For bringing a digital edge to Africa’s supply chains
Miishe Addy graduated from Stanford University with a big question: How could the private sector foster large-scale change in the same way civil rights lawyers shifted the course of U.S. history decades earlier? After three years at a corporate law firm, she was determined to find out.
Switching lanes in search of a way to transform lives was in her DNA. Decades earlier, her father had left his role as a medical engineer at Johnson & Johnson to launch WaterHealth International, a company that builds water filter systems to give developing nations access to clean water. “He wanted to make a difference,” she says.
Addy’s conviction was just as strong when she co-founded Jetstream Africa in 2018. The startup in her father’s native Ghana helps businesses in emerging markets better navigate the continent’s fragmented supply chains. Home to the world’s largest free-trade area and a market of 1.2 billion people, Africa holds tremendous opportunity—but moving goods is fraught with challenges.
Addy knew technology could help, but she also knew from previous experience as founder and former CEO of Skilltapp that starting a platform from scratch came with its own risks. So she partnered with Ghana shipping expert Solomon Torgbor. Feedback from business owners fueled brainstorms for how Jetstream’s technology and services could be differentiated. Addy consulted logistics experts, trade organizations and financial institutions. Most logistics companies “wanted to digitize every step in the supply chain,” she says. But Addy and Torgbor knew that supply-chain management in Ghana wasn’t linear. “The way that customs rules are interpreted on the ground in many African countries varies widely and is difficult for our customers to predict,” she says.
A tailored platform took shape, automating tasks that were consistent—like filling out documents required for every shipment—but relying on personal relationships with regulators in multiple African countries to provide flexibility. That built-in agility has paid off during the global pandemic as Jetstream Africa facilitates the import and distribution of COVID-19 supplies to about a dozen countries in Africa. “Port rules have been constantly changing, and we’ve had to adapt,” Addy says.
For example, several clients shipping personal protective equipment found they were newly subject to batch-by-batch inspections. “Because we built our workflow around relationships, we found out what was happening in real time,” she says. Her customers shifted schedules and kept cargo moving. By anticipating surprises and threading innovation into every solution, Addy says Jetstream will continue to break down barriers.
“The COVID-19 crisis highlights the urgency of transforming these supply chains,” she says. “The economic, health and environmental impacts are tremendous.”
And that’s where she and her fellow digital natives can help.
“Young people use technology by default. They have the expectation that regardless of the industry or subject matter for a project, its execution can be improved by technology,” Addy says. “The involvement of young people in big, important projects helps accelerate the digitization of critical but antiquated industries.”
Q&A: Miishe Addy on complexity, AI and Ory Okolloh
What project has most influenced you personally?
There was an educational initiative in the 1960s, supported by the U.S. government, to recruit promising young students from Africa and send them to university in the United States. My dad was one of those recruits. In addition to the exposure to American training, networks and business practices, he met my mother, who is American. The program changed his life and made mine possible.
What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?
Critical thinking. The world is becoming more complex and volatile. There’s a big need to have sound and reliable information sources, to take an honest look at the data and then make good decisions in the context of a lot of unknowns.
What’s your philosophy for leading projects?
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
Raising our first million U.S. dollars in venture capital financing. Raising venture capital is not easy for women, especially women of color. Our last fundraising event was oversubscribed. While that is a great accomplishment for our company, it is also important to me personally. The process has given me insight that I hope is useful to other women of color.
What’s one way managing projects will have changed by 2030?
It will become routine for project managers to make data-driven decisions supported by AI. Managing complex projects, holding stakeholders accountable and communicating results will be easier. At the same time, I would expect big-picture thinking, creativity and empathy to play an even bigger role in successful project management.
What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?
Ory Okolloh. She is forward-looking, tech savvy, and was a pioneer in leveraging technology to increase transparency and accountability around the political process in Kenya. I work with logistics and supply chains in West Africa, but the motivations are similar.