Profile of African Innovators Continues to Rise

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A mix of developments is proving that African innovators no longer need to see themselves as lone operators working in isolation. Awareness of the continent’s talent has never been higher and is grabbing attention from the world’s media. In turn, more and more resources are being made available – from funding opportunities to get-togethers where innovators can meet like-minded people, to ego-boosting praise that helps raise profiles and attract investors.

This summer saw the launch of a new publication called African Innovator Magazine (africaninnovatormagazine.com). It is a good example of how perceptions have switched to recognizing that the continent is awash with innovators who have a lot to say.

Billing itself as “Technology insights for Africa’s decision makers,” African Innovator interviews business leaders on the continent about how they are driving innovation within their organizations.

Launched at a dinner on July 31 in Johannesburg, South Africa (http://www.flickr.com/photos/innovationdinner/sets/72157630881776882/), the quarterly magazine – with its glossy production values, high-quality photographs and design – is a reflection of how far the information technology business has come in Africa. The first issue asks “What is Innovation?” and features a broad range of African technology innovators, from Nigerian tablet personal computer maker Saheed Adepoju (http://enciphergroup.com/about/) to one of the world’s best-known technology innovators, South African-born Elon Musk (http://elonmusk.com/).

Publisher Abby Wakama told IT News Africa that the magazine would initially be distributed in South Africa, with plans to expand into Kenya and Nigeria.

“Our aim is to grow the reader base and branch out into new regions,” Wakama said. “The vision is to be the premier voice of Africa’s larger ICT community, covering issues that impact on commerce, trade, industry and the lives of everybody who uses IT.

“Readers do have a choice of publications that talk about ICT that cover technology and products. But there are very few that have an inside track into innovation in Africa. There are not many publications that discuss how technology is making an impact in the lives of Africans.”

For innovators strapped for cash to take their ideas forward, there are several new Africa-based funding sources to turn to.

In East Africa, the Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund (RIEF) (http://www.mineduc.gov.rw/spip.php?article21) is a collaboration between the Government of Rwanda and the United Nations. The Fund aims to promote research and development (R&D) of “innovative market-oriented products and processes in priority areas of the economy” to increase the country’s wealth and economic competiveness.

For Africans as a whole, there is The Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) (http://innovationprizeforafrica.org), an initiative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) (africaninnovation.org). The prize hopes to place African innovators and entrepreneurs at the heart of the development agenda. It will be awarded to innovators who develop new products, increase efficiency or find ways to do things better and save money in Africa.

Africa Review, published by the Nation Media Group in Kenya, is “a digital news platform” providing “smart insights on African news and to examine important social and political trends in the continent.” It recently came up with a list of 20 East African “bold young innovators to watch”.

The 20 were selected because all of them are working on mobile phone applications and are creating “life-changing mobile apps in health care, education, finance and agriculture.”

They include:

  • Jamila Abass from Kenya, the founder and chief executive officer (CEO) for M-Farm (http://mfarm.co.ke/about), which is helping farmers get real-time retail prices for their products.
  • Tanzania’s Erric Mutta, founder and CEO of Problem Solved Ltd, set up the MiniShop mobile phone application for small businesses to make accounting and inventory control easier and more transparent – in turn making it easier to access credit.
  • Jessie Gakwandi Benimana runs Rwandan company Sail Ltd (http://sailltd.com/) and the Get-It application (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU8SCfyzf9Q), which helps people to find restaurants in the capital Kigali.
  • Everyone knows Africans like to tell stories, and Victor Miclovich from Uganda is helping them to do this online. His StorySpaces (storyspaces.net) website “builds on the age-old African tradition of storytelling” for the digital age.
  • Tanzania’s Eric Lwambura is using technology to save lives during pregnancy. He is founder of Crystal Interactive Systems (CIS) (http://www.crystal-int.com/), which has developed a mobile phone-based application to assist doctors to detect problems during labour. It is designed for health centres that can’t afford more expensive and sophisticated equipment.
  • Kariuki Gathitu from Kenya who founded Zege Technologies (http://zegetech.com/home/), is working on innovative ways to transfer money. His latest development is M-Payer, helping small businesses manage their payments.

Read more about the East African technology innovators here: http://www.africareview.com/Special+Reports/-/979182/1513900/-/xpmsurz/-/index.html

Resources

1) Southern Innovator: Browse the back issues of Southern Innovator magazine. Website: http://www.scribd.com/SouthernInnovator

2) Innovative Africa: The New Face of Africa: Essays on the Rise of Africa’s Innovation Age by Will Mutua and Mbwana Ally, Publisher: Afrinnovator.  Website: http://book.afrinnovator.com/

3) The Coming Prosperity by Philip Auerswald, Publisher: Oxford University Press.  Website: http://auerswald.org/

 

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