Self-described ‘ideas activist’ Bright Simons brims with charisma, and, of course, good ideas. As he sets out in a popular TED talk, with over 1 million views, he says that he fights “for ideas I believe in to have their place in the sun, regardless of which side of the equator they were born.”
Simons regularly contributes to publications such as Huffington Post, Harvard Business Review Digital, and the BBC’s Business Daily programmes. He’s honorary Vice President at Ghanian think tank IMANI Center for Policy and Education; and a consultant to international organisations such as the World Bank, UNECA, USAID, and the Commonwealth.
Perhaps most prolifically, he’s President of mPedigree, a leading organisation that uses mobile and web technologies to secure products against counterfeiting and fakeries.
In the TED talk, Simons says the Global South, or as he says bluntly, the poor world, is the recipient of “hand me down ideas” from other places and other people. His mission is to convince people that these places are actually “alive and bubbling with ideas.”
He tells the story of working with the largest pharmaceutical company in Africa to tackle counterfeit drugs, which make up 12% of all drugs in Africa. This is done with a unique code on each box of real heart medication, for instance, which purchasers can verify for free through their mobile phone.
He tells a similar story for Kenya, where the seeds that people sometimes buy to grow crops, sold at harvest time to generate annual income, are often of questionable quality. His team therefore worked with the leading agricultural regulator in Kenya to digitise the entire certification process for seeds in the country, allowing someone to key in a code on a packet of millet to retrieve proof that a seed is properly certified. In Ghana, his team developed a solution to ensure nurses can check that vaccines have been stored at the correct temperature.
“The reason you’ve not heard of these ideas is because there are parts of the world where these ideas simply don’t scale because of the latitude on which they were born,” he says. “I call that mental latitude imperialism.”
For Simons, each of the problems addressed in Africa contain a fundamental breakdown of trust in markets and institutions — something universal and global. The only reason the problems are not addressed with the agency they deserve is because the most advanced solutions and progressive solutions are in parts of the world where solutions don’t scale.
“And that is why it is not surprising that attempts to create this same verification models for pharmaceuticals are now a decade behind in the USA and Europe, while it’s already available in Nigeria,” he says in the TED talk. “A decade, and costing a hundred times more.
“And that is why, when you walk into a Walgreens in New York, you cannot check the source of your medicine, but you can in Maiduguri in Northern Nigeria. That is the reality.”Tags: Africa, Entrepreneur, Ghana, Ideas, tech