Innovation innovation and innovation…that is the word. Well attended African Open Innovation Summit brought together people from 25 countries, among them some of the brightest minds you will find around. It was like absorbing the whole world knowledge at once and that is why it has taken me almost a week to synthesize it. Here are some of the conclusions:
1: There are three important component of the innovation ecosystem; explore, scale and mature. Africa has been lagging behind because something is missing from that ecosystem. No time for excuses now, no time for blame game, it is time to find the missing link and fix it
2: How do you explore? Proper education program and system is needed for this to take place effectively. Research and accurate measurement is the key to getting to the bottom of the problems. It is time for Africans to stop dogma based thinking and instead adopt evidence based thinking. How about that?. It is a pity that most companies around don’t take research seriously but again the innovation is left for the individuals. The entrepreneurs and other great minds in Africa have their work cut out for them. Back to the education, 32 million primary level kids are out of school in Africa and around 59% of the school kids don’t get enrolled at all. Believe it, 2.4 million teachers are needed by 2015 and there is need to bridge the huge teachers’ training gap through innovative learning methods. This is in keeping with the global “Education for All” goals. Innovation entrepreneurship in Africa can flourish where there is emphasis on monitoring, evaluation and learning and the roles of the various players are recognized
3: Scale. Simply put, get funding. As they say someone has to pay the bills, someone has to help the startups get out of the ground. The problem is there are not many right kind of investors that are critically needed in Africa at the moment. The investors who would bet on the ideas and the people. Yes the angel investors. The outlook is not that bleak as we have seen a number of investors and companies coming in and actually funding different projects. The tipping point would be when the ideas and the startups which are at the very early stages get funded. That is the time when the entrepreneurship in Kenya and most parts of Africa will get another meaning to the people and to the younger generation. Talking of which
4: Show me your role model… Purnimar Kochikar-Vice President, Forum Nokia and Developer Communities understand this well. There is that need for role models in entrepreneurship field. Someone whom the young kids look up to and would like to become like when they grow up. In African context they are not many and that is a problem. The fact that the corrupt politicians have come in to fill that gap shows how deeply rooted our problem is. That aside, Purnimar and the Nokia team are in the right path, working so hard and they believe soon there will be success stories. So it is important that the likes of Mr. John Waibochi of Virtual City who won $1 million funding from Nokia do succeed and succeed big.
5: Again how complex is the word innovation and why are so many different definitions. Simple, when there is a problem; get creative ideas to solve it and that is innovation. Innovation can come from anywhere , meaning it can be both high and low tech. Talking of which there are no low-end consumers or high end consumers, there only a different of affordability. There has been a lot of debate around the internet whether some ideas which are already being used somewhere else can be deployed in the local settings, and is that really innovation or copy pasting! It depends on how you look at it but I don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel all the time. We heard how Indians have used some of the ideas borrowed from West to solve the local problems and we probably all know how Chinese are doing it. There come a time when you just need to pick the wheel and do whatever you can do best with it….
6: Mobile phones use in Africa. Think mobile, think success in Africa. It is amazing, Africa is the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world. Think about it, the penetration is still less than 40% and it is not wrong to say that, that is an open begging opportunity. My best quote of the Summit “African societies are book poor and mobile rich. The cell phone is the Kindle of Africa” by @Stevevosloo. Still there…
7: For the first time there is something that almost the whole world admire about Kenya and would like to learn on how we do it. The mobile money transfer and banking. The success of Mpesa in Kenya is unbelievable in many parts of the world. You only understand it when you hear people from some of the most advanced countries like Finland talk about it. They have a lot to learn from Kenya’s mobile banking system. So how do we keep being ahead of the pack? Innovate….
8: Where does the Government fit in all these? Government role in enabling innovation both in public and private sectors is crucial. It is great to learn that since the turn of the century most African governments have done well in carrying out reforms which enable the businesses to grow. Actually some of the leading global reformers are from Africa, the likes of Rwanda, Botswana, Malawi. Due to that, many countries in Africa are enjoying improved economic growth with some countries achieving as much as 12% GDP growth annually. There is increased investment and an increasingly attractive business environment. The completion and operation of many submarine fibre optic cables linking Africa to the rest of the world has made more bandwidth available at significantly reduced prices making information more accessible to many more people. This also presents a valuable opportunity for young people to be heard and participate in development through information and ideas-sharing and entrepreneurship. At the same time, there is still worrying trend that politics is still ruining some parts of Africa….if only politicians would think beyond their noses……. God bless Africa
9: So what is required for Innovation in the Government:
- Predictability..there must be continuity in the government. The real working brains (technocrats) should remain intact,
- Research and Development . Very critical
- Partnership..Getting everyone to work together. Kenya has a problem when come to this. According to PS Ndemo, who by the way opened the Summit, “ The Kenyan ICT sector has been unable to get Government, Academia and Business to work together.” Harmful disunity!
- Commercialization. Introduce the new product into the market. .
- Enabling Environment…Enable innovation, get sustainable social economic development.
10: Where do you come in? “Tunaomba serikali atusaidie” mentality has to be eradicated, it is like a disease. Every time a Kenyan is interviewed on the National Tv, that is the first thing that comes out. When comes to innovation people should not wait for the government to move in and set policies, let the government play the catch up game. We both know some of the most annoying places to go for services are the government offices..just imagine that someone is pegging his/her great life on that. In Silicon Valley the entrepreneurs believe that they can change the world and basically we have seen them doing it.. The question is, how about people of Africa? Do we believe that we can change the world?
11: The perspective. Innovate with them not for them, innovate with them in mind not out of mind. Although I have already noted that there are no low end consumers, but different in affordability. I will bring in another term which might be a bit contradictory..pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, people buy brand to show what they can afford, at the bottom ,people buy brand for security.
At the end it was a great Summit at Great Rift Valley Lodge ..and Naivasha will always remain my favorite place in Kenya