In Africa, problem equals opportunity but only if there is a mindset for change and innovation with a true desire to create an enabling environment. In September this year, the DemoAfrica technology showcase will be held in Lagos, Nigeria and I have had the opportunity to embark on an innovation tour looking to activate the pockets of technology entrepreneurs across 16 countries who are tackling some of the more pressing issues plaguing the continent. The verticals identified are agriculture, health, education, manufacturing, retail, media and entertainment, communication, transport and logistics, energy, finance and banking, water and sanitation, waste management and recycling.
What has become apparent during these innovation tours is the wide gap that exists in the different countries, with the ecosystems wanting or broken in one place or the other. The first to be noticed is the general vibe of the people; some countries are vibrant with the air filled with enthusiasm and expectation despite obvious challenges while others seem resigned. The second is the nature and availability of support structures. While the labs and hubs exist, I see varying levels of corporate and government interest in nurturing the environments that birth the bold ideas that we need.
InfoDev recently put out a report – The Business Models of mLabs and mHubs: an Evaluation of InfoDev’s Mobile Innovation Support Pilots, detailing lessons learned through its support of Mobile Application Laboratories (mLabs) and Mobile Social Networking Hubs (mHubs). A key take out from the report is that there must be a concerted effort at multipronged ecosystem development in a manner that provides “continuous support, including follow-up mentoring and contact brokering with potential partners, investors and clients.”
We need to figure out the business models that will support this evolving ecosystem. Most innovation support experiments start out with donor support and may struggle beyond the proof of concept stage. The crucible should see all those with vested interest engaging for the long-term with the baseline metrics of what determines success having been agreed on to measure impact and inform any changes in strategy should there be a deviation.
Asked what I would like to see happen through my work with DemoAfrica, the answer is simple. To serve as the launch pad for many of the products and services that will over the next decade grow to become household names in their respective countries and possibly Africa. To live up to the pedigree that others before them have set and to contribute to the maturity of a space that holds tremendous promise for Africa in the knowledge economy.