Growth poles can help create jobs for Africa's one billion citizens (Credit: World Bank)
We were asked the other day by our senior management to be outrageously aspirational when we engage with growth poles. I have been reflecting on what this means for our work on this topic in Africa, especially in light of the findings of the Africa Competitiveness Report. I think we need to be aspirational in three broad directions: (i) developing the capacity to get things done in Africa, (ii) ensuring all stakeholders benefit from growth, and (iii) mobilizing as much capital as we can, whether it be private, philanthropic or public.
While it’s International Women’s Day tomorrow, many of us at infoDev are trying every day to make women, specifically women innovators, central to our strategy of supporting high-growth entrepreneurs in developing countries. But this is easier said than done as women are notoriously under-represented in tech-related industries and even more so in the area that I work in – clean technology – which is largely manufacturing and therefore male, dominated.
I recently attended one of the largest renewable energy forums in the Caribbean attracting investors, experts and entrepreneurs from around the region. As I looked around the room, I spotted only a handful of women. And this is not an isolated case. I see this scenario play out whenever I meet climate and clean energy entrepreneurs at events like this around the world.
Note: This blog post is adapted from a much longer discussion by the author under the same title that was published at Tekedia on January 7, 2013. You can read that blog post here. Small sections of this article are identical to segments of the original article.
The problem in brief
Africa is experiencing a boom in entrepreneurship due to proliferating Internet and mobile computing technologies. Simultaneously African startups face the often life-threatening impediment of inadequate access to seed and early stage venture capital. Fortunately, a number of developments in other parts of the world point to the contours of an approach to solving that problem in a manner that necessarily starts out small, but that can eventually be scaled in a meaningful way.
Migrant workers, earning money in jobs far from home, sent more than $400 billion to their families back home in 2012. Such remittances remain a vital source of income for millions of people in developing countries: Food, housing, education, health care and more are paid for every day by workers who earn money abroad. Through a simple and repetitive transaction – sending money home – those workers are really sending heart-warming feelings like hope for a better future and love of family.
The poor cannot afford to pay money for health care so they use mainly free government-run health services. Isn't that what you were always told? So if donors want to help the poor they should give their money to governments that provide such services for the poor. I am sure you have read that in many books and articles.
Wait, let’s run that scene once more in real time. What actually happens out there in the real world? Often the government clinics described above have difficulty hiring staff, especially in poor rural areas. The majority of young health workers prefer to live in urban areas where they feel safer and can bring up their children with good schools, near family and friends. Long wait times and lack of medicines at government-run health facilities make the private health sector more attractive to consumers.
Palo Alto and Bangalore may soon have to make room for Nairobi at the top of the tech startup world. Kenya, the setting for such success stories as M-PESA, is making a name for itself as the center of the “Silicon Savannah”. This growth is supported by incubators, investment and policy – an ecosystem of actors committed to capturing opportunities in a promising field.
Today, the Climate Innovation Center (CIC), the first of its kind in the world, opens its doors to Kenyan startups hoping to also make waves in climate technology sectors. infoDev’s feasibility studies estimate that such companies can create up to 4,600 direct and indirect jobs over 5 years and over 24,000 within 10 years, but they require substantial support to realize this potential. To this end, the World Bank’s infoDev, in partnership with the governments of Denmark and the UK, engaged with Kenyan entrepreneurs, policymakers and financiers to determine what climate technology ventures need in order to flourish as their counterparts in other industries have done. In short, they seem to be: financing, business advisory services , networks and policies that support innovative entrepreneurship.
As a boy growing up in Africa, I always assumed that every country had its own airline. To me, a national airline was just another way a country defined itself, along with its flag, national anthem, and currency. Ghana Airways, which my family often flew (we lived in Kumasi), was a perfect example, with the red, gold and green colors of its national flag painted on every plane. They looked proud and elegant, a perfect symbol of statehood.
OK, not exactly an App, but investors in Kenya will soon be able to buy T-bills and bonds offered by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), as agents of the Treasury, through their mobile phones (with or without a bank account)!
This innovative project, led by CBK, with the support of the World Bank, is known as Treasury Mobile Direct. It will aim to extend the use of mobile technology beyond money transfers and broaden the choice of savings products for retail investors. Potential investors will only need a mobile phone line and a subscription to a mobile money service, which will enable telecoms operators open an electronic account with the Central Securities Depository (CDSC) or CBK on their behalf. These accounts are a requirement if you wish to invest in Government debt. The service will include purchase, interest payment and redemption of securities (short-term paper and bonds) through the mobile platform.
Forget about flying cars and wristwatch phones—innovators today are more likely to be tackling solar lamps, cleaner cookstoves, energy-efficient housing and water filters. Such products promise the tantalizing combination of steady jobs, better lifestyles, and a cleaner planet…but for whom, exactly?
The big challenge is making sure that those opportunities reach the more than a billion people living in poverty. Recently infoDev teamed up with the Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship global practice, the World Bank Country Office in Pretoria, and the Gauteng government’s The Innovation Hub to run four workshops on low-income communities’ needs, attitudes and perceptions about climate technology products.
One could feel the ‘buzz’ at the Open Innovation Africa Summit² in Nairobi. Enthusiasm was teeming, lots of energy displayed in animated discussions and business cards eagerly switched hands at the event, organized by the World Bank’s infoDev and Nokia, which brought together more than 150 inspirational people from across the continent. Sleepy summits come and go, but these three days of sharing, debating and mapping out action plans across four discussion streams all dealing with entrepreneurship gave everyone something tangible to go home with; tools and networks that can create and grow better companies, foster better business environments, and link entrepreneurs to capital.