AIF blog series 1

Why investing in inclusive innovation ecosystems matters for Africa’s prosperity

Walter Fust
Pauline Mujawamariya Koelbl

Welcome to the first in our series of blogs on investing in inclusive innovation ecosystems for Africa’s prosperity. In this first article, co-authored by AIF Chairman Walter Fust and Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) Director, Pauline Mujawamariya Koelbl, we unpack the meaning of inclusive innovation ecosystems, highlighting the essential role of “inclusivity” towards boosting Africa’s prosperity.

Africa is the world’s fastest-growing continent! Its average 5.4% GDP growth rate has topped the global average over the past decade, underscoring the continent’s resilience. Africa’s progress in solving its own challenges and steering its growth and development is tangible, notwithstanding falls in commodity prices and spells of political instability. Innovation-led responses for Africans by Africans are critical in realising the continent’s socio-economic prosperity.

Benefits of an inclusive approach Our purpose at the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) is to increase the prosperity of Africans through catalysing the innovation spirit in Africa. We action this through innovation-driven programming that unlocks innovation excellence, spurring them into the marketplace; promoting access to African law and policies to help grow market economies; and empowering local communities through social impact initiatives.

Successful African entrepreneurs and business people are instrumental in investing in inclusive innovation ecosystems, with a critical role to play in transforming the continent, and at the same time giving back to the community. Our Founder has been at the forefront of doing this under the AIF mandate. The brainchild of the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) program, driver of the ZuaHub platform and initiator of Fabrica de Sabao in Cazenga, Angola (described below) Jean Claude Bastos de Morais believes innovation cannot thrive in isolation, but relies on a concerted, inclusive approach by all sectors, including government, industry, business and the community.

The IPA is Africa’s premier annual event on the innovation calendar, promoting African ingenuity to compete on the global arena and with impressive impacts illustrated by over US$ 30 million investments generated for past winners and nominees. The initiative, now in its seventh-year running has as its theme Investing in inclusive innovation ecosystems. Pauline Mujawamariya Koelbl has been at the helm of this successful initiative since its launch in 2011: “Through the IPA, AIF works towards strengthening the innovation landscape across Africa and developing mechanisms that enable local innovators to achieve scale and commercial viability, unleashing the potential of African innovators, as well as creating increased opportunities for marginalised groups in hard-to-reach areas, including women and young people.”

AIF walks the talk Africa’s population is vibrant, enterprising and resourceful, capable of steering its own prosperity given the right technical support, tools and systems. Our work has positively impacted millions of lives in Africa, with stories to tell across a wide range of disciplines from health-related technologies, green energy to smart grid systems, mobile and industrial technology, as well as agri-business. We promote innovations by Africans for Africa and in the Diaspora, engaging the values and spirit of the African culture.

AIF’s work on the ground is a vast trove of impact narrative that evidences the benefits of investment and inclusivity towards strengthening innovation ecosystems in Africa. Says Walter Fust, AIF Chairman: “Multi-million-dollar businesses have emerged and bloomed beyond the African soil from the IPA initiative, and tried and tested health and energy innovations have promoted regional integration in West and North Africa. Furthermore, we have seen the power of government partnerships in Botswana through enhanced synergies with the Botswana Innovation Hub, and more recently at the IPA 2017 event, H.E. Nana Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana pledged to invest 1% of its budget towards innovation, indicating an increase to 3% in the next few years”.

At AIF, we continue to walk the talk through our innovation-led programming and products. ZuaHub connects innovators with resources, helping them grow. This online tool serves as a hub for networking, enabling both innovators and enablers to achieve their entrepreneurial vision. Fabrica de Sabao (name originating through an old soap factory) is a model innovation hub designed to leapfrog education challenges and drive socio-economic inclusion and growth at all levels of society. The hub aims to narrow the gap between the formal and informal economy by encouraging needs-based innovation, and a space to foster creative-led enterprise. A unique feature of this initiative is how it integrates the most vulnerable segments of society into the formal economy, creating new jobs, establishing businesses and diversifying the Angolan economy.

AIF’s products and programs are tagged towards investment and inclusivity, geared towards building robust innovation ecosystems across the African continent, and we will highlight these stories in future blogs going forward. As we continue to witness leaps in technology, increasing market know-how and individual ingenuity, let’s jointly pull out the red carpet for inclusive innovation ecosystems to thrive at local, national and continental level in Africa.

African prosperity means economic freedom for Africa. We invite innovation enablers and investors to collectively invest in ecosystems which allow access to opportunities facing marginalized sectors of the population such as women and young people, or those in hard-to-reach areas.

Be a part of our growing innovation movement across the continent and learn more about what we do, and how we do it here. Collectively, let’s do our part in growing Africa economically, sure steps towards our joint goal of ticking the boxes that matter on the sustainable development agenda.

Next month: The IPA journey: 7 years of investing in ingenuity towards boosting African prosperity

About AIF: Our purpose is to increase the prosperity of Africans by catalysing the innovation spirit in Africa. Our innovation-led programs showcase innovators and foster an innovation culture across the continent through the Innovation Prize for Africa and we support legal business ecosystems through innovative access to law through the African Law Library.

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