Bricks and mortar approach should underline African innovation

03/11/2014
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Africa has seen tremendous growth in technology-driven entrepreneurship over the last decade with numerous projects and initiatives celebrated for their potential to grow and spur economic growth. Yet, according to Dayo Ogunyemi, CEO, 234 Media, “Brilliant ideas without the ecosystem to upscale and monetize them is hampering transformation.”

Speaking in Addis Ababa during a “Digital Africa” event at the African Economic Conference over the weekend, the former intellectual property lawyer said Africa has no shortage of ideas, products and applications: “The challenge is moving them to the next level of the value chain where a larger consumer base can pay for them.”

Numerous examples of successful innovations dotted the discussions, which underscored the role of innovation in transforming people’s lives. Social entrepreneur, Anne Githuku-Shongwe, founder of the digitial media company Afroes, had plenty of success stories under her belt. The former UN development employee turned her efforts towards skills development and job creation for young people across Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria and has successfully imparted entrepreneurship skills, including what she calls “life skills” through gaming. “As an example, Femi, a beneficiary of Afroes has turned into a structural designer and is training multiple young people in Ibadan, Nigeria,” she said. He now earns $50,000 a year.

The discussants agreed that the success of such initiatives comes from a complex combination of timing, funding, marketing and a solid infrastructure ecosystem to support scalability.

Ogunyemi’s company, 234 Media, has set up pilot projects in Kenya and Nigeria to make African digital content available to the masses.

“Despite the growth of technologies, the fact is that 75% of African households do not have a television. But they watch the Premier League and have an appetite for locally generated stories from Nollywood or Riverwood,” said Ogunyemi. His idea is to turn the deficit of large screens, which currently stands at one screen per 6 million African citizens, into an opportunity.

“I am aiming to create a sustainable ecosystem for the majority of Africans that cannot afford the cinema hall at the shopping mall,” he said.

234 Media has a bricks and mortar approach, creating spaces in slums, such as in Nairobi’s Kawangware, where, instead of a video shack, communities can watch football and film for the prize of a Coca-Cola. At the same time, partnering with social entrepreneurs, such as those involved in solar lighting, brings advertising revenue on board. Ogunyemi contends that there is a need to go beyond celebrating successful initiatives: “By doing some deeper work, we can meet the gaps that exist within them.

“At the end of the day, we cannot leapfrog everything. We need the bricks and mortar that can shift good ideas into monetized enterprises and that’s how we can support and sustain African innovation and mitigate piracy,” he said.

He stressed that in western countries e-commerce is successful because supply meets demand fairly easily due to functional postal systems. In Africa, new models are needed to support the lack of infrastructure.

He added that discussions on innovation must also remember that current platforms such as YouTube are non-African and profits from their use to promote content go towards bandwidth payment systems.

The African Economic Conference has brought together policy-makers, practitioners and researchers around the theme “Knowledge and Innovation for Africa’s Transformation” with the hope that the discussions will connect the dots between innovation and economic transformation.

Organized each year by the African Development Bank, UN Economic Commission for Africa and United Nations Development Programme, the conference is taking place from November 1-3 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.