African innovation comes in many shapes and sizes. The ones that make the press are usually the high tech software or hardware solutions that have the potential to disrupt a sector on the continent. But there are many other small innovations out there that are building on traditional skills, changing lives, and utilising technology.
In previous blogs, the manufacturing industry has been an important theme. Cottage industries have long been important in Africa, but difficult to scale. African fashion has been popular around the world in recent years, and seamstresses and tailors have been pumping out designs and clothing to be sent oversees. Other industries are not having as much success, but in one instance I found, hard work, innovation, clever usage of social media and a social orientation is reaping great rewards and changing the lives of hundreds of women and men in Ghana.
With the popularity of Instagram and the improved cameras we walk around with on our phones many people seem to think of themselves as models, or photographers, and it is partly this trend that has led to the success of Design Dua.
Design Dua creates beautiful woven baskets for babies, pets and many other uses. Coretta Owusu, the founder, innovator, designer and business woman behind the company, has gathered together a team of 25 people, from the Northern part of Ghana to weave these baskets using a special type of grass. She has gone through a long process in refining the designs and technique, including finding a new way of bleaching the grass so it is white than usual.
Caution: This blog is not as positive as usual! (Editor’s Opinion)
Inventive Africa tried its best to be positive about Africa and the potential of African innovation. It is not hard to be positive, because there are so many good news stories around the continent about inspiring inventions. There are advancements across sectors. Health care methods are being transformed, the energy sector is being transformed with solar finding new ways of servicing those who are off the grid and people have greater access to information and educational material with various software and hardware solution.
Many of these innovations require internet access and mobile technology. For people to get online and take online degrees, or have a health conditioned diagnosed remotely, to simply have access to relevant information in order to protect your rights, or not be cheated, mobile phones and access to the internet are vital. The spread of access to the internet has been quite remarkable across the African continent. But despite that the continent still lags behind much of the world. In order for people to make the most of in many cases life changing innovations, they more need access and that access should be affordable.
Affordability is a big problem. Prices have been coming down for both calls and data, but for much of Africa’s population it is simply not possible for them to afford. And there is another mysterious phenomena, which is effecting many who have package data plans, and it has been happening for a decade. Data is strangely going missing. I remember 11 years ago, while studying in Ghana, I used to get a package worth 1 gig of data a month. Because of Skype usage, often that data would not reach the month, but sometimes, I seemed to have less data in the morning, than the night before.
Losing a few Megabytes was not so much of a big deal, even though it was irritating, but recently I have heard of people losing many gigabytes of data when they are taking every precaution with security of their passwords, and there is no chance that their computer or mobile phone is sucking data in the background.
There are various problems that this causes. Firstly, it means that their is often an underlying feeling of mistrust when it comes to the internet. If people can’t trust the internet, they are more likely not to make use of it. Secondly, for small businesses especially, they can’t afford to be losing this amount of data on a regular basis.
Small businesses require the internet for many reasons. Whether communicating with their customers, advertising on social media, or liaising with suppliers, all over the world this has been made easier with internet access. Africa needs it’s small businesses to drive change in the continent. Whether they are small hold farmers researching the price of their crops in the local market, or manufacturing companies exporting their goods, it is vital we support our small businesses.
Now, I have no idea whether the missing data is a ploy by telcos to make more money, or it is just a bug in some systems, but there needs to be more digital support for small businesses. Small businesses should have their data usage subsidised to enable them to run their businesses efficiently. Rather than worrying about how to pay their internet bill, they should be concerned with developing their companies and boosting their economies!
If we are to push innovation in Africa and take the continent into a leading role in the digital world, we need to support small businesses in digitising. We also need to make sure that life changing services, that rely upon mobile internet, are freely accessible by the masses.
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 she the blog with your network on Twitter andFacebook. Also, don’t forget to check out and like out Facebook page!
The innovative nature of Africa is playing out across the continent. The media are covering more and more Africa born technologies and awards ceremonies, such as that of the Innovation Prize for Africa, are highlighting Africa’s excellence to the rest of Africa and the world. It is events like IPA and those of Seedstars (who are in focus in this blog) that push and encourage innovative change in Africa, unlike many conferences that just talk about what should happen, without making any tangible difference.
Seedstars are a Swiss organisation who trawl the world for innovation. In Africa, they travel to many countries, seeking innovations which could make it to their final African summit. The last was held in Rwanda, and we featured it here. This week, they will go to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, but it is the South African addition that will be focussed on here. Winners are given pitch training and support and can then battle it out on the world stage against winners from across the world.
The South African event took place in July, and this blog will showcase some of our favourites from the event, including the winner.
Owning a cow or other livestock is not an easy thing. Of course, if your family has owned cows for generations, skills are passed down. But, for those that have only few cows, or are finding it difficult to maintain the herd, it is important to have information at hand, quickly. There are often many difficult situations, from adverse weather conditions, to disease, that effect a herd, and if the heard is struggling, the family could be struggling also.
Of course with large urbanisation in #Africa, there are fewer opportunities to keep cows, unless for example you partake in #CowFunding, and in that case, someone else does the looking after for you! For those that have cows, maintaining the health of the heard is incredibly important. Optimum nutrition, medicine and health care is often the fine line between the life and the death of a cow. And one cow may mean the world to a family. Providing milk, or calves to sell or meat to eat, losing a cow, or having an unhealthy cow could have a massive impact on the well being of a family.
In this brave new world of technology and with mobile phones and internet access quickly spreading throughout Africa, it is now possible for anyone to get access to information. If people want specific information, sometimes Google (or other search engines) are just not efficient enough. In recent years we have seen a trend towards tailoring information for specific types of people. There are apps which give students access to books. and e-learning opportunities, and apps that enable people all over the world to advise on best farming practices. And now, there is a service which enables farmers to look after their livestock to the best of their abilities.
iCow helps cattle farmers, as well as other types of farmers, improve their productivity by sending them relevant text messages packed full with important information and instructions. By having access to relevant information, farmers can reduce risk. And it is not just for cow farming, there is a plethora of information such as on soil fertility, poultry, eggs and crops, which is helping many improve their farms.