When A Former Microsoft Exec Visited Mombasa

Jawad Khaki, imam and president emeritus of the IMAN Center of Kirkland, Wed., Dec. 9, 2015. (KEN LAMBERT / The Seattle Times)

About a fortnight ago, news cropped from seemingly nowhere that Mark Zuckerberg was in Nairobi, packing himself full of Mama Oliech’s world famous fried fish. As it turned out, his visit to Kenya was impromptu and followed his two-day visit to Nigeria, earning Kenyans platitudes like ‘hijackers’ after we accomplished the same with the Pope’s visit to Uganda.

Perhaps to keep up with that trend, several months ago we similarly hijacked another accomplished person’s visit to a neighbour country, Tanzania in this case, but which passed notice of many Kenyans. That of former Microsoft Executive and founder of Uhuru Software, Jawad Khaki.

While not a household name like his former partner Bill Gates or the magnanimous late Steve Jobs, Jawad Khaki worked with the Software giants for more than twenty years where he served as Corporate Vice President before splitting ways with them to form  his own company; Uhuru Software.

When he visited his home country Tanzania a few months ago his friend invited him to Mombasa. Luckily, the organizers of Jaffery Academy Wisdom Series jumped at the chance to invite him to Jaffery Academy School Hall where they gave him a microphone – albeit an unflattering one with annoying feedback – and an audience which, conversely, responded more positively with eagerness and hunger to learn from him; and then they let him run amok. The following are the lessons I personally picked from that lecture:

 Modesty Is Still King.

I have to admit that at first I also had no idea who Jawad Khaki was, which by extension means that I didn’t know what he looked like. So when he arrived at the hall with two of his friends I had a really hard time trying to pick him out. Here’s a man who probably at one time rivalled Bill Gates for that coveted corner office at Microsoft Headquarters in Redmond and I was having a hard time picking him out because he was dressed just as decently and modestly as his two friends.

You could say someone of his status would be forgiven if he chose to wear flashy jewelry or a $10,000 three-piece suit but no, instead he wore a simple jeans and plain blue T-shirt. It was enough to win me over before he’d even begun speaking.

Don’t Forget Your Roots.

When he finally began his lecture, he began with the invocation used by Imams before Friday khutbahs ‘Bismillahi Arrahman Arrahim, Innal Hamda Lillahi…’ Maybe for some it’s not an overly exciting fact that he did, but it was a gesture that bespoke of a man raised up in Islamic surroundings and teachings. Islamic roots that somehow managed to survive the years and swarming success he’s gone through, which is more than you can say about many people who lose their way once they rise to the top.

A World Of Reduced Barriers.

There’s no denying it, our world has taken numerous promising steps forward where technology is concerned. Communication is faster than it has been before in human history. We’ve managed to cross the language barrier, or we’re close to it. We’ve learned more and more about our own solar system and discovered many more new worlds. At the moment we are even entertaining notions of living on a different planet and are on course to send humans to live on Mars by 2030.

As such, young adults who grow up with dreams of inventing something new or accomplishing the impossible face the ever-growing threat of feeling disenchanted, because it would seem everything that could be done has already been done.

Jawad Khaki, for reasons known to him, chose to discuss this topic and aptly titled his lecture: “Thriving in a world of reduced barriers.”

Coopetition.

Then, as he continued on with the lecture he coined a seemingly foreign word: coopetition. Only it’s not that foreign.

Coopetition is the act of cooperation between competing companies; businesses that engage in both competition and cooperation are said to be in coopetition

-Definition by Investopedia

It’s another 21st Century invention. Think of it this way: two telecommunications companies in direct competition may decide to form a research team consisting of the best minds from either side. The technical name for such a group is “virtual team” and it can be disbanded at any time. The team proceeds to research on the most affordable ways to improve communication infrastructure, make their services cheaper, improve customer satisfaction while still making profits. The findings of the research are then shared between both parties, in good faith, and the connection severed until such a time when another need arises for such a concerted effort.

In principle, the concept can also be applied on a more personal level between two individuals working the same field. But before the people of Mombasa can apply coopetition, we need to learn cooperation.

