Convergence Partners Executive Chairman Andile Ngcaba: Tech is at the Heart of Things for This Believer in the Power and Potential of the Internet

Andile Ngcaba

Andile Ngcaba

Technology has been Andile Ngcaba’s passion, hobby, and profession for four decades. “It’s been fun all along and I’ve been enjoying it,” he says. “And there is no dull moment, every day is a wonderful day.”

As a student in the 1970s, Andile Ngcaba was opening up radios to study their circuitry. He travelled the world to receive training in communications technology. He was also active in the anti- Apartheid movement in South Africa, later helping to establish the party headquarters of the African National Congress in Johannesburg. He headed the organisation’s IT department, and was responsible for launching the country’s Centre for Development of Information and Telecommunications Policy.

These days, the businessman divides his time between California’s Bay Area and the countries where Convergence Partners has investments: West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. Andile Ngcaba shared with the company’s projects and spoke about the role he believes technology will play in world development.

“Technology is my hobby,” he says, pointing to a wall covered with gadgets. “Technology is also my profession. I speak about it, I implement it.” Technology, he believes, changes people’s lives. “That is what I’ve seen over the years, and that is what makes me to continue to do this. Have you ever seen someone using the Internet for the first time in their lives?” He has, and he remembers the wonder on their faces.

Andile Ngcaba believes that ignorance tops the list of the challenges facing the world. “The Internet today brings about enlightenment. Ignorance is as dangerous to society as — if not worse than — not having food or water.”

The executive travels throughout Africa — visiting colleges in Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia — hailing the transformative power of connectivity and technology.

“That’s what really sparked me to have that excitement every day in my life, I don’t get bored. I don’t get frustrated.” Ngcaba has spent most of his life making sure that ordinary people, non-profits and businesses have access to the Internet. “That’s what I live for. It’s a very simple life. It’s beautiful when you see the Internet changing people, changing the lives of a community, of a start-up. That’s what makes me tick.”

Ngcaba has big dreams for Africa. When he first pitched his ideas to a bank — plans to build a satellite, lay a submarine cable, to connect every city to the web — the financial advisors politely passed on the opportunity. But another bank soon recognised the project’s potential. “These are now my colleagues, who are bankers. I’m a technologist.

“These guys were saying: Wow, this is exciting, we think we can work with you. So for three years, they were advising me.” Then it was decided that they could “do this thing together”.

Convergence Partners has been building a portfolio of impact investments in Africa since 2006. The founding partners — Ngcaba, Brandon Doyle, Idan Segal and Stefan Ferreira — subscribe to the standards that make for investor impact. They prioritise diversity, environmental responsibility and social development, with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as guidelines.

“Parallel to that, return on investment is a critical issue for us … financial returns are at the centre of what we do. But impacting society is really the embodiment and the value of who I represent.

“We are now 7.9 billion people. We will soon be 10 billion people. The future of the 21st Century or the fourth industrial revolution is digital. If you invest in us, you are investing in the future.” That, he says, will make sure that the poor are uplifted, and that “ignorance does not exist in our world”.

He reminds would-be investors that when Africa goes fully digital, it will represent a market of some 1.2 billion digital users. The continent is no charity case, it’s an investment opportunity.

“The future of the world is technology,” Ngcaba asserts. “Future pandemics will be solved through technology. Also, there will be a peaceful world, free of wars. Remember, the Internet has no borders. We live in the virtual world, so the physical world is really neither here nor there. At the end of the day, if you ask me where I live? I live on the Internet.”

Life-long learners can access information through online courses. Unbanked populations can access financial services and build a credit history. Farmers can apply tech advances to improve crop yields, helping to shore-up national and regional food security.

Africa’s future will be marked by rapid tech advances, so Ngcaba and his partners are building bridges with Silicon Valley to transplant the most innovative ideas across the African continent. He expects to see big developments in these areas over the next decade.

As more technology centres open in Africa, there is an opportunity to address some of the biases and prejudices that often occur in tech development. Silicon Valley continues to receive flak for its predominately white male workforce.

Apart from his role at Convergence, Ngcaba serves as the executive chairman of inq. digital, a pan-African cloud and digital service provider. He’s also involved in early child development through incubators and start-ups, and stays connected with the preschool that was founded in 1999 by his late mother.

Even off hours, when he’s just pottering around, Ngcaba plays with a sense of purpose. He’s currently constructing a pipe framework to test some vertical farming techniques. “It’s not gardening. No, it’s really a piece of research that I’m busy with. It’s all coming together.”

Keep an eye out for his other ongoing hobby: an attempt to build an independent power source…

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