Buying a car can be a pain! And so can selling one. The shifty used car salesman, in his strange coloured suit, smarmy and with the gift of the gab, informing each clients on exaggerated positives on a clapped out old banger that just about meets your budget. All over the world, some of the best salesmen are working in car yards, up selling cars to the the clueless public, or even buying cars from the public and selling them on. Of course, I generalise a little with the stereotypical used car salesman analogy, and many are honest and sincere, but it can’t hide the face that many of us have no idea about how much to buy a car for, or what we are getting.
A lot of trust put in the car salesman, who generally has the power within the transaction. This is the same in many sectors. For example, in the African agricultural sector the middleman, who travels round from farm to farm collecting produce, controls the price that he pays and may not give a fair price compared to what it will sell on in the markets. The farmer has no idea of the going rate that day, and relies upon the middleman to transport their produce. But there are some innovative solutions in Africa that are putting more power in the hands of the farmers, who can now find out with ease what price they should be selling at.
International Women’s Day is today, and organisations, companies and individuals across the world are celebrating the achievements of women. Equality is a well discussed topic throughout the world, yet still now, in many industries women are under represented, and not paid equally. The technology and innovation sector seems to be attempting to close the divide of the sexes. Traditionally only few women have taking up computer engineering roles, and working on innovation, and therefore the aim of achieving parity between the sexes needs a lot of work.
In much of Africa, traditional social values, and education of the girl child is not a priority for many families and this has had a great impact on the amount of women in professional roles, especially in technology. The democratisation of information, especially with the increasing spread of the internet and mobile devices, means that there are now other ways for anyone to empower themselves. There has also been a huge effort put into getting more young girls into school, to give them more choice in the future.
During the last two years writing about African innovation, I have had the pleasure of reading about many inspirational women, who are coming up with innovative ideas and creating businesses. In many households across the continent it is women that have the responsibility of finding solutions to make ends meet within the family. Creativity takes practice, and the need to come up with solutions makes women very well placed to innovate for a better Africa.
Below are couple of the women that have stood out to us whilst producing Inventive Africa.
The media has been changing significantly over the last decade. From a media landscape where populations consumed their news and entertainment in newspapers and on radio and television, we now have very different consuming habits. The internet and mobile devices have enabled us to get on demand news and entertainment wherever we are, and whenever we want. In Europe and America, print media is struggling against the strength of mobile internet, and social media habits have meant that people want to access their news in short easy to manage parts, often with less substance. (They are used to flicking through information very quickly on Facebook and Twitter)
On demand access to information has created new opportunities for producers of news, information and entertainment. Radio found a solution to this problem by offering podcast material, which can be downloaded, or live streamed at any time, on the go. People can access any kind of information or any topic, and follow their favourite presenters. With a world of podcasts being produced, there is no end to content. TV has not quite been able to replicate this system, but there are some country specific on demand platforms available, but with the BBC for example, it is not easy to access that content oversees.
Across much of Africa, due to many still having limited access to mobile internet, the newspapers, radio and TV stations still have prominence, but this is beginning to change. It may be a small percentage, comparably, of internet and mobile internet users in Africa, but a small percentage of a large number is still a large number! And therefore, media consumption is also changing. The internet is becoming a large source of information for many, and others are keeping up with international content on Youtube.
You may remember that during my trip to Kenya I paid a visit to the Nairobi Innovation Week (NIW) offices to speak to Dr Omwansa about the event and his thoughts on the future of innovation. (If you have not seen the video you can check it out here. It is very interesting) Now we have seamlessly slipped into March, with the year running away from us already, but, no fear this is a good month. The NIW will jump into action on the 5th of March and will showcase the future innovators that will drive Kenya forward. Kenya is hellbent on taking an innovative lead in Africa, and this event is part of that process.
A couple of days ago the NIW announced a shortlist of 100 start-ups shortlist of 100 start ups that would be featured during the course of the week. With over 350 entries it must have been hard work whittling them down, and that hard work is not over. Each start-up will pitch, and will again be cut down to the 15 most promising. As usual, we will pick a few that have caught our attention and feature them here.
During my time in Kenya, I was often warned that I shouldn’t go to certain places because of safety concerns. Of course, because of curiosity, I tried my best to go to most of those places or events despite the risk. (It is no fun to just sit in a sterilised hotel room!) But of course, safety is a real concern for many, and not just in Kenya! Major Continue reading “Did You Know Nairobi is showcasing 100 innovative Start-ups?”→
Fintech is big news this year in Africa, and throughout the world for that matter. Bitcoin, and other crypto currencies have brought the potential of new financial mechanisms to the forefront of those that had never considered changing their financial instruments previously. As people speculate on crypto currencies, and mobile money becomes even more popular across the African continent, there is more of an awareness that simply using cash, or a bank account, is not the only option any more.
