Africa is at the epicenter of digital innovation for social development. The significant development challenges coupled with the lack of legacy systems and infrastructure positions the continent as a hotbed for technology-led innovations that can trigger exponential impact. Although a beginning has been made towards this direction, significant whitespaces currently exist.
The whitespaces are considering only enterprise-led use cases and excluded experiments and projects. Some of the use cases which have cross-sectoral applications were mapped to development challenges where they promise to have maximum impact, in the continent.
Beyond speed and deep insights: Most emerging technology use cases in Africa currently focus on either enhancing speed of delivery of products and services or facilitating deep insights to improve decision making and product performance. Emerging technologies, however, are capable of triggering much greater impact which is all the more critical in the context of Africa’s large development challenges. These technologies can enable heightened customization of solutions and democratization of access for BoP populations. They can further converge to have potentially disruptive effect on existing industry structures and create system changes. Currently there is a dearth of innovations that promise to bring about these higher levels of impact and innovators in Africa and from around the world can capitalize on this whitespace.
Beyond Financial Inclusion: Almost half of the enterprises we identified were mapped to the development challenge associated with expanding choices for the BoP and reducing their vulnerabilities via financial inclusion. This includes a few which do not directly focus on financial inclusion but empower other enterprises to expand BoP choices. However, beyond financial inclusion there are other major development challenges in Africa that emerging technologies can help address. Innovations are particularly sparse around creating a future-ready workforce (5%), managing the competing usage of water and the interplay between water, energy and food security (5%) and securing low carbon energy security and combatting climate change (9%).
Beyond Internet of Things: Most of the innovative emerging technology applications in Africa are currently unfolding on the IoT front while evidence of use cases is relatively limited for technologies like AI, Big Data and Robotics. Innovations using sensors and wearables are finding applications in various sectors. This is partially due to the fact that globally, IoT as a technology is at a relatively more advanced stage of development compared to these other technologies. Having said this, interestingly enough our scan revealed quite a few enterprises working on Blockchain innovations although these use cases are still at early stages of development. Going forward, as internet penetration and digital connectivity expands in Africa, the case for leveraging the other emerging technologies like AI and Big Data is expected to grow stronger.
Local whitespaces exist and are waiting to be unearthed : Africa is an expansive continent comprising of 54 countries. These countries present vastly different demographic, socioeconomic, political and cultural settings implying a range of potential applications emerging technologies can have, when contextualized to each country. We believe that through this report we have only scratched the surface and that significant whitespaces for spurring emerging technology innovations at the country level are waiting to be unearthed and explored.
Turning our tech vision for Africa into reality can be sooner than we think, if we create a nurturing environment and step outside our traditional boundaries. Governments, regulators, donors, investors, corporates, and innovators have a role to play in shaping tomorrow and becoming part of Africa’s high impact tech innovation ecosystem: Through collaboration, we can find new ways of providing capital into underfunded white spaces, closing the talent gap, creating an enabling policy and regulatory environment, and triggering necessary behavior changes.
For new generation of African entrepreneurs, these challenges and what seem to be impossibilities certainly have their limits in stalling their ambitions. Tomorrow can be re-designed to provide enormous opportunities for a continent that desperately need innovations. We think the convergence of people, new processes and emerging tools will usher that new promise of Africa Rising, anchored on the new breeds of its entrepreneurs and business-people.
Intellecap is committed to drive this conversation and to jointly with like-minded organizations pursue outcomes around the following opportunities:
- Risk-taking innovation capital
- Open-source knowledge infrastructure
- Building robust cyber-security infrastructure
- Creating an enabling environment for tech convergence
Intellecap contributed to this piece.