Innovation From, By and For Africa

Collaboration is never easy, particularly when dealing with complex issues like development. So imagine an attempt at galvanizing an entire continent to collaborate for societal change and innovation and the task seems daunting, difficult, if not impossible. Well turns out it's always worth trying and that the results can be greatly inspiring.

I'm talking about The Open Innovation Africa Summit (OIAS) I recently attended, hosted by Nokia, The World Bank and Cap Gemini. Over the course of three days, 200-plus leaders and innovators convened in the Rift Valley of Kenya, Africa to share, connect, and take action toward fostering innovation in and from Africa.

They were leading academics from local universities to international research bodies; heads of governments from Mozambique to South Africa; social innovators and entrepreneurs from Ushahidi and Frontline sms:credit; nonprofit groups like the World Bank, and corporate collaborators from Orange to Intel; financing groups and funds, just to name a few.

Facilitated by Cap Gemini's exploratory process, this remarkable body of people broke out into working groups to focus and dive deep into four specific areas:

  • African Innovation Ecosystem
  • Emerging Business Models for the BoP
  • Human Capital -- Education for All
  • Mobile Information Society.

What transpired was beyond what anyone initially imagined. A process of creating specific needs and opportunities both short and long-term broke down walls of communication and built up collaboration and partnerships. Some of the results included recommendations as well as processes for policy that would facilitate innovation and enterprise. Others were full-fledged models for co-creation and user-based innovation. And others still were tangible technology that could be created to facilitate innovation in both mobile and applications of technology to drive social change.

The beginning of the event set the tone, calling for systemic thinking on the issues and cross-sectoral partnerships between government, corporate sector and the grass roots and nonprofit.

The event ended with an emotional presentation by the Education Stream's working group who delivered their recommendations in the form of a story told in the future. They asked all of us to imagine our lives as if we were a character from Kibera, now in the year 2015 and led us through a typical day using all the tools that are now available to us because of the recommendations made here, at the Open Innovation Africa Summit.

In the words of Juliana Rotisch's twitter, the event presented "Lots of great ideas, tempered with pragmatism. Good mix." And several concrete steps and commitments were put into place, including the announcement of Nokia and the World Bank's partnership with iHub (my gracious co-working space hosts in Nairobi) to build out a mobile lab in Nairobi.

However, the truest point of inspiration came from the confirmation of a belief by everyone in the room that Africa can lift itself up through its own massive wealth of ingenuity, effort and innovation and that the event presented one firm step taken to foster the kind of collaboration needed to make this happen.

As Purnima Kochikar, Vice President, Forum Nokia put it in a speech she gave at the event, "The Entrepreneur in Silicon Valley fundamentally believes he's going to change the world. Does Africa believe?"

The answer at the OIAS was yes, yes it does.

You can check out and add to the conversation which will be updated to reflect all the outcomes of the conference here and by following the hash mark #innovateafrica.