With this awareness comes a craving from the market for more solutions to financial problems. We have seen this across many financial instruments. Mobile money has made payments more convenient, brought many new individuals into banking, enabled people to get credit ratings, and even helped people with medical insurance. Micro loans can now be facilitated online, enabling people to develop their small businesses, and people even have new ways of paying for their mini solar grids for the house.
Another big issue, that is yet to be solved fully in Africa is in the remittances sector. The figure seems to very, but around $33 billion in remittances flowed into the continent in 2016. That is a significant amount of many African economies, with 10 countries receiving 3% of their GDP through this method.
If you search innovation or technology in Africa, you will find a lot of Fintech, Solar, education and health care innovations that are creating a buzz and getting noticed across the continent. Entertainment innovations are of course also popular and receive a hype. But, what about African business solutions? I don’t know about you, but when I search nothing usually jumps out at me, which is curious as the African business world (excuse the generalisation) has a unique culture. Like different cultures throughout the world, there are different ways of operating in Africa, and in the diverse Africa countries.
I found this out the hard way in Kenya, when I realised pretty quickly that my loud humorous (I like to think its humorous anyway!) entrances into meetings that I was used to in Ghana, simply did not work in the Kenyan setting. There are a plethora of other differences in the African business setting, but of course, some things stay the same across the continent and the world. So, there should be nothing standing in the way of African entrepreneurs creating business solutions that are effective across the world.
My day job is working for a campaigning agency in Zurich, and I know all too well some of the difficulties companies face meeting the needs of their target group. Market research is a long drawn out process, in which teams invest a lot of time to create ideas and then ask their target group if they like the ideas. From the data collected, the team has to come to a decision as to which route to take, but this decision is still based on their own initial ideas. Not ideal and not an exact science! We ask the target group themselves to create the ideas in a Target Community Lab™, saving time, money and enabling us to create individualised campaigns or products for our partners.
Have you ever tried to buy land in Africa? It can be a tiresome experience, with so many channels to pass through, and often very expensive. Land has long been a sensitive issue across the country. In many communities there are land disputes that have been raging on for years. Land often belongs to traditional communities, or chieftaincies, rendering it very difficult at time to know who actually has a right to the land, and if it has actually been purchased correctly. In many instances, disputes about the borders of towns and villages, can also effect the ownership of land. In both Kenya and Ghana I saw walled off areas of land with “NOT FOR SALE” painted on the gates. A symptom of distrust in the land ownership system, with some trying to fraudulently sell land of others.
What happens to the new “owner” if one community sells land, that belongs to another community? In Ghana I have seen first hand the damage of land disputes, which can end up escalating to other issues. In one example, one community bailed a dangerous “fake pastor” who was charged with attempted murder of an alleged witch. (A lovely old lady from the community) The fake pastor subsequently skipped bail and was never brought to justice.
Long queues at offices, unnecessary bureaucracy, often put people off following correct procedures, going down fraudulent paths to secure land. The system can be confusing, and with so many people involved it is possible to for them to be tricked into paying a higher price for the procedure.
So, how can innovation and technology help Africa streamline this process and make it far more transparent. The continent has made a habit about ingeniously taking innovations, joining them together, and creating solutions for local problems. This is another case in which such a process could take place. With the development of blockchain technology in recent years, there is a way to record the ownership and change of ownership of land without complication and confusion.
Blockchain technology is a digital database, which is distributed across a network of computers. Records are encrypted, and because they are on many machines, it is free from human error, editing or removal. It is the same system that cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, are built on. But in the case of ownership of land, which requires a huge database, it will not be as volatile as Bitcoin.
There would be clear documentation of land ownership, and transfer history, making it very difficult for fraud to exist. In 2017, Kenya started to run pilot projects and for both land ownership and educational records, which can also find themselves manipulated by corrupt officials, or sneaky fingered students.
One such case, Bitland, are doing exactly this in Ghana, and they are hoping to expand into Nigeria and Kenya. One issue with this system is agreeing who the land belongs to in the first place. Bitland try to combat this by going into the communities to work out exactly who owns the land, before inputting the data. They use a combination of GPS, Openmap, and other APIs to allow users to utilise their mobile device to enter a land survey.
With records distributed to all parties, and not just held in local land offices, and everyone able to see who owns, sells and divides land, the system will become far more transparent. Multiple land ownership deeds for the same plot would be a thing of the past. The technology has the potential to also be rolled out to other elements of property ownership. Gaining planning permission can also be a long drawn out process, open to corruption or who you know in the office. If blockchain technology can also be used within this process, so that everyone knows exactly what part of the process has been reached, it will make the process easier, faster, and make sure that less structures are built without permission. (Of which there are many!)
With trust in land ownership certificates crumbling, this technology could stop many disputes between communities, and therefore put a halt to many social disputes across the continent between individuals and local communities. Governments across Africa should look into creating their own land ownership blockchain systems in order clean up the system and stop disputes.
If you know of any innovations in Africa, an innovation that is changing lives, or you also want to be a guest blogger, get in contact with us on Twitter @inventiveAfrica or via email. Please share the blog with your network on Twitter andFacebook.