How Can We Promote African Innovation?

We believe that the surest way for Africa to move from aid dependency is through innovation and entrepreneurship.

There is no lack of ideas in Africa, only the funds to support them. With Africa’s large and talented youth population and researchers coming up with solutions every day that leapfrog currently accessible solutions from the West, Africa is poised to capitalize on its remarkable economic growth.

All factors point towards innovation leading this movement forward. But if we do not invest in innovation and create multi-sectorial funding models that bring the private and public sector together to develop the continent’s brightest ideas into marketable solutions, we will not only fall short of the Millennium Development Goals, but the continent’s growth will be stunted.

The African Innovation Foundation continues to encourage and celebrate innovation and entrepreneurship on the continent, with our Innovation Prize for Africa for innovators who create sustainable, market-oriented solutions that can drive the continent’s development forward.

We would like to get your views on innovation, entrepreneurship and how best to promote it in Africa.

Question 1: What do you see as the role of innovation and entrepreneurship in addressing African socio-economic challenges and contributing to sustainable growth?

Question 2: How can we promote innovation by Africans for Africa?

Question 3: How can we encourage the private and public sector to work together to fund innovation by Africans?

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I read your article with so much enthusiasm and joy in the fact that we are seeing that Africa is blessed with great creativity, innovativeness and a growing youth population. The need to promote and support African innovation cannot be over emphasized for there in it is the hope and future of Africa.

Innovation and entrepreneurship will address the fast growing challenge of unemployment especially amongst the fast growing youth population in Africa and also go a long way in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger (goal 1 of the MDGs).

Promoting innovation by Africans can start by acknowledging the fact that Africans are innovative. Patronizing products and services that are made in Africa and assisting entrepreneurs in product development, basic entrepreneurship and small business development will encourage and boost the morale of entrepreneurs. African governments also need to work on creating policies and systems that are friendly and support innovations in the regions.

The public and private sector have to understand that the development of a people to a large extent depends on them. If African innovation is supported by the private and public sectors especially by funding and some form of coaching and mentoring of African entrepreneurs there will be a ripple effect in our communities, society and Africa at large. The private and public sectors need to see these possibilities and let it drive them into taking an adventurous leap of faith into investing in a bright future for Africa by investing in African innovation.

Indigenous Innovation promotion is the way forward, innovation and entrepreneurship is skewed by the influx of cheap and already technology from the rest of the world. They are very simple steps that can be taken ,

- We can't talk of Africa and innovation in Africa when Africans can't do business in Africa without diverse Tarrifs and Non Tariff Barriers, ones a common market is created then we can start talking of ' Africa Innovation and entrepreneurship.

- Ones the barriers to trade have been removed and there is a common market, then Africa start ' indigenous innovation' and protection of african innovation from the rest of the world.

- Approrpriate Laws & Policies , Teyei talk of policies, we need to protect intellectual property rights, Africa needs laws to protect the efforts of its citizens unfortunately very few countries are interested.

-Revamping the 'Modus operandi' of many of the state, many African economy is still based on colonial passed, i.e. primary or raw material based, Africans need to change this system and start focusing more and more on value addition and innovation - knowledge based economy and capitalising on ICT and all the technological development.

-Promote intrapreneurs , technology transfer rather than Aid, invest in Women, they re the best innovators in Africa because they are at the forfront of poverty and vulnerability.

- Develop real policies on Diaspora, African diaspora is ' Big source ' for innovation and entrepreneur , African government have to be more innovative in dealing with them, establish real policies and environment that can encourage African Diaspora to 'plough back' knowledge, skills and experience in the continent.

- African middle and Upper class have to develop 'An African test' , 'consummons Afrique' they need to become the main consummer of African products, promote the African market for African products is important to foster innovation and entrepreneurship.

School curriculum and teaching , learning programmes, still based on colonial education, it has to change, new educational system aim at solving real world solutions need to be developed and the old ones replaced.

In forming democratic governments, the need to look beyond partisan politics and votes, appoint the right people in the right ministries, ministries for scientific research should be left in the hands of researchers and give them the incentives to work, invest in innovation and work with young people.

