Ten Innovations Changing Africa

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Kenya leads Africa in mobile and internet access and is working to finish “the last mile” of connecting the entire country. It has used mobile technology to pioneer mobile money transferring and crowdsourcing crisis information.

A huge percentage of the world’s most successful economies are created by knowledge based industries that are heavily reliant on great innovations and human capital. A large share of economic growth is driven by technological advance. This technological progress has the potential to boost economic growth, and thereby to meet challenges not only of the financial crisis in the short term but also of population ageing and climate change in the longer term.  This forces us into a world that seeks evolution and change to feature on a global market scale.

Human capital involves the creating, developing, updating, innovating and coming up with different inventions. Unfortunately, simple inventions are not powerful enough to curb the pressures of globalization.  Hence confusion is present among inventors on what true innovation is, so it’s relevant to point out unproductive ideas that peoples usually have over the economy changing ones. Indeed, innovation is not something coming from nowhere that happen by chance but it’s the fruit of a lot of work, along with a favorable context and based on different people’s work. That’s why an invention doesn’t mean it will turn into innovation, while an innovation is simply a successful invention.

Paper Currency is one of the thousands innovations that have changed the direction of progress in our economies. Throughout much of human history, money took the form of precious metals, coins and even raw materials like livestock or vegetables. The inception of paper money ushered in a bold new era—a world in which currency could purchase goods and services despite having no intrinsic value. It also ushered in a new era of international monetary regulation that changed the face of global economics. Perhaps even more importantly, paper currency was the vital first step in a new monetary system that led to the birth of credit cards and electronic banking.

Automobile is another notable innovation that has changed the direction of our progress. The invention of the automobile can be traced back as far as 1769, when one Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, devised the very first concept – a complex, three-wheeled steam engine. The idea never really took off, as it could not compete with horse-powered transportation, which was easier to handle, faster, less expensive and more commercially viable. Henry Ford was an intelligent man who understood the process of commercializing inventions to turn a profit. He made it his mission to develop a car, which could compete against by being affordable, competitive and profitable.
The Internet is something that many of us now take for granted, but yet another major innovation that have changed the direction of progress in our economies. The Internet is essentially a network connecting thousands of smaller networks into a single global network. The Internet has changed our world bringing a wealth of information to our fingertips. The sharing of information has accelerated with the introduction of the Internet, with new, fresh content accessible second after second.

These innovations and many more others transformed the world generally, but the question is where Africa in all this? For decades Africa was regarded as a continent dependent on western aid for survival.  However, a different picture has started to emerge. The continent is changing. Today Africa is generating innovations that are relevant to international markets. African technological innovations are not mere gadgets.  They are life-enhancing tools that contribute to a more productive economy and improvements in quality of African people.  African entrepreneurs who are leading the charge in the technological revolution are also creating jobs and new income streams. Notable ten life-changing innovations in Africa have been identified as:

1.    Start-ups and Incubators
Previously regarded as the capitals of start-ups, San Francisco, London and Berlin have been facing immense competitions with the growing African start-up scene. A number of innovation hubs such as iHub in Kenya, Co- Creation Hub in Nigeria and the Silicon Cape Initiative in South Africa. These communities exist to offer an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area, creating a platform of creativity to flow and provide support to build it into productiveness.

2.    Afro-entrepreneurs
Some defining characteristics of these entrepreneurs are interactive social and business relationships, use of modern management methods and information technology, trust among fellow members, transparent business practices, advocacy on behalf of the private sector, and commitment to increasing intra-African commerce. Their mission is to improve the climate for private sector business in Africa and to promote regional economic integration. They pursue cross-national commercial ventures, maintain official observer status at established regional economic organizations, sign memoranda of understanding with multilateral agencies, establish venture capital funds, and help to change government policies.

Innovation in healthcare is another trend to watch out for in Africa. The continent is seeing innovation in terms of mobile health solutions in particular. 

