initiatives like the EPIC program which is an integrated solution to improve the public security thanks a better collection of data concerning fires, traffic, management of risks linked to natural disasters, security forces. The municipality has also developed the optical fibre on more than 800 KM. Free Wifi is now available in more than 250 places. There is also a project of Free Wifi in the disadvantaged areas to allow a better access to education.
About environmental initiatives, the municipality has set up measuring devices of intelligent management of energy on some of their buildings. Another key project is to make available to start-ups and universities the information concerning the city in order to help them to develop new solutions to make CPT a smart-city.
“Cape Town also hosted in January the 6th global forum for sustainable development. All of these initiatives show the city’s commitment to get entirely into sustainable development, and DFP will find listening ears in Cape Town and give to DFP a favorable context.”
Is it “a thing” to be a woman working in Africa?
Contrary to what people may think, being a young woman working in Africa has never been a problem for me. It does not mean it was not surprising my contacts. But I never felt that people did not take me seriously because I was a woman.
I used to participate in conferences in Africa and I was surrounded by CEOs and managers of companies. Very often I was the youngest and the only woman. Other men were surprised to see a young woman developing business in Africa. Some of them confessed to me they would not consider hiring a woman to do this kind of job on this market… But after a week some of them admitted they would be ready to reconsider it. I am very proud of that - to make a few of them change their mind. But I don’t think I have exceptional skills to do this job. It is just a matter of how some men keep having some prejudices about women being too fragile to work in developing countries and maybe about Africa as well.
Tell us about your personality? What kind of person are you?
I think I am a bit hyperactive as my friends say even if I don’t really like this word. I have always loved sports. I have been riding horse for 15 years. Now that I am living in South Africa, it was the opportunity to try new sports. I try to learn a new sport per year. Last year it was paragliding, this year it was surfing and next year I want to learn kitesurfing. I am also someone who is passionate and when I start something, whatever if it is a new sport or a new project, I am 110% into it.
I think I am quite an adventurer and very curious. So, I love trying new things and going for new things. I have not always been like that but going from small adventure to slightly bigger one, I became more confident and I learnt how to take pleasure from taking risks. Also, I come from a family of entrepreneurs so I think it also helped me to develop this attraction for risk taking.
“My last adventure was in August. I decided to take my motorbike and to go from Johannesburg to Cape town in a solo trip. That was a really amazing experience. A motorbike is particularly likeable. Especially when the rider is alone and on top of that a woman.”
Travelling on a motorbike makes you very accessible and vulnerable as well. I have never felt in danger and people on the road were so kind to me, always offering some help. I am already thinking about another and longer trip around Africa.
I think that is this audacious mindset Inès appreciated when we met. I don’t have any specific background in digital but I am not scared to start a project from scratch and I know African market. Everything is done to learn and understand fast at Digital For The Planet anyway, you are well accompanied and Inès highlights determination, curiosity and perspicacity a way more than experience.
What is your vision for Digital For The Planet in Africa ?
We will start our actions in South-Africa but then we will act globally in Africa. We are conscious of the fact all countries of Africa are very different from each other with different strategies regarding numeric. Numeric is a stake that Africa can’t afford to miss and it is also an opportunity to integrate population who could not find their place in the industrialization. In this new revolution, DFP wants to be here to help African cities and African companies to help them to take the right orientation.
“Africa really has a role to play in the numeric revolution. So, being aware of the risks now would be a great way to handle it as soon as possible and to be a worldwide leader on this field. I would love to see African countries as leaders of the digital ecology as she already is in other field like mobile banking!”
11- What are the next challenges for Digital For The Planet in Africa ?
We want our voice to be heard. This topic of digital ecology does not have to be given a second place. We know that Africa has to face a lot of challenges about development. The question of the digital ecology is as important as other matters when we are talking about sustainable development.
“As other topics of sustainable development, topics such as consumption of energy, climate change and CO2 emission are also involved. In the last report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental panel on climate change) published in Seoul on the 8th of October, the experts have insisted on the consequences of the global warming on African continent. Even the poorest countries are now aware that they have to act and make it part of their development priorities.”
Our first action has been initiating relations with local and regional medias in order to communicate about our actions and initiatives. It meets a very good hearing. Then we started to create partnerships with local organizations acting in sustainable development who are supporting our action. We are also currently meeting companies from different industries with who we will start the collaboration soon. In the education part, which is key for us, we are working with local schools and universities.