By Mariéme Jamme, Apps4Africa Consultant
Each time I return from Africa, I have the feeling that progress is happening on the ground but something is missing. People are desperately and rightly demanding change.
During my visits to Kinshasa, Ghana and Senegal for the Apps4Africa 2012 Competition brainstorming sessions in particular, I witnessed from the innovators a real desire to innovate and have their voices heard. In Senegal, I met an African news team that produces AFRIQUEITNEWS, and Stephane Ndour, finalist of Startup Weekend, who created SAMAEVENT- the only online platform providing all the tools needed to register an event in Senegal. In Ghana, I met Allosyius Attah, founder of FARMERLINE and winner of Apps4Africa 2011, whose organisation provides a mobile and web-based system to furnish farmers and investors with relevant agro industry content to improve productivity and increase income. In Kinshasa, some upcoming, enthusiastic youth technologists showed me their new linux app, and discussed their desire to establish a tech hub where they can meet and innovate, something desperately needed in the DRC.
Therefore, I truly hope that the growing competitions and gatherings, such as Apps4Africa, Startup Weekend, Africa Gathering and BarCAMPS can give visibility and credibility to young African innovators and ultimately make them more profitable. Such brainstorming sessions and gatherings, where people meet to share ideas and learn, could form the missing link by helping to create a culture of entrepreneurship and trust, to challenge and empower the technology entrepreneurs to do more for Africa.
Reality Checks and Talks in Apps4Africa Brainstorming Sessions
However, I remain unsure about how the mosaic of demands and desires will be met without an urgent change of the mind-set of policy makers in Africa and the entrepreneurs themselves. Whilst an African Technology Revolution is taking place, many of the young innovators still face huge problems of understanding how to build sustainable businesses around their innovations. Most are following their dreams, inspired mostly by the stories of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and succeeding without clear business plans or structured road maps when they started their businesses many years ago. The reality check has not yet taken place in the minds of African innovators and much time is being wasted on unrealistic ventures.
Apps4Africa is the only competition with an educational element to analyse local problems though hard-talk and debate. I found that the gap between creating ideas and creating a business around them is still massive. Hence this year’s Apps4Africa theme was very timely and relevant.
We took the journey this year wishing to find the tech CEO who can not only innovate, transform, and solve local issues, but can also start a business around their innovation, ultimately creating jobs and reducing poverty in their communities.
“Our goal is to catalyze the growth of Africa’s early-stage startups to address the issue of youth unemployment across the continent. Africa needs to create at least 120 million jobs by 2012 to maintain its current trends of a growing middle class. Those jobs are not going to come from government mandates or multi-national corporations; they are going to come from successful startups and entrepreneurs. With Apps4Africa 2012, Appfrica and our partners at the State Department, Lions@frica, and the World Bank are demonstrating our commitment to addressing this problem now and in the future!” Jonathan Gosier
A moment of Reflection
The Apps4Africa brainstorming sessions are only possible with the amazing collaboration of innovators and business experts from the African Diaspora returning in Africa and few exceptional locals, for whose support and enthusiasm I am truly grateful.
At the end of my journey, I was convinced that Africans have many great ideas, and that supporting innovation helps entrepreneurs provide jobs for their communities. They also have the ability to create many applications- we have scores of apps being developed across the continent currently. However, the great majority of entrepreneurs in Africa need more business mentoring and within their countries. There exists neither the ecosystem to address this nor a culture of entrepreneurship and risk taking required for success.
I believe that African policy makers need to invest seriously in creating more business schools and putting the right infrastructures into place to build the private sector industry of Africa.
I also believe that is an urgent need to equip young Africans with the right business innovation skills. Competitions such as Apps4Africa, where tangible results have been shown, need to happen more often to help more innovative business to be created. I believe that this will spread the culture of true entrepreneurship. Africans creating real meaningful Business in Africa is now a necessity.