-Invest on the young people , Invest in the young minds and Brains, innovation and entrepreneurship depends on young people that think 'out of the box ', adventurers, those who dare to be different etc. Invest in new ideas etc

Alot can be said on this topic, the future of Africa depends on Indigenous innovation and entrepreneurship. Sustainable development is from within, insitu , outside help can only come to fill the 'blank spaces' Africa have to build a solid foundation for the future.

Welcome to this live session!

We would like to get your views on innovation, entrepreneurship and how best to promote it in Africa.

To help us to discuss these issues, we're joined by a great panel!

Let's start with our first question:

Q1: What do you see as the role of innovation and entrepreneurship in addressing African socio-economic challenges and contributing to sustainable growth?

Great to be a part of this discussion! I think Job creation has been mentioned in the comments received so far.

Would be interested in getting the views from everyone

Thanks for organizing such an important discussion and happy to be a part of it. When we talk about socio-economic challenges, we often talk about unemployment and job creation. As the Kauffman Foundation research has shown us with a US based study (, net job growth comes from startup firms. Thus we have to find a way to boost a culture of entrepreneurship and find ways to make a more supportive environment for our startups.

I think one way to advance and promote innovation and entrepreneurship across the continent is through partnerships, like the LIONS@FRCIA partnership, which essentially brings together the best of the public and private sector together in leveraging each others resources and efforts in strengthening and deepening the entire entrepreneurship ecosystem across Africa.

Hi everyone, very glad to be joining this discussion.

I think the whole issue of entrepreneurship and innovation can't be disaggregated from job creation and employment growth. When we talk about sustainable growth, for me what we're really discussing is providing opportunities for young Africans to develop careers and participate fully in the local and global economy. That means entrepreneurship and domestic innovation.

International investment does create jobs, but what has typically brought economies out of poverty wholesale has tended to be a thriving domestic sector.

So I would offer to reframe the question to WHO do you see as the most impactful representations of innovation and entrepreneurship that address socio-economic challenges and contribution to positive, sustainable growth. I think, in most cases, that these examples of innovation and entrepreneurship are local innovators and entrepreneurs.

As with Business Fights Poverty, our organization (Appfrica), Afrilabs, CRDF, Lions@frica, IPA, and the other panelists' organizations, I feel very strongly that our role is as intermediary and also translator- not for local populations, who are the best people to present both the challenges and solutions within a local context, but for our partners and larger organizations that want to understand what might be happening on the ground.

I think our collective desire to highlight the best innovators and entrepreneurs is where we can make the most impact, to help drive more interest in diverse and inclusive perspectives from a local level will only help to acceleratate the innovation and entrepreneurship that we seek to support.

I'll let someone else chime in before I give my thoughts on the concept of "sustainability" :)

And to respond to Zahid's question, from the U.S. Department of State perspective, the promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship are medium-to-long term tools for sustainable growth. Entrepreneurship is one of America's greatest strengths and we can use it as a powerful tool for introducing new technologies and innovations that address local needs, and a tool for diplomacy in advancing sustained growth on the continent.

I think we need to provide a national identity for each individual country as set out in rather than just lumping everything into a generic 'Africa': an identity which is inter-tribal and international and can be used as a way of promoting the rich heritage and promising future of each individual country in a visible way.

Hi Nick, Can you tell us more about the LIONS@frica Partnership - and what it's trying to do in this space?

Totally agree with Peter that we should not simplify things and just take a narrow view but look at Innovation and entrepreneurship in a holistic way! At the AIF, we believe that building capacity should be a way to go! This means that we Need to invest in local Innovation and create an ecosystem where Innovation can happen. In Africa, we are blessed by the fact that there is no issue of human capital, we have the youth, ready to take on the challenges and looking for opportunities. So, yes, collaboration to ensure that we are not duplicating efforts but are building on each other's strenghts is the way to go! One of the reason we created the Innovation Prize for Africa was to be able to identify talents and then Support the winners and other selected Innovators towards making their dreams a reality.

