Throughout Africa, innovation is occurring at a rapid pace and the concept of leapfrogging has been cited by many as the driving force that could advance Africa beyond current growth estimates. Because of this, there is a growing demand and necessity for companies to not only foster innovation, but to also institutionalize it as a standard practice. This session looked at ways businesses can incorporate innovation into their company culture, whether by creating special innovation units or setting aside funds for new innovations. In addition to company culture, there is also a role for governments to play in ensuring that innovation is promoted and that laws and regulations encourage these advances.
Discussants on this panel came from both the public and private sector. They included Amadou Mahtar Ba, Executive Chair and Co-Founder of AllAfrica Global Media Inc.; Aubrey Hruby, Senior Fellow, Africa Center at Atlantic Council; Stephen Kehoe, SVP, Head of Global Financial Inclusion at Visa; Ganesh Rasagam, Practice Manager, Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice at the World Bank; and H.E. Ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana of Rwanda.
A young population and leapfrogging technology has pushed many African entrepreneurs and companies to the forefront of many sectors. Amb. Mathilde Mukantabana discussed Rwanda as an example of the public sector fostering in innovation. After the 1990s, Rwanda invested heavily in technology to attract private sector investments. Not only has this led to greater economic development but also an environment ripe for entrepreneurship.”It was a combination of political will and initiatives such as empowering women to that helped us engage various sectors of the economy” says Amb. Mukantabana.
Another sign of innovation on the continent was the growing number of tech hubs which are encouraging businesses to invest on the continent. Participants agreed that cities like Nairobi and Lagos are becoming core tech incubators on the continent. “The potential for innovation is there. The next Google can come from places like Nairobi,” says Ganesh Rasagam.
This has encouraged companies like Visa to begin looking for innovative ways to foster financial inclusion. Visa worked with the government of Rwanda to increase financial inclusion through electronic payments. Initiatives such as mVISA, a Visa mobile money service, highlight the importance of African innovation.
“The future of growth is coming from Africa and it’s mobile,” says Stephen Kehoe. “Africa was the starting point for Visa when we started looking at innovation in the [financial services] sector.”
While there is growing innovation, there are still challenges that many entrepreneurs face. Hruby stressed the greater need for policy changes such as bankruptcy laws to support entrepreneurs as well as developing a business ecosystem that fosters innovation beyond Africa’s tech hubs. Ultimately, all participants stressed the need for collaboration between the public and private sector as the key to alleviating these bottlenecks. Despite these challenges, innovation is positively shaping Africa. It’s at happening at all levels: in tech hubs, at multinational corporations, and African governments like Rwanda investing in their technological sector.
Stay tuned for our blog recapping the next session at the Forum on mainstreaming corporate social responsibility, a discussion on how companies can integrate impactful CSR models into their core business strategy. Make sure to subscribe to our IGD Blog to read the post as soon as it is published.
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