Toru is Head of Product for Kopo Kopo, Inc, a mobile payments start-up in Nairobi, Kenya. Toru has worked in the field of mobile technology and financial inclusion for the last five years, focusing on product strategy and innovation. He has spent time with CGAP’s Technology and Business Model Innovation Program, Grameen Foundation’s AppLab Uganda, Signal Point Partners, and Cellulant Kenya.
Besides his work in financial inclusion Toru has worked in product development and project management roles across technology start-ups in the consumer product, medical device, and renewable energy fields. He holds a Master’s of International Business from The Fletcher School at Tufts University with a focus on Technology and Development, as well as a B.S. Engineering in Product Design from Stanford University.
Describe the impact on foreign policy you have made in your current/past positions.
The focus of my career over the last 5 years has been around utilizing innovation in business models and products in order to bring low-income groups into the formal economy. While foreign policy was not a deliberate focus for me, I have realized that innovation can only happen in environments where policy-makers are supportive of it. To this end, I have striven to improve mutual understanding between business innovators and policymakers through dialog and knowledge sharing.
What personal contribution to foreign policy are you most proud of?
Bringing together all the major banks, mobile network operators, financial regulators, and telecom regulators in East Africa into a single forum during the M-Banking 2009 conference I organized as a joint effort between The Fletcher School and the Central Bank of Kenya. It was not until the conference kicked off that I realized that these stakeholders had never sat down all together before, even though the success of mobile financial services in Kenya was creating an unprecedented need for collaboration between them.
What is your vision of foreign policy in the 21st Century?
I cannot pretend to know enough to have a grand vision for foreign policy in the 21st Century. I do know that today’s pace of technological innovation creates unprecedented opportunities and challenges for policy makers, and the answer is not to have policy which races to match that pace. Instead, we need policy makers who are flexible enough to allow experimentation and informed enough to quickly recognize and correct imbalances.
What challenges need to be overcome to create better foreign policy? What leadership traits are needed for this?
One challenge that needs to be overcome is the human capital divide that exists between policy-makers and business leaders. The concept of social entrepreneurship has potential to increase the speed of solutions for seemingly intractable policy problems, but cannot succeed without enlightened support from those who control public funds. Unfortunately, because of a lack of easy mobility between the public and private sectors, oftentimes those on either side have only a poor understanding of the needs and motivations of the other. To overcome this, future leaders in foreign policy will need the ability to “switch frames” effectively between high-level policy issues and low-level business operational concerns.
The views in all interviews published in the Top 99 Under 33 feature represent those of their respective owners and not of their place of employment or the U.S. government.