WHO IS JACOB KORENBLUM?
Are there certain traits or characteristics that Great IT Leaders exhibit in their personal and professional lives? Rich Hein of CIO Magazine seems to think so. Hein lists 16 traits that Great IT Leaders share.
Terms of Reference Guest Jacob Korenblum is a Great IT Leader, and as such, he exemplifies many of Hein’s 16 traits- especially delivery of results, communication skills, and decisiveness. His organization, Souktel, is a leader in custom mobile solutions for development and aid projects, with a reach of over 500,000 mobile users across the globe.
As their motto states, Souktel is “Changing Lives one Mobile at a Time.” Jacob founded Souktel by identifying the positive impact mobile phones could have in emergency response and development settings. Souktel designs several mobile solutions, including their most popular “Job Matching” product, which helps connect job seekers with potential employers.
Jacob believes that maintaining his role as a visionary for Souktel, while at the same time, staying involved with product development and implementation is critical given the rapid growth Souktel is experiencing, stating, “It’s important to make sure that none of us lose sight of the end users on the ground. I really make it my business to get out and meet with people that are using the service… and stay involved with the product development team, project management team, and clients.”
Moving forward, Jacob believes that the biggest challenge Souktel will face deals with the balancing of project scope, investment, and profit. His most important question to answer is, “How do we make sure that we have economies of scale and that we are making the most of our investment in technology, while not just imposing cookie cutter solutions?”
Prior to Souktel, Jacob worked managing economic development and emergency relief projects for USAID and the Canadian International Development Agency. Fluent in Arabic and French, Jacob has worked in the emergency aid sectors in the Middle East, East Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean. He is a frequent panelist on technology, development, and labor markets–with speaking engagements ranging from the GSMA Mobile World Congress to the World Bank Human Development Forum. He has co-authored a chapter in the sector publication “Mobile Technologies for Conflict Management” and has written articles on mobile technology for the MIT Innovations Journal, CNBC Online, and the Overseas Development Institute. His work as a Souktel co-founder has been profiled by The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company and the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Jacob holds an Ed.M. from Harvard University, where was a Harvard Reynolds Foundation Fellow in Social Enterprise.
You can connect with Jacob here:
IN TOR 072 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- The recent development of the technology market in the East of Africa and Asia.
- What Souktel does and how it has taken advantage of every opportunity to grow with a purpose in sight.
- About scale, Souktel’s relationship to it and a near crash of a nationwide cellular network.
- Jacob’s view on the future of mobile telecommunications.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Foreign Service
- Barcelona Mobile World Congress
- Mobile telecommunications technology
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- User feedback, particularly in developing markets
- Extreme conflict zones
- Syrian refugee crisis
- Mixed purpose (for and nonprofit) organizations
- Venture capital
- Middle East
- East Africa
- South Asia
- South Sudan
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
History of being the head of a global communications organization
Souktel designs custom solutions for development. People come from both tech and aid fields.
As an undergrad, Jacob intended to join the Foreign Service. Experiences in Senegal, Palestine initial motivation in development. Learned languages.
Realizes the importance of mobile technologies in emerging markets. Founded Souktel.
His favorite thing and its business model
Job matching platform in emerging markets that educates both parties, works fully from mobile.
Partnership with carriers in developing countries, or donors.
Still involved in day to day, and evangelism at the same time. Finding partners.
An unintended consequence
East Africa job market. Not part of the international community: no diplomatic representation, standard banking or air flight, but 10 million population. Souktel launches with learning tools for Somalian people. The carrier partner advertised it, demand crashed the network. Eventually partners helped.
Jacob’s background in monitoring and evaluation focuses him on KPIs. Souktel brims with data. “The qualitative side is very important,” as they discovered by requesting feedback from users in South Sudan, something nobody had done before. High quality of feedback.
Development solutions and sizes that fit all
In-house, webapp, rich display and data.
It’s not about reinventing the wheel. Souktel repurposes whenever possible.
Relationships with implementors affect development very specifically, including pushback. “The cookie cutter does not work.“
Languages are a critical issue all over Africa, and the world.
“Is there an application in extreme conflict zones for our technology?” They had made roll-outs in places like Gaza, but a typhoon is very different. Pretending the technology works exactly as it is in both instances was a mistake.
Lessons learned with Syrian refugees, it was supposed to be short term but it’s coming on to 5 years. Questions about long term service coverage arise.
Catching the waves
In the short term: low cost smart phone. Penetration is rising. Currently on a transition period.
Countries like Myanmar adopt technologies for the first time, jumping right into the latest “G.” Varying rates of catching up.
Partnership with Facebook’s Internet.org initiative; Mozilla on low-cost devices and application development capabilities in people and places with no infrastructure.
Affordability also a key issue for both devices and data.
Souktel is a social enterprise with for- and non-profit sides. U.S. allows mixed purpose.
“We are not doing e-commerce for the sake of e-commerce. Everything that we do focuses on delivering social impact and meeting a social bottom line.“
Then why be a for profit at all? Financial options. “A VC could be a great opportunity for growth.” 2 Middle East funds have provided support for years, receiving funds from development donors such as Google.org.
Startup dynamics are very similar. “The private sector is very attuned to it, they have the models in place to do it.” USAID and others are catching up.
Jacob in 5 years
Loves it, hopes to continue.
Growing influence of mobile tech (Mobile Barcelona Conference as evidence).
Be passionate, manage expectations especially financially.
Hard skills are always important and welcome in development.
Get informed about organizations, opportunities, and particularly the lifestyle. “Heavy traveling can sound glamorous but it can be difficult.“
Please share, participate and leave feedback below!
If you have any feedback you’d like to share for me or Jacob, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below! I read all of them and will definitely take part in the conversation.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask me directly, head on over to the Ask Stephen section. Don’t be shy! Every question is important and I answer every single one.
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