“From plastic waste to building materials,” a partnership supported by the World Bank Group gathering six private sector frontrunners in Kenya, is testing exactly this.
In the decade since mobile money first sparked international interest in African innovation, hundreds of tech hubs have sprung up across the continent; global giants like GE have rushed in to build innovation centers; and the venture capital industry has steadily grown. Nevertheless, the continent’s tech scene continues to face challenges.
The rise of African innovation has inspired thousands of new start-ups, and this trend will continue into the foreseeable future. Existing acceleration programs, however, still leave growth-stage companies in need of additional support to secure investment and scale their businesses across borders. With many of the continent’s acceleration programs lacking in quality, we hoped to introduce an innovative post-acceleration program, XL Africa.
After infoDev launched its mLabs in Kenya, Senegal, and South Africa in 2011, they introduced incubation programs that successfully supported the creation of over 100 start-ups that raised close to $15 million in investments and grant funding, and developed over 500 digital products or services. As these ecosystems and start-ups have matured, more needs to be done to improve the marketability of these companies to global and local investors.
“What can we do today to prepare students for the labor force in 20 years?” the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Finance, Shai Babad, asked. At an Annual Meetings event last Friday, Babad was asked for his thoughts about successful government policies to enable start-up ecosystems. However, he answered the question with one of the many questions that policymakers continue to wrestle with in the new digital economy.
In recent years, many of the World Bank Group’s country partners have posed similar questions. As Trade & Competitiveness Director Klaus Tilmes commented, “Many clients are now less interested in our money, and more in our knowledge around best practices and effective incubator models. They’re asking ‘How can we create our own start-up ecosystems?’ So we are trying to become more systematic and leverage tools to expand our programs and build them into our lending projects.”
No state is more renowned for its success in building such ecosystems than Israel. The small country contains the highest number of start-ups outside of Silicon Valley and receives the most VC investment per capita. With a population of only 8 million, Israel has over 6,000 start-ups, and 1,000 new start-ups are launched every year. In 2016 alone, Israeli start-ups raised over $4.8 billion.
Helen Mwangi and her solar-powered water pump in Kenya © infoDev/World Bank
Managers of initiatives that support innovative entrepreneurs have a choice to spread their resources (and luck) among many opportunities or focus them on the most promising few. In developing countries, public and donor programs can learn a lot from how private investors pick and back innovative ventures.
In the early days of infoDev’s Climate Technology Program, our thinking was very much about letting a hundred flowers bloom: supporting a large number of firms with the hope that a few would emerge as blockbusters. Firms were selected on the basis of objective metrics tied to the innovative nature of their ideas and their economic, social and climate-change impacts. For example, while infoDev’s partner the Kenya Climate Innovation Center has more than 130 companies in its portfolio, a $50 million venture-capital fund in California would have at most six. Inspired by private investors, we have since rethought our program objectives for these centers, as well as the way we select and support businesses. The Kenya center is going through a rationalization of the firms it supports.
Like many public programs, infoDev and its network of Climate Innovation Centers had good reasons to support large numbers of companies. The main reason is the need to spread the entrepreneurship risk through a diversified portfolio. A recent infoDev literature review found that up to a third of all new firms do not survive beyond two years, let alone grow. Out of those that survive, data from high-income countries suggest that fewer than 10 percent become high-growth firms. So casting a wide net increases the chances of hitting the jackpot. The opposite approach, picking winners, is seen as destined to fail and distort the market.
Over the past five years, we have seen the emergence of a number of eGovernment applications and platforms in East Africa, leveraging the growth of internet and smartphone penetration to improve the reach and quality of government service delivery. While a number of these technology solutions, particularly in tax administration, trade facilitation and financial management systems, have been sourced from international providers – based in the United States, India and Singapore – African information and computer technology (ICT) firms have also played a major role in this surge in online service delivery to citizens and businesses.
The use of various “managed service” models, such as eGovernment public-private partnerships (PPPs) and cloud hosting, has allowed even governments with limited in-house ICT capacity to deliver services online in a sustainable manner. The World Bank Group (WBG) has also played an important role in developing the ability of local firms to effectively provide services to government clients by sharing good international practices and by funding the development of these locally grown technology solutions.
Kenya e-Citizen improves revenue generation as it cuts compliance costs for citizens and businesses
This digital services and payment platform – https://www.ecitizen.go.ke/ – was initially piloted in 2014 with seed funding from the Kenya Investment Climate Program of the WBG's Trade & Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice. The technology platform was developed and is now managed through an outsourcing arrangement by government with a local ICT firm. It has grown organically, expanding from eight government-to-citizen (G2C) and government-to-business (G2B) services to more than 100 today, covering such areas as driver’s licenses, passport and visa applications, company and business name registration, work permit administration and civil registration. Citizens are able to register and obtain login credentials online, through a validation process involving the national ID and SIM card registry databases. They can also pay for services using a variety of methods, including bank transfers, credit cards, MPesa (“mobile wallet”) and other mobile money systems.
Just to be clear, this is not about the American TV show formerly hosted by President-elect Donald Trump and recently taken over by actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is about apprenticeships in the real world.
Being an apprentice is a great way to enter the job market, especially if you are just out of school and unsure what the future holds. For employers, an apprenticeship program is a relatively low-cost and low-risk option to discover talent and establish a pipeline of future employees.
So, why is there not a booming apprenticeship industry? The challenge is often the lack of a reliable marketplace for matching demand and supply. Several start-ups are aiming to fill that gap.
