The IPA journey … 4 years on

The Future We Innovate!

It’s countdown to the 4th edition of the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) 2015, the continent’s most celebrated innovation-focused event, showcasing and rewarding Africa’s ingenuity. A program of the African Innovation Foundation IPA promotes home-grown, market-driven solutions to challenges confronting Africans. It is all about Africans for Africa! With just a few days to go before the top three IPA 2015 winners are announced, here’s a reflection on the phenomenal IPA journey, four years on.

4 years on …

I have been privileged to witness the growth of this awesome initiative since its inception in 2011 with our friends at UNECA and the inaugural IPA event 2012 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2012. The IPA initiative was then endorsed through a resolution passed at continental level during a joint Ministerial conference organized by UNECA and the African Union. This resolution called on all African governments to work with us and support IPA in its effort to place Innovation at the centre of the African development agenda. Since then, few African countries began to mainstream innovation into their national strategic plans, contributing to the growth of innovation across the continent.

The IPA initiative was endorsed by both the South African and Nigerian governments, where annual competitions were held respectively in Cape Town (2013) and Abuja (2014).  IPA 2015 will be celebrated in Morocco this year, and it has received High Patronage from His Majesty King Mohamed VI of Morocco.

After this 4th edition, IPA will have been hosted in all four African regions namely, East, West, South and North! This is not a random choice, but an AIF strategy to take IPA to every region, providing a platform for African innovators, innovation enablers and other movers and shakers to meet and explore business opportunities, as well as engage in other forms of collaboration.

Stories to tell …

I have heard great stories of people who met up at the IPA event and ended up collaborating. A good recent example is my friend and innovation champion, Karim Sy who is now opening up a Jokkolabs at Technopark in Casablanca, Morocco,  working with another innovation champion and recent AIF Board Member, Omar Balafrej whom he met during the IPA 3rd edition. This indeed is the essence of IPA: serving as a platform to connect innovators, innovation enablers and celebrate African ingenuity!

To date, about 3000 applications from 49 African countries have been received for this truly Pan African initiative. The applications are diverse, and prove that innovation is not only about technology, but multi-disciplinary with wide cross-cutting themes, encompassing the rigours of science, agriculture, energy, water, health, education, manufacturing, engineering and industry which in fact make up the IPA core focus areas.  This year, 925 applications were received from 41 African countries, indicative again of the increasing popularity of the Prize! Also, it is not just about the numbers, but the quality of entries has been increasing each year.

pauline

If you ask me what distinguishes IPA from other competitions, I would have to say it is the rigorous selection process and efforts made to position all the nominees! The process involves well-seasoned independent judges and technical validators.   For each edition, every application receives attention until this is narrowed down to 10 – by no means an easy task! I want to thank all the enthusiastic innovators from Africa and the diaspora who applied, and urge continued submissions. Every year, my team and I marvel at some of the unique, fascinating ideas that are presented over long hours of scrutiny, excitement and some trepidation. One thing is certain: these innovations all embrace our motto of “Africa for Africans.”

Connexions & synergies …

We are very privileged to have built strong connections with accomplished experts in innovation, linked to mainstream innovations stemming from research and development, as well as recognizing grassroots level innovators, known as frugal innovators or hidden innovators. Not only they can detect an innovation through business as usual, but they also understand the needs of our continent, as well as appreciate the potential of innovations they evaluate in addressing Africa’s most pressing challenges. You can find biographies of the IPA 2015 judges here  –  a combination of skilled leaders, catalysers, and movers and shakers from the African innovation ecosystem.

My gratitude extends to the AIF Founder and our Chairman of the Board whose hearts and souls lie in innovation, and making a difference on the continent through catalysing the spirit of innovation in Africa. Such passion, driven not only by words but action as witnessed by this annual competition is impetus that Africans can provide solutions to their own problems. Of course, without the support of the entire AIF team, and especially the IPA team who do not see this as a job but more of a passion, we would not have been able to achieve so much so fast! We only have to look at the immense progress our past winners have made, and their respective track records of success in order to keep motivated!

Young Africans cannot be left out of innovating the future, and it must start today. This year’s awards also pay tribute to young Africans who hold the key to Africa’s development. Our aim is to unleash the potential in all young Africans across the continent so they can drive their own progress, be it through use of technology, informal markets, agriculture or industry. As an African woman myself, now is the time for us to mobilize more women to join this movement! When women innovate, they innovate for the whole family, the village, the community, the country and the continent! It is never about themselves, but for others… I dream of a day where we can receive equal numbers of applications from both men and women! I know this is possible, do you?

IPA 2015 would not be the success story that is unfolding without our loyal and dedicated partner, the Ministry of Industry, Trade, Investment and the Digital Economy in Morocco, who embraced AIF as a host partner this year. Our program promises excitement, inspiration and the best in African innovation from Morocco and the rest of Africa. In addition to a Press Conference that will kick-start the IPA 2015 event, a two-day Innovation Marketplace will be set up, providing innovators with an opportunity to pitch to investors and receive useful feedback. An Ideas Machine workshop will set the tone for the evening Gala Dinner; an insightful brainstorming session where young African visionaries will develop transformative ideas to Innovate the Future of our great continent.

If you cannot be with us in Morocco this year, tap into our livestreaming channel where you can meet our top three IPA 2015 winners, and listen to the sounds of African music legend, Youssou N’Dour, our guest star at this year’s awards ceremony.

Stay tuned for IPA 2016 and let me know if you would like to join our community of IPA Champions!

Pauline Mujawamariya is Director of the Innovation Prize for Africa, at the African Innovation Foundation. She also leads the Foundation work on the African innovation ecosystem. You can reach her at p.mujawmariya@africaninnovation.org .  For more details on the IPA 2015 event, check out http://event.innovationprizeforafrica.org/ 

Find us on: www.africaninnovation.org ; Innovation Prize for Africa

https://www.facebook.com/InnovationPrizeforAfrica and https://www.facebook.com/AfricanInnovationFoundation

Twitter:      @AfrinnovFdn; @IPAPrize