African Ingenuity Attracting Interest

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


The tide of science and innovation from the South is grabbing the world’s attention. While the big giants of India, China and Brazil are well-established hubs of invention, it is the once-overlooked continent of Africa that is generating current excitement. The atmosphere can be equated to the flush of innovation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as inventors tackled the budding new technologies of the combustion engine, flight, electricity and radio waves. These days, it’s the challenges of development, rapid urbanization and finding ways to ‘hack’ (, like adapting existing  technology such as mobile phones or bicycles to new purposes.

That previous period of invention had a spirit of pioneering and making-do, of dreams and adaptability triumphing over poverty, and it laid the path for many new companies to sprout up and create wealth and jobs for millions. At this August’s Maker Faire Africa gathering ( in Accra, Ghana, African pioneers in grassroots innovation offered inspiring inventions.

The rapid changes happening in African countries – especially the tilt to having a larger urban population than a rural one – means there is an urgent need to boost incomes.

Handled right, these grassroots inventors could grow to become part of the already expanding South-South trade, which grew by an average of 13 percent per year between 1995 and 2007, to make up 20 percent of world trade.

Inspired by the US magazine Make ( – a do-it-yourself technology magazine written by makers of computers, electronics and robotics – the first Maker Faire gathering was held in 2006 in the San Francisco area of the United States.

The African Maker Faire modelled itself on this approach and has tapped into Africa’s well-entrenched do-it-yourself development culture. It went looking for more inventors like those celebrated on the website AfriGadget (, with its projects that solve “everyday problems with African ingenuity.” The Faire works with the participants to share their ideas and to find ways to make money from their ideas.

The Faire in Accra ran in parallel with the International Development Design Summit (,which came to Ghana from its home at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( in the United States. Its aim was to bring technology closer to “potential end users of the projects.”

“It is part of the revolution in design that aims to create equity in the distribution of research and development resources by focusing on the needs of the world’s poor,” organizers said.

This spirit of African invention is about breaking the perception that invention is a purely Northern phenomenon that requires complex and expensive materials. African ingenuity is about taking whatever is available and tackling common problems. It is an empowering approach that celebrates local initiative and seeks to find ways to turn these inventions into sustainable incomes.

“What’s different about African mechanics and gadgets is that it’s generally made with much fewer, and more basic, materials,” said Afrigadget founder Erik Hersman. “Where you might find a story on how to make hi-tech robots at home in Make, its counterpart in Africa might be how to create a bicycle out of wood. No less ingenuity needed, but far more useful for an African’s everyday life.”

The African Maker Faire featured a wide range of solutions, from a low-power radio station to a bicycle-powered saw and a simple corn planter.

Shamsudeen Napara, from northern Ghana, brought a US $10 corn planter that looks like a pill dispenser to help speed up crop planting. He also has invented a cheap shea nut ( roaster. These inventions are cooked up in his metal fabrication shop which builds tools for agricultural use. Shea nut processing is a lucrative task for women in Northern Ghana. Napara’s roaster costs US $40 and reduces the energy and time to process the nuts. He has also made a soap cutter using piano wires and guitar screws.

Bernard Kiwia, a bicycle mechanic from Arusha, Tanzania, is a pioneer working with windmills, water pumps, mobile phone chargers and pedal-powered hacksaws – all made from old bike parts.

Hayford Bempong, David Celestin and Michael Amankwanor from Accra Polytechnic (, built a low-power radio station. Made from scrap electronic parts and an antenna from copper pipe, the radio was put straight to use to broadcast announcements at the event over a range of a few thousand metres.

Suprio Das, Killian Deku, Laura Stupin and Bernard Kiwia brought a method to produce chlorine from salt water and other common materials. It can then be used to purify water. Their method can clean vast quantities of water using no moving parts (avoiding breakdowns). It does this by dripping chlorine into the water until a level has been reached, and then the purified water is released. By using a 5 litre bag of chlorine, and a US $3 valve, 100,000 litres of water can be purified.

Electricity was also being made using low-cost batteries from aluminum cans and plastic water bottles. Applying salt water as an electrolyte (,electricity is created by the oxidation of the aluminum can – a cheaper approach and less toxic than commercial batteries.

A group called Afrobotics ( gave a presentation to encourage more African students to go into engineering, science and technology. Afrobotics is set up as a competition to “fuel engineering, science, innovation, and entrepreneurship on the African continent, utilizing robotics.” They have some excellent videos of African robots in action:

Published: October 2009


1) Fab Labs: Like the futuristic “replicator” in the TV show Star Trek, Fab Labs allow people to design and produce what they need there and then. The labs are mushrooming throughout the South as people get the innovation bug. The Fab Lab program is part of the MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) which broadly explores how the content of information relates to its physical representation. Website:

2) id21 Insights: A series of articles by the UK ’s Institute of Development Studies on how to make technology and science relevant to the needs of the poor. Website:

3) eMachineShop: This remarkable service allows budding inventors to download free design software, design their invention, and then have it made in any quantity they wish and shipped to them: Amazing! Website:

4) The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognised quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design. Website:

5) Institute for the Future: It identifies emerging trends that will transform global society and the global marketplace. It provides insight into business strategy, design process, innovation, and social dilemmas. Its website helps budding inventors to identify new areas of invention.Website:

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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Research Reviews | 2001 – 2002


Research Review 2001: A Year of Excellence and Innovation 

Britain’s best-loved children’s hospital and charity, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust (GOSH), contracted me to lead a two-year project to modernise the hospital’s web presence and take its brand into the 21st century.


