What innovation means for Africa
In developing markets, innovation provides solutions to problems governments are unable to face.
From Tesla to mobile money to the shared economy, there are several innovations that have grasped the world. In developing markets, most innovations have been created to solve problems when the governments have been unable to provide solutions which affect ordinary individuals. Many of these innovations from Africa are now being adopted globally.
“These innovations are driven by need, which is the access and affordability challenges, the opportunity which is the fast follower market actors focused on developing economies in lower market segments,” explains Dr. Geci Karuri-Sebina, Executive Manager, South African Cities Network and co-editor of Innovation Africa. “The other driving factor is the creativity in the continent leading to innovation originators. We have a lot of creativity in Africa and this has played a huge role in these innovations.”
There are many innovation hubs; from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt, Cape Verde, South Africa and other countries, providing learning situations that can be applied in other developing or developed regions. Kenya's Information, Communications and Technology Authority (ICT) has stated that the country’s ICT sector is set to contribute up to 8 per cent to the country’s GDP through IT-enabled services (ITES), and to create 180,000 jobs by 2017. The sector is also projected to fund up to 55 Kenya-based global companies, $500 million in vventure ccapital funds and up to $1 billion in ICT exports by the same year.
In Kenya, where power cuts happen often, a team of software developers, engineers and technologists in Nairobi has created and prototyped BRCK to enable internet access even during a power outage. The hardware was originally developed in 2012.
“In 2012, there was a massive outage in Kenya and a lot of electricity equipment was destroyed. As a team, we thought we could create a device that enabled someone to remain connected when there was no power,” says Rufus Muturi, Customer Support, and BRCK. “This is a mobile, rugged router that comes with its own battery that can last you 6 to 8 hours and it can connect up to 20 wireless devices. You can get online three ways: using a SIM card, your home router or an existing WIFI slot. It’s 3G. Even if you're in a region of poor network you can use an antenna or an amplifier and you can use it.”
To raise financing for the project, the team turned to Kickstarter where they raised $172,107, pledged by 1,078 backers who were also interested in the other capabilities of the hardware.
“You can also use it as a micro-server to deliver content of all types, such as text and video. We created an educational program using BRCK for primary schools, as it can store two terabytes of education content. We have a division called BRCK Education to enable literacy and access to educational information for students,” Muturi elaborates.
BRCK, which was officially launched in 2014, has been tested in South Africa, and has demand from several countries including the UK, the US and Australia, and has been shipped to at least 24 other countries. Meanwhile in Nigeria, the film industry has exploded and spread into the rest of Africa, the US, the UK and other countries through various on-demand platforms.
This industry is known as Nollywood, an innovation in the film industry that has received global recognition. As a disruptor in new markets, it has led to value creation by bringing content innovation in the industry. “Nollywood refers to the movie industry in Nigeria. In 2014 it was worth $5.1 billion. It is the second largest film industry globally in terms of the number of annual film productions, placing it ahead of the United States and behind only Indian cinema,” states Karuri-Sabina in the book Innovation in Africa. “These movies are distributed through DVDs; the films sell well across the continent of Africa. The standard Nollywood production takes 10 days and costs around US $15,000. On average, a film sells 50,000 copies; a hit will sell one hundred thousand. With each DVD costing around US$2, it is affordable to most Nigerians and very profitable for the producers.”
Netflix has now included some of the films from Nollywood on its platform, thus increasing the global distribution of these films and enhancing their growth in developed regions.
Innovation has led to a rise in entrepreneurs and has influenced more corporations to participate in the action. Several technology-driven companies have located their headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya to benefit from these solutions being created for the continent and adopted globally. Through these new creations, others sectors have begun to thrive, such as financial services, consumption models, communication, health, entertainment, agriculture and travel.
“There are gaps in innovation in Africa and the sectors that lack sufficient innovations are education, the economic systems, and employment. These are all crucial and have potential. Others include governance and administration, public transport, sanitation, human security,” adds Karuri-Sabina. “We have to deliberately move towards creating environments (ecosystems) that systematically enable and leverage innovation.”