When I wrote this piece for Harvard Business Review, I had the theme of MIT Africa Business Conference Theme in my mind. My friends at Kauffman Foundation had contacted me about the Bill going through the U.S. Congress that would help Africa. Immediately, I decided to write about it in HBR.
This [MIT AB] conference intends to bring together people working on ideas that will shape the African continent for years to come. The event will include a mix of speakers and panel sessions covering areas of innovation in Africa including: Telecoms & Mobiles,Technology, Entrepreneurship, Finance and Energy. The unifying theme will be a perspective on how today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders will impact the continent by putting ideas to work.
The interesting aspect of the students’ theme is the realization that Africa needs to move from Africa 1.0 which has existed for about fifty years to something more. In other words, the era of hydrocarbon and mineral fuelled growth should be replaced with something sustainable. They figured out that innovation will position the continent for that new phase. So, Africa 2.0 ideally should be comprised of innovative economic activities across the continent. It will be a continent where brain power and creativity will define trade and investment and not necessarily the availability of minerals and hydrocarbon.
As I explained in my HBR blog, facilitating the ecosystem of innovation will prepare Africa for the post-mineral era. And now is the time to do that. The students went ahead and picked Africa’s present innovative stars. These are people that have created technologies which are redesigning many economic operations in the places they operate.
Kola Karim is an energy innovator who is running Shoreline Power International. He has brought vision into this sector and has proven that things can work in the continent. John Waibochi is arguably the best known face of mobility computing in Africa after winning $1m in a global Nokia challenge. He runs Virtual City. Dr. Ashifi Gogo runs Sproxil which today has become the industry engine to mitigate counterfeits in Africa.
Yet, the problem with all these students programs is that nothing is made public. From Wharton to Harvard and possibly to MIT, the students do not provide any summary after the program. Immediately the conference is over, they get back to cases until the next year conference. I have suggested that they must summarize the ideas shared by speakers and panelists and then send all to African Union and some selected governments. They must not deprive those that could not attend these conferences the opportunity of participating in these exciting programs, run by Africa’s future business leaders.
The students also included a business plan competition which many people participated:
This past year, over fifteen countries in Africa celebrated 50 years of nationhood, and several of the top economies in the region forecast 2011 GDP growth rates over twice that of the United States (per The Economist, Ghana will enjoy the 2nd fastest GDP growth globally in 2011). Furthermore, investors in key African equity markets enjoyed returns of up to 36.5% in 2010, and the continent experienced a remarkable level of investment capital flow and exit activity.
Business must demonstrate potential for direct & significant commercial and/or social impact in Africa, and the plan must be implementable in an African country. This contest does not require that you have a student on your team.
Growth in Africa must be driven by innovation and time has come for African governments to use our entrepreneurial stars to position the continent for the next phase, Africa 2.0. That will come through education, infrastructure development and most importantly strong intellectual property rights.