Innovation is critical in shaping the future of Africa’s growth, placing it as a promising hub for technological and economic development. This new ecosystem's emergence inspires a transformative phase, impelling its economic growth.
Africa's technological advancements and innovative solutions have driven socio-economic development by enhancing productivity, improving the quality of life, increasing global competitiveness, and creating further job opportunities and entrepreneurship initiatives. The wave of innovation has empowered key sectors for Africa’s socio-economic growth, such as agriculture, the primary source of food production, employment, and export earnings.
For the continent to continue growing and innovating, Africa’s governments must prioritize its technological development by stimulating the investment and collaboration of international and private entities in its economy to position the continent as a powerful player in the global paradigm, encourage regional integration and enhance the long-term prosperity of its people.
Pioneering Africa's Growth: How tech is shaping innovation and socio-economic development
Over time, the development of the innovative ecosystem in Africa has undergone three key phases that have shaped the future of innovation in the region.
- Political context: Post-independence governance practices and the need to survive in the international sphere influenced the development of innovative solutions. Once a certain degree of political stability was achieved in several African territories, policies fostered greater regional unison, moving governments toward the initial phases of innovation.
- Pluralistic approach towards innovation: Greater openness in the African ecosystem incentivized collaboration between stakeholders at the international, regional, and local levels. This turning point brought together investors, governments, entrepreneurs, and academic institutions, incentivizing the exchange of knowledge and leading to the rise in regional research and development initiatives.
- Creation of an entrepreneurship and startup ecosystem that fosters the relationship between the private and public sectors. Governmental initiatives have facilitated the knowledge exchange by enabling private institutions to take a stand in shaping innovation in the continent. This situation has motivated the creation of numerous events, workshops, and networking sessions where professionals gather to share their knowledge, best practices, and learnings.
Plug and Play has been actively involved in this last phase by leading, fostering, and supporting innovation in Africa through various events.
Entrepreneurial developments: African innovation at a glance
Africa is in the process of development, and although it’s far from achieving its high point, it tends to be undervalued. Some entrepreneurial developments that demonstrate the power of Africa’s innovation ecosystem are:
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- Mr. Green Africa: This is a Kenyan tech-enabled plastic recycling company that tackles waste management problems by collecting, converting, and selling post-consumer plastic waste.
- Wallets Africa: A Nigerian online digital banking platform created to facilitate individuals' and companies’ transactions and banking services.
- Ouroots Africa: This company is determined to tackle the single-use plastic challenge from the root of the problem by growing natural plants and converting them into 100% biodegradable - reusable and disposable - alternatives to single-use plastic.
- African Bamboo: A Ghanaian low-carbon manufacturing platform offering innovative solutions for the materials sector by producing high-performance materials from natural fibers (bamboo).
These innovative solutions demonstrate that, even though innovation in Africa is taking longer to develop, the potential behind it is immeasurable. What we’re currently seeing is just the tip of the iceberg, and the overall results of the technological advancements are yet to be seen and analyzed.
Technological advancement: The trigger for Africa’s economic growth
Africa’s technological advancements pose several opportunities for its economic growth. As Makhtar Diop, World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, outlined, “Innovation is absolutely key to African stability and growth in the coming decades,” emphasizing the importance of supporting innovation empowerment for the continent’s progress.
The particularities of Africa’s economy, guided by the extreme reliance on commodities, pose several challenges for regional governments to exploit initiatives from other industries.
Governments are also required to develop extensive policies to diversify the countries’ incomes and accelerate a sustainable, dynamic, and creative economy.
These points demonstrate the necessity of Africa’s public sector adaptation to the new entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem that technological advancements are creating.
Africa’s economy and development initiatives
The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have posed several global economic challenges, but Africa is maintaining its stand. Despite the unfavorable situation, according to the African Development Bank, the continent is expected to grow at the second-fastest rate in the world in 2023-2024, after Asia.
The support of the local governments and the international system with the creation of development programs positively impacts the continent which is slowly becoming a key player in the global arena.
Some of the current initiatives supporting Africa’s development are:
- The Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme is an initiative launched by the African Union to eradicate hunger and reduce poverty through agricultural development. It seeks to achieve sustainable agricultural growth and increase food production and security among African regions.
- The Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa is led by the African Union, African Development Bank, and NEPAD. It seeks to promote infrastructure development along the continent by creating new development projects in different sectors.
- The African Union Climate Change Strategy aims to achieve the Agenda 2063 Vision by developing the African continent's capabilities to surpass the challenges climate change poses to its population.
- The Science Technology Innovation Strategy for Africa is another African Union initiative. It poses the development of science, technology, and innovation at the heart of Africa’s socio-economic development and growth. The strategy benefits key economic growth sectors on the African continent, such as agriculture and trade.
These initiatives have created innovative solutions that are shockingly affecting Africa’s economy. In the farming sector, cutting-edge methods are transforming the traditional practices of agriculture - according to the UN, family farmers seek to increase productivity, diversify crops, ameliorate nutrition schemes and build climate resilience, leading to a new era in the sector.
However, further changes are required to boost the generational change in Africa. Although innovation and technological advancements are paving the development of Africa’s rural economy, to make the investment in innovation profitable, governments must reinforce Africa’s technological development by creating novel policies that foster entrepreneurship and the creation of a digitalized ecosystem.
Reinforcing Africa’s technological development at the governmental level
The continent's technological development has to be enhanced by governmental authorities to make the changes effective and long-lasting. As a first recommendation, governments should develop policies that accelerate and sustain innovation growth in Africa, which would help develop new techniques and diversify the economy, leveraging the challenges of some African regions. Nevertheless, the private sector's involvement in this process is critical; creating a collaborative strategy to cover innovation costs is vital to achieving a sustainable recovery in Africa.
Furthermore, the power of the private sector’s involvement would contribute to the region’s economic growth via the use of innovative practices, reduce poverty, and broaden economic inclusion, as the African Development Bank, OECD, and Food and Agriculture Organization suggest.
Paradoxically, the rural sector, specifically agriculture, contributes to 15% of Africa’s GDP, but 281 million people in the continent lack food each day. So, the involvement of the private sector, with the support of the governmental authorities to promote development and innovation, could be a setting stone in the change needed to ease the living standards in the continent.
Africa's population needs governments and private entities to come together and bring the wave of innovation to the continent by supporting entrepreneurial initiatives and technological developments. Through this private-public sector collaboration, Africa could profit from its socio-economic growth opportunity, improve the living conditions, and achieve a powerful stand in the international system.
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