Year of Discovery: Week 4 (Questions, African Tech, Physical Impermanence)

Audrey Cheng
7 min readApr 28, 2021


For half of this week in my YoD, I was pulled into some Moringa work, which surprisingly, brought rise to some old feelings. Representing and leading a business was like facing my own inner child every day (and often with more self-judgment and criticism) and I was surprised by how quickly those feelings could emerge onto the surface again. It made me question how to integrate some of my lessons/learnings and practices that I’m gathering from this period to truly enable a more peaceful life, no matter what I’m doing.

This week, I’ve also felt more unsettled. Some days, I end my days grateful, enjoying the slowness and feeling fulfilled by the different people I’m meeting / books I’m reading and what I’m learning from them. Other days (and even within the same days of feeling grateful), I also experience the desire to grasp for more control and certainty and the need to ‘grab life by the reigns’. It’s a duality of having faith that I’m doing what I need to do at the right time versus believing that I have more control over my outcomes.

Overall though, I am grateful to have this time to see where my curiosity takes me — whether it’s in learning about the broader systems (besides biases) that prevent more funding to flow to women-led businesses or exploring people’s perceptions about opportunities and timing of opportunities in Africa to understanding myself a lot better with my coach.

Questions Guiding Me in My Journey

I approach life as a series of questions and hypotheses for me to meditate on and explore more through conversations, experiences and reflections. At the start of my Year of Discovery, I spent time thinking about what I learned when I was at Savannah Fund and at Moringa to document my learning journey so far and where I could take it.

At Savannah Fund, I learned about how to invest in locally-led tech companies through due diligence and financial support and also about the key challenges investors and entrepreneurs in SSA face. I learned about the investment opportunities, the macro-economic trends and the investment landscape (including the various theses different funds have).

At Moringa, I learned — through numerous learning curves — how to start and build a sustainable and fast-growing education company, how to fundraise from different types of investors, how to manage a variety of public and private sector stakeholders towards a common goal, how to launch a new product and brand that didn’t exist before and over time, I learned better frameworks to build different key teams. I grappled with and learned what it takes to build a strong team, what energizes me, and what my strengths and weaknesses are.

Looking forward, my learning questions are inspired by and reflect some of the observations and challenges I saw in the broader world and tech ecosystem over the last decade. The ones I’m most interested in currently are:

  • How do individual actors invest in and collaborate with other ecosystem players (funders, government etc) at a larger scale to drive true system change? How do we move away from a silver bullet mindset and into a more systems change perspective?
  • What can we learn from other geographies and industries around the world to understand how to make broader systems change in key sectors in Sub-Saharan Africa?
  • How do we move more money to women and locally-led companies and organizations? In what ecosystems globally are these identities more successful — why is this? How do we more effectively combine diversity in thought and experience on teams and empower local leaders?
  • How do we foster more ethical leaders? What roles does spirituality and ancient texts play within our personal philosophies, who we are and how we show up in how we are and what we do?
  • In parallel with the more macro-conversations I’m having, I’m asking myself: Based on what I know about where I play best and how I like to work, where can I add the most value?

Observations about Tech in Africa

I moved to Kenya in 2014 to work for Savannah Fund (which invests predominantly in local entrepreneurs) to support work that fuels the economy through local tech innovation that can be scaled up. I wanted to support the growing numbers of African creators so they could build their economies (some which had become dependent on foreign aid). While at Savannah Fund, I found that to truly support local tech entrepreneurs, I needed to solve one of their most critical challenges: finding ready-to-hire tech talent locally. Hence, Moringa School was born.

Some of the people I’ve been chatting with in my Year of Discovery have included Moringa’s investors and other investors within my network. They have ranged from commercial to impact to philanthropic investors. I’ve been curious about their views of how COVID has impacted the way they see opportunities for investment, and I’ve asked:

  • When will Africa truly take the center stage globally? How far are we from that?
  • Where are the real opportunities and challenges that have emerged with COVID?
  • Where are funding dollars going across Africa and why?
  • Which other countries around the world can we look at that are 5–10 years ahead of various countries in Africa?

Some commercial investors are increasingly concerned about COVID’s many impacts. Some key macro-economic metrics they use to determine the true commercial potential of the continent often come down to the size of the middle class (and its growth year on year), the cost of data, smartphone penetration, and quality/availability of infrastructure. While COVID has battered Africa’s middle class, African startups received $2.44bn in investment in 2020 — only around $100m less than the year before without Covid-19, according to a new report by Briter Bridges. The question I have though is how that will look over the next 2–3 years after COVID’s mid-to-long term impact on the economies are clearer.

In 2020, the most funded sectors were fintech (33%), cleantech (22%), health (9%), agriculture (7%) and data & analytics (7%). A number of people I’ve spoken to are continuously excited about the fintech sector (payments, asset finance, sports betting, etc). It’s also hopeful that the fin-tech entrepreneurs who exited are using their personal wealth to invest in more fin-techs to further spur the market with their expertise and capital.

Questions I’m reflecting on:

  • Are investors funding mostly what their peers are funding? What are the missed opportunities they aren’t seeing (even within well-funded sectors)?
  • What assumptions about the markets and our individual lives do we need to question from before to after the pandemic?
  • Which problems around us today do we believe will stay? If we applied first principles thinking to these problems and their potential solutions, what new opportunities emerge?
  • In what ways are the systems of capitalism, socialism and democracy serving and hurting different societies? What does it mean to build resilient solutions in these societies?
  • What kind of leaders are needed in times of crisis and will they be willing to relinquish their influence/power once we move into a time of more peace?

The Impermanence of My Physical Well-being

I went to physiotherapy for the first time two weeks ago. I tore an ankle ligament end of January this year and was on crutches for about 3 weeks before I was able to start walking with a brace. As my first temporarily debilitating injury — knock on wood — my immediate impatience with the situation transformed into a marvel and deep appreciation of the human body. I’ve always waived off any type of physical self-care (beyond exercising and trying to eat healthy) as opulent and I’m learning to see it otherwise.

As my ankle has gotten stronger, I’ve tested its limits which has stalled or even moved back the progress I was making. I’ve made all of the mistakes in the book — running and hiking before it was truly ready, continuing to walk on a hurt ankle, etc. While the wound is a physical one, what keeps it hurt is a mental one.

Buddhism affirms that for long-lasting healing to take place, it is essential to heal not only the existing disease with proper medications and other methods of treatment, but also the root of the disease, which initiates from the mind. This brings in the concept of “ultimate healing”.

Humans create suffering through their greed, anger, and ignorance and someone who reaches enlightenment is filled with compassion for all living things (including oneself). What I’ve been asking myself continuously to reframe my frustration is:

  • In what way am I being attached to an idea of permanence? In what way am I feeling incomplete? How do I practice acknowledging that and learn to let it go?
  • In what way am I placing my own happiness (what I want to do) above the happiness and recovery of my body?
  • How can I exercise more compassion for my body and be truly appreciative of what it enables me to do?

My ankle injury strengthens a message I continue to get from the universe over the last year: slow down now, speed up later. As something who prioritizes speed and getting things done, slowing down has felt both important for my soul and also somewhat unsettling. It’s something I’m learning so I can increase my modes of operation and improve my toolkit. Some questons to reflect on:

  • Where can I slow down in my life? Where do I need to change speeds?
  • Is speed important to me? Why or why not? Where does that come from?



Audrey Cheng

Taiwanese American. Curious about ideas and solutions that support human flourishing.