Why innovation in Africa matters

Welcome aboard!

Our destination: Innovation in Africa.

Our mission: On this journey, we will plot, manage, share, and produce a steady stream of innovation news, views, trends, and insights. Travel with us on this trip, meet new people from the innovation landscape, check out what’s cool in the innovation space, and join the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) in catalysing the innovation spirit in Africa!

As we all know, Africa has huge, multi-faceted challenges. To overcome these challenges requires new, innovative solutions. These solutions must be informed and driven from the ground, by the needs of Africans themselves. Innovations that do not improve the lives and livelihoods of the people of Africa are doomed to fail.

Bottom-up approaches that harness the massive and beautiful energy and spirit of Africans are key to inculcating a spirit of innovation.  Innovation is defined as the successful exploitation of new ideas to create value or solve old problems. Activities involved range from identifying problems, generating new ideas, to implementing new solutions and diffusing new technologies.

Nothing is more important for the long-term strength and prosperity of Africa than driving the fundamental aspects of the innovation ecosystem across and between the political, educational, economic, natural environment and media systems (referred to as the Quintuple Helix Model that expounds a circulation of knowledge between these co-existing systems, see illustration). Innovation is a key determinant for sustainable development, and is fast being recognised as the facilitating factor for the renaissance of the continent.


* The Quintuple Helix Model and its functions. Modifid from Etzkowitz and Leyesdorf [2000] on Carayannis and Campbell [2006, 2009, 2010] and on Barth [2011a]. Carayannis et al. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship 2012 1:2 doi:10.1186/2192-5372-1-2

To ensure a robust innovation ecosystem, conducive conditions are essential, taking hold across the length and breadth of the continent.  Out-of-the-box ideas that solve the challenges faced by the continent and create new innovations are best implemented engaging proactive approaches. Key to this approach is an overarching framework that defines a shared vision, creates a clear direction, and identifies priority areas for innovation – be it health or solar energy – culminating in the best practical solutions.

Helping to unleash, channel, and connect the millions of innovative minds across all regions of Africa, all disciplines, and all walks of life is a valuable investment, and a sure method to propel the continent forward. Put simply, building a culture of innovation is a certain way of sustaining Africa and the way we live, think, make and create. Africa is already taking great strides in this direction as she re-writes her success story.

So, let’s journey ahead, and in the process demystify the perception that innovation is something that can only be undertaken by the super talented, or that innovation is only technology-driven. Let’s instead instil innovation as an essential part of everyday life, tapping into the capabilities of ordinary people at all levels. Making innovation routine involves people and active participation.

Thus, fostering a spirit of innovation in Africa requires connecting people so that they can share problems, opportunities, promote learning and exchange. Ultimately, innovation matters for boosting growth and improving the living standards of the millions of people in Africa.

Chief K. Masimba Biriwasha is a tech evangelist, AfroFuturist and digital story-teller currently based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

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