I am an unrepentant believer in the assertion that only Africans can solve Africa’s problems. Yes, they might use a bit of outside help but the onus of what would produce better results rests in the brains and hands of Africans.
One thing I have observed working closely with start-ups and interviewing founders of various types is that business plans or ideas imported from outside without local adaptation hardly ever work.
Africa may be behind the rest of the world when it comes to churning out innovative ideas but it does not mean that some of her enterprising youths are not pushing boundaries despite very little support and difficult economic conditions.
There are a number of innovative solutions that have been developed by Africans such as Mubser, a navigational aid tool designed for the visually impaired, designed by Khaled Shady, an Egyptia and Mellowcab, a high-tech electric Pedicab manufactured from recycled materials developed by a South African.
There are also Neil du Preez; the Cardiopad, a touch screen medical tablet that enables the carrying out of heart examinations such as ECG, developed by Arthur Zang, a Cameroonian and UMT, which stands for Urine Malaria Test, a rapid non-blood diagnostic medical device that can diagnose malaria in less than 25 minutes developed by Dr. Eddy Agbo, a Nigerian.
I could go on and on sharing unique solutions and ideas that Africans too have developed at one point or the other.
However, for the purpose of this piece, I’d love to share some of the factors that I believe will help Africans become more innovative and her governments have to ensure that a conducive, supportive environment is created through the right policies.
So here we go:
- Increase investments in education
The United Nations reports that education is key to realising all its sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030. The point is that without adequate investments in education, Africa will not be able to play in the knowledge economy. The foundation of any highly innovative country is quality education across all levels.
Rwanda seems to be taking the lead because today, her public school systems have been revamped so much that private schools are running out of students. Nigeria should borrow a leaf and start investing in education as well.
- Challenge the status quo
Innovation is triggered by the quest to change how things are currently done with a view to simplifying the process, reducing its cost or size, function and any other feature that is capable of improving it.
In other words, if there is no drive to improve on or change something, it will still be done now as it was being done maybe 30 or 40 years age. Innovation is fuelled when you think outside the box or throw the box away.
- Think of small projects that can help
Many people think that being innovative means engaging in big innovative projects for them to make a huge difference. This is not necessarily so. There are many small projects that can help many people improve their usage, process, etc, that are capable of resulting in bigger transformations.
By handling and being successful at managing smaller innovative projects, you will have the impetus to subsequently go for bigger ones. The maxim; start small and end big, is instructive here.
- Be persistent
Innovation requires carrying out a lot of researches, tests, surveys, etc. These can be difficult tasks in themselves which many innovators are ready to put up with. What usually dampens the spirit of many would be innovators is when the various tests result in failures and this is where they have to watch it.
Do not give up. If Thomas Edison had given up after many failed tries, we may never have the commercially viable electric bulb today that has been with us now since 1879. Likewise, if Alexander Graham Bell had given up on working on inventing the telephone in the 1800’s, we may never have had the opportunity of having telephones today.
Of course, many innovators have gone ahead to improve on the works of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell to what we now have today in the variety of electric bulbs and phones, respectively.
- Be analytical in your approach
For you to be a successful innovator, you need to have an analytical mind-set and approach your work analytically in order to turn your thoughts into reality. The process involves turning your thoughts into words, your words into pictures and your pictures into prototypes which can be moulded into reality.
This makes it easier for people to see what you have in mind in terms of creativity. A prototype is the closest you can come to the real thing.
- Be collaborative
In a previous piece, I focused on collaboration as an ingredient to deepen innovation across the country. Africans simply need to stop working in silos.
It is my opinion that the process of innovating a lot of times necessitates your collaboration with one or more colleagues in order to make your project succeed. This is because, what you may be working on may require some input of skills that you do not possess but can be obtained from your colleagues.
The synergy and fusion of the ideas brought forth by collaborating then produces the ultimate innovation. A case in point is the collaboration between Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCoullum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. They collaborated by bringing in their various skills to bear and came up with the Facebook. A problem shared is a problem solved.
Let me conclude by sharing an excerpt from pctechmag.com report that clearly paints a good picture of why Africans should take advantage of this moment;
“The mobile phone is not the only innovation that is leading the way in Africa. Internet connectivity is another driving factor. Some years back, satellite was the only option for those seeking connectivity. The laying of undersea fibre optic cables around the continent has made connectivity available, reliable, faster and affordable for more end users.”
I firmly believe that we should galvanise more Africans to take full advantage of today’s numerous possibilities that can fuel innovation because the days of unthinkable automation and artificial intelligence are so near.
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