Research Review 2002: Building on Success 

In 2003, the UK’s Guardian newspaper called the Children First website one of the “three most admired websites in the UK public and voluntary sectors,” and a UK government assessment called the overall GOSH child health web portal a role model for the NHS.
“A highly attractive website written by and with children at Britain’s biggest specialist hospital for children. The site is carefully segmented for different age groups and provides a powerful platform on which children can reach out from the confines of their hospital wards, share their experiences and learn about a range of medical issues as well as have access to fun interactive resources.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


© David South Consulting 2021

Archive Blogroll

Southern Innovator And The GSSD Expo | 2011 – 2014

Beginning in 2011 and ending in 2014, each issue of Southern Innovator was launched at the annual Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) run by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC). The issues (there were five) would connect with that year’s Expo theme and were intended to reinforce the solutions presented at the Expo, as well as those solutions discovered through research for the influential United Nations e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions. An Expo was not run in 2015 for the following reason: U.S. Finds Macau Billionaire Guilty in U.N. Bribery Case

Studies have shown the importance of reading to real change. Not just online, but in paper form. The retention of information and knowledge is greater when a person reads something in a book or a magazine. Another factor is quality design (which makes the published material both attractive and effective). Trashy, gaudy or slap-dash design, while it has its place and context, is not suitable for well-funded, transparent, public organizations seeking to communicate across borders in a professional manner. Southern Innovator was designed following the UN and UNDP design guidelines at the time, while also adhering to the UN Global Compact and the UN Consultants Remuneration Guidelines. The content was also written to follow those guidelines as well as the Plain English Campaign, which seeks to reduce the presence of “gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information”. On top of this, the magazine benefited from experience: the experience of one of Iceland’s top graphic designers and illustrators, the team based at the UNOSSC in New York who oversaw the editing and proof reading, and the researcher, editor and writer who has led many successful and award-winning publishing ventures, including during “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever”.   

“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box, Santa Monica, CA, U.S.A.

Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology was published in 2011 and launched at the Expo in Rome, Italy.

Southern Innovator Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship was published in 2012 and launched at the Expo in Vienna, Austria.
Southern Innovator Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security was published in 2012 and launched at the Expo in Vienna, Austria.
Southern Innovator Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization was published in 2013 and launched at the Expo in Nairobi, Kenya (the first time in Africa).

Issue 6 of Southern Innovator was to be on the theme of science, technology and innovation.
Southern Innovator Issue 5: Waste and Recycling was published in 2014 and launched at the Expo in Washington, D.C.

“Beautiful, inspiring magazine from UNDP on South-South innovation. Heart is pumping adrenaline and admiration just reading it.”

Southern Innovator Editor and Writer David South.

Disrupted! Whatever happened to Southern Innovator Issue 6?

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© David South Consulting 2017

Archive Blogroll

Southern Innovator Magazine

Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins

Southern Innovator was initially launched in 2011 with the goal of inspiring others (just as we had been so inspired by the innovators we contacted and met). The magazine seeks to profile stories, trends, ideas, innovations and innovators overlooked by other media. The magazine grew from the monthly e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions published by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) since 2006.

Issue 6’s theme has been decided on: it will focus on Science, Technology and Innovation. For this issue, Southern Innovator is seeking invitations from cutting-edge knowledge and science innovators in the global South to view their work. Time is tight, so don’t miss this opportunity to let the whole global South know about your work. In the past, Southern Innovator has visited green pioneers in Cuba, a smart city in South Korea and an eco-city in China.

Contact me if you wish to receive a copy/copies of the magazine for distribution. Follow @SouthSouth1.

Southern Innovator Issue 1

Southern Innovator Issue 2

Southern Innovator Issue 3

Southern Innovator Issue 4

Southern Innovator Issue 5

Southern Innovator Issue 6

Innovator Stories and Profiles

Citing Southern Innovator

Finding Southern Innovator

Press Release 1

Press Release 2

Press Release 3

Southern Innovator Impact Summaries | 2012 – 2014

“The e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions proved to be a timely and prescient resource on the fast-changing global South, tracking the rise of an innovator culture driven by the rapid adoption of mobile phones and information technology …

“In 2010, work began on the development of the world’s first magazine dedicated to the 21st-century innovator culture of the global South. My goal was to create a magazine that would reach across countries and cultures, meet the UN’s standards, and inspire action. Southern Innovator was the result. Mr. [David] South played a vital role in the magazine’s development from its early conception, through its various design prototypes, to its final global launch and distribution.

“Both the e-newsletter and magazine raised the profile of South-South cooperation and have been cited by readers for inspiring innovators, academics, policy makers and development practitioners in the United Nations and beyond.

“I highly recommend Mr. [David] South as a thoughtful, insightful, analytical, creative and very amicable person who has the unique ability to not only grasp complex problems but also to formulate a vision and strategy that gets things done. … ” Cosmas Gitta, Former Assistant Director, Policy and United Nations Affairs at United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) in UNDP

“I think you [David South] and the designer [Solveig Rolfsdottir] do great work and I enjoy Southern Innovator very much!” Ines Tofalo, Programme Specialist, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

Team | Southern Innovator Phase 1 Development (2010 – 2015)

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© David South Consulting 2021