I also think that innovation should be embedded in entrepreneurship, especially within the digital age. Things are moving too fast to double down on a stagnant approach to business.

interesting question as usual. thank you for that. I will focus a bit more the question since there is no ONE Africa but several Africas! If we want to target the developing Africa and more specifically this very innovative and dynamic informal sector that support this particular Africa, then I will have some suggestions.

The informal sector of Africa is certainly the most dynamic of all; It is also the most inclusive sector! the formal sector is still quite exclusive and dores not always offer real opportunities to Africa BoP; Let's be honnest and straight.

The informal sector is also the most resilient of all! we can see every day how the "global Financial crisis" has and still is an opportunity for this sector. This is why most of the formal business keep some roots in the informal sector. How many successful African businessmen and women still keep some of their (invisible) businesses in the informal sector? as a resilience strategy...

Innovations are blooming in the informal sector but the formal sector doesn't know how to"catch it". some innovations can only work on the informal sector as they are perfectly adapted to it, while the formal sector is too rigid and too "formal". ... maybe is time to informalise the formal sector!? just a thought... maybe stupid... but during crisis we still witness this strategy, don't we?

Africa BoP and informal sector is a realtime lab for businesses, so the question should be how to capture the informal sector creativity and innovations? this is for me the main challenge. and conventional instrument adapted to the formal, and too formal, sector are not adapted for that. It is funny how more and more NGOs are shifting or opening business wings after learning from their experiences within the informal sector and Africa BoP, no? Look at these solar business models! but still beautifully designed for public investors and donors more than for their real BoP customers...

My proposal, and I am working on it, would be to develop a BoP/Informal sector observatory: like we observe the stars we should look more closely to the BoP strategies and informal businesses. For that we need to create and adapt new lenses in order to capture all these colorful nuances..; the successes and the failures... employment strategies... income generation strategies... that too often we evaluate as "informal" so "unsustainable"... but they are here, very fluid, very adaptative and still persisiting at least during a period of an individual life story...

We observe this with subsistence farmers... most of them do not stay at this stage... and most of the better-off farmers sent through this stage... Africa farming systems have demonstrated their very dynamic adaptability and creativity... I know that this is NOT what we read in "formal reports". Recent agrarian diagnosis we conducted in Uganda show that again and again, but we are not formatted anymore to hear that signal... our lenses are not adapted, we are blind.

Let's reshape our lools and lenses and revise our recycled paradigms... let's learn from Africa BoP before teaching them.

No need to stimulate indigenous or Africa innovations but there is a need to capture it!

Certainly. LIONS@FRICA is a partnership with the goal of mobilizing the knowledge, expertise and resources of leading public and private institutions to encourage and enhance Africa’s innovation ecosystem. A large part of this is coordinating activities and enhancing collaboration between the parties invested in this entrepreneurship space. There are fantastic individual efforts taking place from corporations, NGOs, governments etc, but we can reach more entrepreneurs with a more profound impact if these are coordinated into a unified support system. This is one of the top priorities of LIONS and we hope that more and more partners will join our effort.

Let's move on to question 2 - How can we promote innovation by Africans for Africa?

Agree with you Bahiyah! Innovation with market potential is what we are promoting at AIF. IPA is looking for Innovation that are marketable and can be used to create Jobs! We should Keep in mind that the difference between an Innovator and Inventor! Inventor creates something and it only becomes an Innovation once it is capitalized on and there is an added value to the Invention. Thus, as you said, the entrepreneurship element will ensure that Invention becomes an innovation! However, one has to also keep in mind that not all Inventors are entrepreneurs so peering up talents is also very important for Innovation to happen!

I think highlighting innovation and its importance for the economic growth of Africa is very important. For eg, CSR has typically been about corporations donating to charity. Perhaps by changing the model on supporting change and development from “we saved 100 children” to “we supported 10 new entrepreneurs” could help both to provide funding and to change pre-conceived notions on Africa’s ability (superior ability, as far as I’m concerned) to be the instrument of its own development.

I totally agree with Conilh- the only formalized lab environments in many parts of the continent at this point are tech hubs, centers for entrepreneurship, and "makers labs"- the latter of which I personally think there should be many more of...but in terms of the informal business sector, this is where activity is mostly unharnessed.