Do you have an interest in farming? If you live in, or have an interest in Africa, then you should have an interest in farming, and agriculture in general. The potential of the agricultural market is massive. With huge portions of land available, and growing population, there is an urgent need to utilise resources, increase yields and empower young African farmers to feed an entire continent, without the reliance on food imports. Regardless of the need for agriculture, urbanisation is driving people out rural areas to search for jobs in the cities, abandoning their agricultural roots.
For those looking for investment opportunities, agriculture should be, at the very least, close to the top of the options. Food is needed, and food must be supplied. There is a shortfall of it, and therefore, there is room for more farmers, bigger farms, and/or better farming practices. With #CowFunding, and FarmCrowdy there are ways for people in urban areas to keep to their farming roots. There are also many other innovations popping up around the industry.
Sometimes, I have to trawl the internet searching for innovations regarding a certain sector in Africa, but in this case, Mest Africa helped me with three great innovations the wrote about on Twitter. All of which compliment the agricultural sector.
This morning I had the pleasure of attending a “Breakfast Buzz” event in Zurich held by the Swiss African Business Circle. They partnered with Djembe Communications, a comms agency focussed on “amplifying an African narrative founded on opportunity, growth and innovation”, to put on this event entitled “Leveraging African know-how in Switzerland”.
Switzerland is not known for it’s African endeavours, but in recent years there has begun to be an understanding that the African continent has great potential as a market place. Companies are beginning to reach out their tentacles and venture tentatively into Africa, ignoring the negative African stereotypes that have permeated into business thought in Switzerland. But once there, how exactly can companies leverage, and enable local talent to drive their African subsidiaries forward, and ultimately benefit the entire company.
It is not an easy question to answer, and with cultures varying so differently, not only between Switzerland and Africa, but within the continent itself, there is no set system in place that works everywhere. But, what we do know is that there is talent in Africa. Throughout this blog you (if you have read it all, and I urge you to do so!) you will have seen incredible creativity and ingenuity across the continent, and amazing engineering skills to bring those creations to life. But how do companies access and leverage talent, which is highly sort after?
The two speakers at today’s event, Yvonne Bettkober, who sits on Microsoft Switzerland’s board and comes originally from Cameroon, and Charles Thiemele who is leading AOT into West Africa, both spoke of the challenges and potential of Africa to multinationals outside of the continent. It is African’s like Yvonne and Charles that are part of the solution in creating an atmosphere in which non African companies wish to invest in the continent. It is their professionalism and expertise, which, in their senior positions, is being showcased to industries who have not seen many African leaders excelling.
Yvonne may be based in Switzerland today, but she has worked extensively in the African market, as has Charles. Both of them recognised that there are challenges in finding and keeping talent in Africa, especially if there is separation between the head office, the African department, which is often tagged on with the Middle East and Europe, and the location in Africa. It is often an issue when Africa is just tagged on to a department, because often it means that opportunities get lost because the continent is not a priority. It may be challenging in the initial stages, but the most beneficial way to do business in Africa is to open an office there. As a member of the audience from Syngenta mentioned, it is these initial stages that can often be the time consuming difficult ones,. In his example, someone had already taken the Syngenta name in Nigeria, which they needed to overcome with a kindly written legal letter.
But after these stages, a company can begin to make a name for itself in Africa, enabling the expert local labour force to develop.In the case of Microsoft, with the 4Afrika initiative, which I discussed last week in a blog about Aid Vs Investment, they have gone into Africa with no current thought of making sales. They are there to open the market, enable people to learn, get connected and develop themselves. The more people and businesses online, the more there are to buy Microsoft projects.
The talent in Africa is immense, and there is a pot of talent to tap into. Cultural differences may cause some challenges in finding the right fit for for the company culture. Having said that, the African workforce is incredibly adaptable and innovative. In many cases far more so than workforces in Europe and America. In my opinion you need a bridge between the two cultures. Often that comes in the form of someone from outside of the continent that understands the culture of the local office, or vice versa, a local that has experience in other markets around the world.
Finally, very importantly and very relevant to Inventive Africa, technology needs to be harnessed within the African business setting. From farms to large multi nationals, technology can be exploited in Africa which ever the setting. There are also lots of opportunities in the tech setting for companies from outside of Africa. Yvonne Bettkober rightly said, that even though there may not be an ideal mobile penetration in Africa percentage wise, even a small percentage in Africa is a huge amount of people. In Nigeria there are over 90 million internet users! Compare that to the Swiss population of 8 million, or even the British population of 65 million, you can see the potential of the online market! Whether for marketing, education, entertainment or business, technology, and in particular mobile phones and internet offers a big opportunity for companies inside and outside Africa. It is just a case of utilising the local expertise.
Usually we promote African innovation, or innovation directed at Africa. We talk about African solutions to African problems. But, there is a place for the major companies to make change in Africa. By developing the skill base of the youthful population and sharing knowledge, local populations will be enabled in great numbers to push forward their industries and nations and showcase Africa to the world.
Thank you to SABC for inviting me along to the event, it was very interesting!
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.
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.