GetMyFirstJob does exactly that in the United Kingdom. This online tool helps job seekers identify and explore apprenticeship and training opportunities based on their skills and interests. Potential candidates are then matched with partnering employers, colleges and training providers.
Fuzu — Swahili for "successful" — is a Kenyan-Finnish employment platform that aims to bring the best of Finland’s education and innovation systems to job seekers in Africa. Their motto is, “Dream. Grow. Be Found.” Fuzu works with a diverse range of partners, such as M-Kopa and Equity Bank, to provide job seekers with career opportunities and insights on the job market. Employers have at their disposal an effective recruitment system and pay-for-performance solutions. In a short time, Fuzu has established a community of more than 180,000 users and more than 100 companies.
Last week, Andela received the U.S. Secretary of State’s Corporate Excellence Award for SMEs. The U.S. Executive Director of the World Bank Group is hosting a “brown-bag lunch” discussion with their CEO this Wednesday at the Bank's headquarters.
A technology bootcamp in Medellín, Colombia. © Corporación Ruta N Medellín/World Bank
The fourth industrial revolution is disrupting business models and transforming employment. It is estimated that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will, in the future, be working in new job types that do not exist today. These changes have been more noticeable in developed countries, with the 2008 financial crisis accelerating this transformation process. However, they are also affecting emerging economies that have traditionally relied on routine blue-collar jobs (e.g., textiles, manufacturing or business process outsourcing) for broad employment and economic development.
Start-ups are at the core of these disruptions in business models. In recent years, we have witnessed how completely new market categories have been created out of the blue, transforming entire sectors of the economy, including transportation, logistics, hospitality, and manufacturing. When start-ups disrupt a market, a new business category is created and new sources of growth and employment are generated.
When we think about start-ups and employment, the first thing that come to mind is the start-up founders, typically highly educated and motivated individuals. However, evidence from New York startup ecosystem, a testing ground of new jobs generated through technology after the financial crisis, suggests otherwise.
First, most of the jobs generated by the tech start-up ecosystem are not in start-ups but in the traditional industries that either are influenced or disrupted by start-up technologies (with over three times more employment generated in the non-tech traditional industry).
Second, more than 40 percent of these new jobs did not require bachelor’s degree skills or above. These are jobs like building a website, a basic database, a web or mobile app.
What are the skills needed to fill these categories — which we can call tech blue-collar skill jobs — and how people are being trained for them?
Value addition through manufacturing has been a major focus of economic policymakers across the world, and at times with remarkable success, most famously in East Asia. Initial ‘Asian miracles’ in places like South Korea have since been eclipsed by the meteoric rise of manufacturing in China, which has grown its exports in manufactures by 18 percent a year over the past 10 years, compared to a global average of 7 percent (ITC Trade Map data).
Most countries generally seemed to follow a basic pattern, initially establishing manufacturing credentials in light manufacturing, such as in textile and apparel, but then in time moving on from such products to higher-value-added and more complex products. As they moved on and up, they opened space for other countries to move into the initial entry products, following the so-called ‘flying geese’ model of division of labor.
There have been noticeable absences though, with not all regions having moved into manufacturing. This is partially the case with Central and South America, but most strikingly with Sub-Saharan Africa.
What can be done to support countries in their quest to deepen their manufacturing sectors, and extract the jobs and technological development that this can offer? How can they develop the kinds of deep and comprehensive manufacturing ecosystems that have enabled China to maintain investment despite fast-rising labor costs?
The White Nile in South Sudan. Photo by Steve Utterwulghe.
As I was landing in Juba, the bustling capital of South Sudan, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my days working in Khartoum for the UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General. The war between the North and the South, of what was then, in 2004, still the Sudan, was raging as the peace negotiations were taking place in a plush resort on the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya. I was mainly focusing on guaranteeing access to the people of the Nuba Mountains, one of the three fiercely contested areas between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA). I was doing my fair share of shuttle diplomacy, going back and forth between the SPLM/SPLA leadership based in Nairobi and the Government of Sudan in Khartoum. At that time, hopes were high that one would soon see the end of decades of a bloody war in Africa’s largest country. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was finally signed in 2005. In 2011, South Sudanese participated in a referendum and 99 percent voted for independence. South Sudan became the newest country in the world.
But what should have been a new era of peace and prosperity quickly turned into a feeling of dejà vu. Dreams were shattered as a new internal violent conflict broke out in December 2013, putting the progress achieved at significant risk and disrupting economic activities and livelihoods.
The country is very rich in natural resources, including oil, minerals and fertile arable land. However, with 90 percent of its population earning less than US$1 per day, South Sudan is ranked as one of the poorest countries on the planet. South Sudan remains an undeveloped economy facing important challenges, including high unemployment, weak institutions, illiteracy and political instability. The economic overview of the country by the World Bank suggests that “South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world, with oil accounting for almost the totality of exports, and around 60 percent of its gross domestic product.” The conflict has dramatically affected the production of oil, which has fallen by about 20 percent and is now at about 165,000 barrels per day. This, combined with the sharp global drop in oil prices, has greatly affected the fiscal position of the government.
In such an environment, private sector development is a must, since it has the potential to create market-led jobs and growth. However, private sector growth requires a conducive investment climate and an enabling business environment.
South Sudan has made progress in this area, thanks in part to support from the international community, including the World Bank Group. Yet more needs to be done. South Sudan ranks 187th out of the 189 economies in the Doing Business ranking, just ahead of Libya and Eritrea. In addition, among the top constraints reported by firms in the World Bank Group's Enterprise Survey, 68 percent mention political instability and 58 percent cite access to electricity, followed closely by access to land and finance.