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Supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in Africa

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Zuvaa's showcase, WBG-IMF YAS Africa Innovate DC Photo: Dasan Bobo/World Bank Group

"What do you mean you would like to be a …?” said a parent with his glasses on the nose, stoically looking at his most creative invention yet: his son and daughter. The blanks can easily be filled with “fashion designer”, “stylist”, “artist”, “movie producer”, “writer” and many more non-traditional professions which would meet the disapproving eye of parents.

This conversation has been observed and experienced by countless youths, not only in developing countries, but also in developed countries that would seem to be encouraging creativity and innovation. However, this cannot be solely blamed on the parents, when life experience appears to prove that career advancement, job opportunities and financial stability are found mostly in the areas of accounting, finance, medicine and law. Why not go the safe route even if it ultimately lowers the creative potential of a community/country in the long run? Is there too much to lose?

In April 2012, Adobe conducted a large survey that revealed a global creativity gap in five of the world’s largest economies; USA, France, UK, Germany and Japan. The results found that 75% of respondents felt pressured to be productive rather than creative, and 52% thought that creativity was being stifled by education systems. The US, although being ranked globally as the second most creative nation, still had 82% of its respondents say that they are not living up to their creative potential. Perhaps one of the most flagrant success stories (but surely not the only one) of the great impact that creativity can have on the economy and job creation, Nollywood is Nigeria's second biggest provider of work, employing directly or indirectly more than one million people, according to the United States International Trade Commission.


With this in mind, the second in a series of Africa Innovate DC discussions took place last month in the World Bank’s Preston Auditorium. Recognizing that non-traditional industries are an avenue for job creation and a tool for development, the Africa Innovate DC Series: Supporting Entrepreneurship and Innovation, featured young Africans in un-conventional, trending, and mold-breaking businesses. Joining the discussion were entrepreneurs from Youneek Studios, an African-owned animation studio), Zuvaa, an African fashion store, Heat Free Hair, a natural hair company and community, and I/O Spaces, a modern African co-working space).

Youneek Studios, founded by Roye Okupe, was one of the most creative and mold-breaking displays of the night. Roye uses his passion for drawings, animations and storytelling to tell the African story, from an African perspective. He shared that the gaming/animation industry in Africa is still in its infancy, and that most of the people in this industry on the continent fund their initiatives from their own pockets. Summarizing the call to action from his co-presenters, Roye challenged the World Bank Group to invest more in supporting the development of creative industries that would help explore the creative potential of African nations and create more opportunities.

The Africa Innovate DC event proved that creative arts and unconventional industries are of interest even in developing nations. Most of the young Africans in the audience appreciated being able to gain valuable information from players in these industry. Entrepreneurs identified access to financing, educational opportunities in the creative arts, access to adequate mentors, access to the internet and digital platforms when educational opportunities are nonexistent, improved trust and confidence in Africa made products as well as hospitable business environments as key areas where the World Bank Group could make a difference in the creative arts entrepreneurship.


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