I’ve been privy to and in some cases participated in a fair few projects that failed because there wasn’t enough effort from the community to help keep them going. At one point, I remember dipping my fingers into the entrepreneurship pot only for the people I transacted with to show more interest in making a quick buck off a naïve upstart entrepreneur rather than seek to foster a long lasting business partnership, so my foray into that venture died in its infancy. This should not happen in a community where we have verses like this one to shape our actions:

“…Truly many are the partners (in business) who wrong each other: Not so do those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and how few are they?…” Q38:24

Big Ideas Start Small.

Not all big ideas start innocent, Facebook case in point, but all big ideas start small. Jawad Khaki took KhanAcademy.com as his example to elaborate this point.

In 2004 Salman Khan, the founder of KhanAcademy, began tutoring his cousins back in India using Yahoo Doodle notepad and later through Youtube video tutorials. Soon interest grew in his tutorials prompting him to produce more, full-time.

At the moment, KhanAcademy.com boasts more than 4,000 tutorials on wide-ranging topics in just about any subject and has received acclaim and support from the likes of Bill Gates and media outlets who credit Salman for beginning the revolution to provide free education globally. As a matter of fact, even I admit the tutorials on there have saved my butt many a night while I was preparing for a Calculus or Engineering unit exam.

Priorities At The Workplace.

In this century where the word “career” carries more weight than ever before, perhaps the prevailing mentality is “I should achieve as much as I possibly can”, the keyword here being “I”.

While not strictly an inappropriate mentality to hold, Mr Khaki offered a different perspective on what should matter most in the workplace. The company you work for should be first priority and you need to work toward helping it achieve the goals and objectives it has set. Secondly, you need to give your all to the ‘initiative’ your company is trying to achieve.

Third priority is your team, the people you’re assigned with to perform particular duties at the workplace.  “Take care of your team, and naturally your team will take care of you.” Only then can you start focusing on the ‘me’ part.

Not an easy pill to swallow that one, but it does make a world of sense.

The Human Condition.

“What are you doing to improve the human condition? How does the product you produce improve the human condition?”

Those were some of the questions we were prompted with by Mr Khaki and perhaps should be the questions every careerist or aspiring founder of the ‘next big company’ should ask themselves. How will what I do, what I produce help improve the conditions of my fellow human beings?

Poverty.

Illiteracy.

Conflict.

Corruption.

 These are but a few of the pressing issues that should be gnawing at the back of our heads everyday we leave home for work.

Power Breakfast.

Mr Khaki then acknowledged, and a member of the audience brought up the issue again later, that entrepreneurship is severely hampered when the government or prevailing authority is corrupt. When asked how that can be overcome he offered up one suggestion: power breakfasts.

Power breakfasts have been around for a while in some countries, chief among them the United States, and are basically events that last days or a fortnight where government leaders and other celebrities meet with the average Joe citizen and interact on a more personal basis in a comfortable social setting where anything at all can be brought up and discussed in detail.

The results of such events are mixed, with some of the attendees lamenting about feeling “left out” while others claim a fulfilling experience in which their concerns were addressed succinctly. Either way, it sounds worth a shot for us to try here in Kenya because nothing else seems to work.

———-

While some of the content above may have been paraphrased and some details of the lecture left out, and for that I curse the devils of procrastination and my own poor memory, I strived to put down everything from the lecture that seemed appropriate and do hope it was helpful to anyone who read this article. I wish to offer my thanks to Mr Khaki for taking his time share his experiences and lessons with us and to the organizers of JAWS as well for inviting him and us.

JAWS (Jaffery Academy Wisdom Series) is a weekly event held at Jaffery Academy featuring a different motivational speaker each week and is free for anyone to attend. For details on how to attend one such lecture please contact the organizers through their facebook page here.

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4 thoughts on “When A Former Microsoft Exec Visited Mombasa

        1. Well he started life in Tanzania, moved to the UK at some point for college education, then onto US where he earned himself gigs with a few companies like Bell Labs and others before earning himself a job with Microsoft. It was upwards and onwards since then..somewhere in 2000s he got appointed vice president, he was mostly concerned with implementing comm protocols in Windows OS, he left MS somewhere in ’09, formed his own company Uhuru Software which am assuming he’s still heading along with his philanthropic group Khaki Foundation and he is also currently an imam of a masjid in his local area. He seems to like courting responsibilities.😄

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