Evolving Ammbr Through the Maze
My business partner Raj and I have done a lot of different things in twenty years. We have launched and participated in business ventures in technology, manufacturing, mining, commodities, wholesale and distribution. We have even dipped our fingers into retail, although each time it’s been akin to petting piranhas. In short, we are covered in scar tissue, but it has been mostly fun and rewarding.
A few years ago, we came to a crossroad. Many of our activities have been in emerging markets. Raj and I both come from emerging market countries — India and South Africa. Our experiences have taught us that the world is a very unequal place, and often the drive for profit contrasts starkly with the lives of the people you meet and observe. Consequently, we have always had a charitable streak, but maintained a definite separation of business and charity. Then we chanced upon the famous Satoshi Nakamoto whitepaper, and became interested in the burgeoning world of Blockchain, or Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT).
This revolutionary technology, which has at its heart the simple proposition of a neutral record of transactions that can be relied on to contain data unaltered since its creation, ignited a plethora of ideas and experiments globally. So too our own business initiatives and strategies. In particular, the idea of decentralisation as a primary strategy became enticing.
We began to see a way to fuse the business with the charity in a way that obviates the need for the tedious processes of pledging, channelling and administering charity, or as it is now called, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
The evolution of the first order of business
The term “Impact Investing” has also come to the fore in recent years, indicating a desire by investors to not only seek returns on capital, but demonstrable socio-economic or environmental good that comes of the investments. This ties in very well with the pseudo automation of CSR that DLT enables.
The birth of Ammbr
Out of this soup of possibilities arose the ideas that we entrenched in the Ammbr project. Ammbr (Autonomous Modular Mesh Blockchain Router) started with the development of a telecommunications device and system that would allow us to deploy affordable Internet access in underserved areas, particularly in remote and rural communities. Clearly the benefits of Internet and its host of technology solutions cannot be delivered if there is no network.
From this we also formulated a range of solutions that would have the desired impact in the communities we saw needed them the most. (The name Ammbr stuck.) Our thesis was that if we build solutions that work and are affordable for the lowest common denominator (read poorest), then we would more easily be able to add features to address more affluent markets. Start at the affluent end of the scale and it becomes increasingly difficult to address the lower income markets.
At the lowest end of the market is, of course, the principle target for charity or CSR activity. Surprisingly, it is often extremely difficult to distribute CSR proceeds or solutions, leading to the excessive administration costs that have been reported in many charitable organisations. Identifying and reaching poor communities and individuals is hard.
A new operating model
Various convolutions and failed experiments have led us to structuring our business in cross-operational functional groups, with greater autonomy. Any team member can fluidly move between projects as functional requirements dictate. Project ownership is driven toward champions willing to shoulder accountability. This means the elimination, except for purposes of communication, of any departmental constraints and silos in the organisation. Even geographic constraints are minimised, with remote work now being the norm for our entire organisation.
The binding vision
Ammbr is building an aligned collection of businesses, each independently viable, but working together through technology to achieve affordable and sustainable socio-economic outcomes for emerging market communities and ethical returns for our shareholders.
Our chosen fields of endeavour are last-mile telecommunications, payments infrastructure, trading infrastructure, and financing of trading in a vertically integrated, digital and governed stack.
We have established businesses in several jurisdictions, focused on specific missions aimed at delivering on our vision.
Ammbr Trade: Physical Commodity Trading
Ammbrfi: Platform for Commodity Trading Marketplaces
Ammbrtech: Trade Finance and Governance
Arra Networks: Telecoms Infrastructure
Ammbr Foundation: Corporate Social Responsibility Projects
The outcomes we are aiming for are to stimulate the use of digital technologies in meaningful economic activities — trade of primary commodities — in emerging market rural communities, with a view to making those trading activities less extractive and therefore more impactful in those communities.
Considering our size and the complexity of the task, we are focussing on specific commodity products, and will expand that focus to more products as we progress.
The Covid curveball
The global pandemic is a massive event for any business, and we have also been impacted, although to a lesser extent than most. As we emerge into the new reality the prospects for digitised business are better than ever. Events such as the dramatic explosion in online collaboration tools such as Zoom, and decentralised finance (DeFi) projects such as Yearn, point to consumers and businesses readily embracing novel technologies in their day to day activities. Ammbr will continue to evolve and no doubt continue to undergo iterative pivots in its journey.