I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time at iSpace in Accra, which is a technology hub, that enables startups to realise their dreams. In that time, I was able to make some short interviews of some of the inspiring young entrepreneurs that are based at iSpace and making the most from the support the tech hub offers. In the last two videos I published, Emmanuel told us about his promising fintech solution, and Theo explained his app for travellers in Ghana.
This week, we feature Hawawu Mustapha Yaajalal, who explained her platform MyDoc. Hawawu is a nurse, but her ambitions took her away from treating people personally, to enabling people to get treatment more easily. MyDoc links people with doctors, as well as selling health supplements, which will be delivered directly to customers. It also offers people a place to go to read up on health information.
During the last 15 years in Ghana I have met many career nurses, many of whom seem to not enjoy their job or be motivated to make a difference in the health care sector. Whether this is because many of them go into the profession because lack of prospects in other professions, or the system has eaten away at their passion, I am not sure. But, in the case of Hawawu, she is passionate about moving up the career ladder and making a difference in Ghana and to her family. It is this entrepreneurial spirit, and drive to better ones life and the life of ones family, that is exciting across Africa. More and more people are coming out of their industries to create solutions to problems they have encountered, and that is exactly how Hawawu is approaching her business.
Hawawu explains more in the video below:
Organisations like iSpace are there to foster these ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to enable the solutions to become reality. Without iSpace and their counterparts, many ideas would not even reach the development phase. These hubs enable people to acquire skills, or gain the help of specialists, to fill the gaps in their own abilities. Whether in IT skills, business development, sales, marketing or funding, there is assistance for those with great ideas across Africa.
If you would like your startup featured on Inventive Africa, feel free to send us a short video for us to post. If you know of an innovation that is changing lives, or you want to be a guest blogger get in contact with us on Twitter @InventiveAfrica or via email, and please share the blog with your network on Twitter and Facebook. Also, we have a new Facebook page! Please like it, and carry on the dialogue about African Innovation there!
There are some really sh*t ways to produce fuel! Sucking it out of the earth in the form of oil or gas is causing is putting enormous strain on your climate, with records weather records broken every year and melt at the polar caps increasing in speed. But some sh*t methods are actually good! (But maybe a little smelly)
In Gauteng, which is not far from Johannesburg and Pretoria in South Africa, cows are currency. Herds of cattle, waiting to become streak and beef and beef burgers, populate the green pastures. A lot of grazing cows means, a lot of cow pats (dung)! And therein comes the innovation.
The dung from the cows, 120 tonnes a day, is mixed with 60 tons of paper, yoghurt, fruit and abattoir waste by Bio2Watt. This steaming pile of dung is broken down by bacteria which produce methane, which powers an engine, which in turn produces 4.4 Megawatts of electricity. This amount is enough to power a village of 1500 people.
South Africa have been suffering from an energy crisis in recent years, and ageing power infrastructure is not helping. The system created by Bio2Watt provides a decentralised solution that can be created anywhere there is access to the raw materials.
In this case, as well as providing electricity for the cow farmer next door, who was not able to expand his business because of power restraints, Bio2Watt deliver their power to BMW, who’s policy is to purchase 100% renewable energy for all of their plants. The power from Bio2Watt has enabled BMW’s Rosslyn plant to cover 30% of their energy with the biogas.
When I started Inventive Africa, I was not aware of exactly how innovative Africa is. I hadn’t thought of the potential of technology in Africa and also the possibilities for technology created by Africans. Each week I am surprised by the amount of incredible technology and innovation that is springing up from all corners of the continent. But, it is not good enough to just write about it! I have been itching to be part of the change. But how?
The answer jumped out at me during the World Web Forum, in Zurich in January. Bill Liao, co-founder of Xing (A German Linkedin, was on stage discussing the fact that the world lacks computer programmers, and that most of the start ups that come to see him plan to outsource their work to coders. I was already beginning to think about how Africa could offer a solution to this problem when Mr Liao also provided that. He had set up and organisations called CoderDojo which has set up fun computer coding clubs across the world. Dojos enable kids to have fun for 2 hours a week and learn anything from Scratch, a very basic drag and drop computer language for beginners, to HTML, Java and Python. They are not structures with a teacher at the front of the class leading the kids through the process. The kids themselves sit down and learn via trial and error, with mentors on hand to answer any questions.
Due to some technical issues and simply taking my time to enjoy being back in Ghana, Inventive Africa has not been very active recently. Having said that, it is great to see that some of you have still been scrolling through the content and being inspired by African Innovation. For a while I have been writing the Inventive Africa blog and getting very excited about all the new ideas that are being created across the continent, but I have not been there to see them first hand. I have spent my time in Ghana getting myself acquainted with some of the most recent changes.
Mobile money has taken off in a big way across the continent. Although Kenya leads the way with M-Pesa, Ghana was also one of the pioneer countries for mobile money. They have fallen behind somewhat in recent years, but the cashless system is still making great differences in the lives of many. Some told me that not too long ago, they were travelling from the village to the capital, Accra, to pick up owed money in cash. Of course, as well as being inconvenient and time consuming, this also meant that some of money was used up paying for transportation. This is no longer a problem for many. Even with the most simple of phones, people are capable of receiving large amounts of money, instantly, from all over the country. I though, as it has been mentioned so many times on the blog, that I should try it out for myself.