Africa’s top innovators commit to firm path forward

Africa’s top innovators have committed themselves to a firm path forward for innovation across the continent, after an intense three days of animated discussion and debate at the second Open Innovation Africa Summit (OIAS) in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

The commitment came after Kenya’s Permanent Secretary within the Ministry for ICT, Dr. Bitange Ndemo, had challenged many of the continent’s brightest minds to identify opportunities and challenges, and then plot an actionable path forward that will boost innovation in Africa, during his address at the opening.

Participants from across Africa, took part in rigorous discussion groups in one of four streams – Ecosystem for Innovation, eTransformation, Technology Financing, and Mobile Information Society, which they chose based on their background, passions and skills.

In the Ecosystem for Innovation stream, the group proposed a number of initiatives including StartUp Heaven, a series of events that seeks to increase investment in entrepreneurs across East Africa. This idea was particularly viable due to the existence of key infrastructure in markets like Uganda and Kenya, with the group committing to launch the initiative before the next summit.

On the other hand, ideas in the Technology Financing stream included an online portal for closing the information gap in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and a project which centred on the often discussed topic of crowd funding.

The group that took part in that stream also presented an idea to create a network of local and regional investment readiness programmes to get SMEs prepared to pitch their ideas to funders, which challenge Dr. Ndemo identified at the very start of the conference when he stated, “The discipline among the innovators has not met the demand of those that provide the funding. We still have some level of discipline we need to instil among innovators.”

Apart from proposing Mobile Banking Services for All, to create a mobile banking mechanism that enables incumbent banks, money transfer providers and new entrants to provide banking services through mobile channels, the eTransformation stream also presented the Open Climate Change Data Platform, which proposed using ICT applications and solutions to address environmental challenges in Africa.

For their part, The Mobile Information Society stream had most of their designs centred around connecting many of the distinct projects that are underway on the continent. For instance, the recommended Get APP, a content distribution system for the ‘un-webbed’, which will focus on solving the break in the current value chain, by using the inherently social nature of African consumers.

Thus the scene for the final presentation titled ‘connecting the dots’, which is aimed at establishing a simple communication channel between the various ‘hubs and labs’ that exist across Africa, was set.

Commenting on the conference, Valerie D’ Costa, infoDev’s Programme Manager, stated, “It was great to have even more African innovators and entrepreneurs at this year’s OIAS. Their interaction brought forth many interesting ideas. We really saw the promise and potential of Africa’s innovation leaders and we hope they continue to build links with one another.”

Closing the conference, Nokia’s VP of Corporate Relations and Business Environment, Jussi Hinkkanen, said, “The ideas that were presented are fantastic and now we need to focus on execution. The buildings and organisations facilitating innovation are not as important as the spirit of collaboration and openness. It is very clear from the past three days that very small things can certainly create a massive impact.”

This year’s OIAS was organised by Nokia, CapGemini and infoDev, the World Bank’s technology entrepreneurship and innovation programme and held from May 28 to May 30, 2012.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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