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Company Hopes to Take Outsourcing to a New Level: Africa

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2004; Page E05

Many large companies have reaped the economic benefits of outsourcing in recent years. Karim Morsli is trying to make money bringing those same advantages to small and medium-sized businesses -- while also spurring economic growth in Africa.

His company, Rising Data Solutions, opened the first outsource call center in Ghana, a West African nation of about 20 million people. The company circumvents the country's limited telephone infrastructure by relying on voice-over-Internet protocol.

Karim Morsli, co-founder of Rising Data Solutions, wants to offer a lower-priced option for call centers and help economic development in Ghana. (James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

In Profile

Name: Rising Data Solutions

Location: Gaithersburg

Big idea: Provide outsourcing services to small and medium-sized businesses; created the first outsourcing call center in Ghana.

Founded: 2001

Web site: www.risingdata.com

Who's in charge: Sambou Makalou, president; Karim Morsli, chief information officer; and Kwame Bonsu, vice president of operations. Makalou and Morsli are co-founders.

Funding: $350,000 from private investors. Morsli says the company has not ruled out a second round of funding.

Employees: 15, with plans to hire 100 more call-center agents over six months.

Origin of company name: Morsli said the founders wanted a name that evoked technology, problem-solving skills and growth.

"Outsourcing is here to stay. Period," said Morsli, the Gaithersburg company's chief information officer. "But we give people an option to India."

Morsli said Ghana's low cost of living, stable democratic government and literate, English-speaking population make it well-suited as an outsourcing location. He said his company can provide call-center outsourcing for 25 to 30 percent less than what it would cost in India.

Despite those advantages, Morsli said, Ghana has not been an easy sell to the business community. Most of what people hear about Africa is negative, he said, "definitely not news to entice investment."

It wasn't even an easy sell to the Ghanaian government, which has resisted phone service over the Internet as a threat to the state-run telephone company, Morsli said. Rising Data eventually persuaded the Ministry of Communications and Technology to grant it a license to use the technology, which is generally banned.

Morsli, 34, founded the company in 2001 with Sambou Makalou, a longtime family friend. They are both immigrants -- Morsli immigrated to the Washington area from Algeria as a teenager, and Makalou grew up in Mali.

Makalou, who works in San Francisco, manages Rising Data's sales and marketing activities.

Kwame Bonsu, vice president of operations, supervises Rising Data's call center in Accra, Ghana's capital. It opened in April 2003.

Rising Data's clients include Haier America, the appliance manufacturer, and a wireless telephone company Morsli declined to identify. In addition to call center services, Rising Data is now offering other back-office services.

Morsli declined to discuss the privately held company's revenue and earnings. He said the company, which employs 15 people, plans to hire about 100 new call-center agents over the next two quarters. The jobs pay four to five times the average salary in Ghana, and he says he hopes the fledgling IT industry can help generate sustainable economic development in the country. "We're about leveraging technology to help people on both side of the ocean."

This month, Scientific American magazine named Rising Data to its annual "Scientific American 50" roster of technology leaders for setting an "example that paves the way for new entrepreneurial opportunities in Africa."

As passionate as Morsli is about contributing to economic development in Africa, he is quick to point out that Rising Data is a business, not an altruistic venture. "We're not the Red Cross," he said.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company