UK-Supported Kenya Innovation Week Kicks Off

Kenya is hailed as a regional Innovation hub and is developing into a globally competitive digital economy. This can be confirmed by the number of innovative ideas and startups being launched and run by Kenyans across the board. Before Fintech became a big deal around the world Kenya was already in the forefront with cutting edge mobile money technology popularly known as MPESA. How MPESA has changed the lives of ordinary citizens both in Kenya and other countries  has been discussed over and over  but what is not well talked about is how MPESA came to be. 

Around 2003 DFID, the British Government development agency, had formed a Financial Deepening Challenge Fund targeting East Africa. According to “Money Real Quick”, a book by Tonney K Omwansa 

 and Nicholas P. Sullivan, DFI theory was that while microfinance  and informal finance had addressed some of the gap, a sustainable expansion of products beyond  microcredit was needed to tackle financial inclusion on an adequate scale. 

2003 Nick Hughes who was Head of Social Enterprises at Vodafone which by then owned 40% of Safaricom, came aware of that promising approach and came up with the proposal to use mobiles to deliver financial services and was awarded 1 million pounds by DFID. And the rest as they say is history. 

When I heard that the UK, through the East Africa Research and Innovation Hub (EARIH) of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), was supporting and participating in the Kenya Innovation Week (KIW), I thought that was a huge and it reminded me  of the above MPESA story. Another interesting aspect is Tonney K Omwansa the co-author of the MPESA story, is the current CEO Kenya National Innovation Agency(KeNIA), the Government Agency  behind the Kenya Innovation Week (KIW).  The Kenya innovation week (KIW) which started today 6th, will run up to 8th December 2022 at the Sarit Expo Centre. 

Meanwhile the  EARIH is showcasing innovations supported through various UK-funded programmes that are breaking ground with emerging technologies and initiatives in agritech, clean energy solutions, health, and more.

“It is an immense privilege to know that the UK Government and the UK science and innovation sector have been Kenya’s partners on this journey right from early-stage grant funding of innovations and start-ups and research systems strengthening. This partnership has realised mutual benefits including ecosystem growth, scaling of innovations, enhanced research capabilities, and enabling more future-proof policies and regulations,” said Professor Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser – Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

The EARIH’s partnership with the Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA), through the Africa Technology and Innovation Partnership (ATIP) Programme, has strengthened commercialisation practices through several projects that have built the capacity for researchers and research institutions to commercialise. These include the Research and Innovation for Africa (RISA) Fund, Research to Commercialisation (R2C) project, and the Institutional Support (IS) to commercialisation project. In addition, in line with KeNIA’s mandate to strengthen Kenya’s innovation ecosystem, ATIP supported the development of a training tool for innovation champions on incubator set-up and management targeted at academic and research institutions. 

The ATIP supported KeNIA in designing and operationalising the Kenya Innovation Bridge Platform as part of efforts to strengthen systems and processes to facilitate more trust, synergy, and collaboration in the ecosystem. The Kenya Innovation Bridge Platform is a digital marketplace with more than 1200 users showcasing their innovations, connecting and interacting with other users (industry players, funders, or fellow researchers). 

The ATIP, through the RISA Fund and the EARIH, is planning to scale up funding for all the above activities. Separately, through the Global Alliance Africa project, ATIP is also supporting the Government of Kenya to enhance the innovation ecosystem through various interventions, including working with innovation stakeholders in Kenya’s secondary cities. Through the Evidence Fund, the UK has worked collaboratively with KeNIA to generate the first Kenya Innovation Outlook (KIO) to establish a set of relevant indicators to monitor the innovation ecosystem. 

British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott OBE engaging with UK-at  Kenya Innovation Week 2022.
British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott OBE engaging with UK-funded exhibitioners at the Kenya Innovation Week 2022.

The Newton Utafiti Fund has further cemented the UK-Kenya science and innovation partnership by supporting 21 high-quality research partnership projects and over 40 innovators to commercialise their ideas through the leaders in the innovation programme. The Newton Fund is a bilateral programme that seeks to contribute to partner countries’ economic development and social welfare. In addition, the Science and Innovation Network (SIN) has forged partnerships with Kenyan institutions in priority areas, including emerging technology, climate change, and health.

“We continue to build on years of mutual science, technology, and innovation partnerships with the Kenyan government and other key stakeholders, developing mutual priorities for collaboration and learning. This has generated evidence for more effective policy and decision-making, built capacity for researchers and research institutions, supported start-ups, innovators and entrepreneurs to attract investment and grow their business and create new jobs, and enabled affordable, inclusive, safe, and secure digital access. All this is critical to ensuring long-term sustainable growth,” said High Commissioner Jane Marriott OBE, British High Commission, Nairobi.

Visit the UK-Kenya pavilion at the KIW2022 exhibition space to view exciting innovations by UK-based and UK-funded local start-ups.

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