“A number of innovation hubs such as iHub in Kenya, Co- Creation Hub in Nigeria and the Silicon Cape Initiative in South Africa. These communities exist to offer an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area, creating a platform of creativity to flow and provide support to build it into productiveness”

3.    Local Technology Producers
A number of African tech firms have begun designing and producing mobile and computing hardware specifically for local markets. From the VMK’s Way C, an affordable Android tablet designed in the Republic of Congo, to the BRCK, a Kickstarter funded black box developed in Ushahidi to address unreliable power and data connections. Self-titled the ‘backup generator for the internet’, BRCK is a perfect example of a local solution to a local problem.

4. Smart phones built for Africa
Not to be left behind by local Original Equipment Manufactures’ major firms are starting to develop smart phones specifically for African consumers. Gone are the days of the Nokia 1100s, replaced by the likes of the Huawei 4Africa, an affordable Smartphone which will let users benefit from the growing data connectivity across the continent.

5. The Maker Movement
And then when a product doesn’t exist to address a local problem, why not produce a local solution? The maker movement has officially reached Africa, with Maker Faire Africa 2012 bringing members of the growing community to Lagos. The main story coming out of Maker Faire Africa was a generator, designed and built by four teenage girls, that uses 1 liter of urine to produce 6 hours of electricity.

6. Greater connectivity
With a massive population spread over an equally massive distance (many in rural areas), Africa is on the forefront of developing innovative solutions to limited connectivity. White space technology, in particular, is leading the way. By taking advantage of pre-existing but unused radio and TV frequencies, providers are able to widen data coverage to include countless rural areas. Microsoft has partnered with Kenyan regulators and Google with South Africa’s ICASA to show that broadband can be offered over wide spaces. Results of these trials will inform policy for the region.

7. Mobile money
Easily the hottest topic in African tech at the moment, mobile money is revolutionizing banking and money management in Africa. Africa is often touted as leading the world in the application of mobile money solutions. Tools and platforms like mPesa have already proven that mobile banking is a game changer. In December 2012, Visa launched mVisa in Rwanda to better serve the unbanked, improve ATM services across Rwanda, and promote electronic payments which will contribute to formalizing the economy.

8. MHealth
Staying on the mobile front, health organizations have started using mobile technology – SMS in particular- to address critical medical needs. For example, SMS is being used to share crucial information with expectant and recent mothers by groups like the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, or to send reminders to HIV/AIDS patients about taking their antiretrovirals. In Malawi, Baobab Health is developing solutions to replace traditional paper-based systems. These solutions help health workers on the ground and provide data to help policymakers plan ahead.

“The main story coming out of Maker Faire Africa was a generator, designed and built by four teenage girls, that uses 1 liter of urine to produce 6 hours of electricity.”

9. ELearning
Schooling in Africa is being turned on its head through the advent of eLearning. High-profile initiatives like One Laptop per Child, and Samsung’s e-learning technology platform and solar powered schools are innovative ways to ensure that students across the continent have access to up-to-date information, access to online resources and are able to interact with teachers even when geography or any other obstacle may stand in the way. Major organizations like Wikipedia have quickly jumped on board, teaming up with Orange to open up access to the online encyclopedia (for free) to anyone with a mobile phone in Africa.

10. Social media
What list about tech and change would be complete without social media? As we found when we put together How Africa Tweets – a study of Twitter use in Africa- social media use is taking off at an astronomical rate in Africa. But along with the biggies- Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. – African markets are developing their own, bespoke social media platforms. MXit started the way with over 50 million registered users who can use a basic phone to chat and play games without incurring astronomic data costs. The phenomenal wave that is Whatsapp has taken over the world with its incredible number of 450 million users as well.

Despite most African innovators clearly starting to compete on a global scale, most innovators are following trends and their dreams, inspired mostly by the stories of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs making it without a clear business plans or any structured road maps and it is the role of educators, governments and entire societies to push and aid in their fight of cementing themselves as formidable business players on the global market.

This article was written by KRISTIE OMAR

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