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How Africa is leading the innovation revolution

How Africa is leading the innovation revolution

Saidah Nash-Carter, Head of Innovation at Thomson Reuters Africa

Article by Saidah Nash-Carter, Head of Innovation at Thomson Reuters Africa

With an estimated population of 1.2 billion people and 54 unique markets, Africa offers significant opportunities. More than just an investment destination, the continent is rapidly becoming a leader in innovation. Increasing connectivity, a young population and the impact of global trends that are favourable to emerging markets are all driving this momentum.


Telecoms is one example. In Africa, it is not cost-effective to roll-out physical infrastructure to remote communities; instead many countries are embracing mobile to provide ICT access to more citizens. The rapid growth of mobile communications since the early 90s has seen several countries surpass many developed markets when it comes to coverage, accessibility and speed.

Mobile is considered an enabling technology used to push innovation in both traditional sectors like agriculture and resources, as well as in education and healthcare.

This mobile push has resulted in the number of Internet users in Africa to grow to almost 400 million as of June this year. Add to this a mobile subscription penetration rate of 80%, and you have an environment where you’ve allowed millions of new entrants to join the global marketplace. One example of this is how mobile technology has impacted small farmers throughout the continent. Databases that allow farmers to input their data like crop yields and acreage, have enabled global banks to provide microloans and other capital for investments. This was a population that without connectivity, was largely cut-off from the rest of the world.

Partnering for growth

Africa puts people at the centre of all product development. Adapting technology and solutions with the end user in mind has allowed for collective co-development which is one of the most effective ways to innovate.

These partnerships are focused on creating conversations around what the customer needs are and how best to work together to develop solutions around that. The continent has really been embracing an entrepreneurial flair to its innovation programmes that see organisations continuously test new partnerships or investment opportunities to transform value propositions. In fact, there are over 3,000 innovation technology hubs and incubators on the continent which are fuelling entrepreneurs and bringing start-ups and big corporates together to drive and harness disruptions and innovation. It is estimated that by improving entrepreneurial conditions by 10%, $176 billion could be added to the economy.

Addressing African problems

The arrival of the 4th Industrial Revolution has resulted in an increasing global awareness of how technology will directly change people’s lives. Its potential for disruption is clear, forcing companies to re-evaluate how they solve difficult problems, grow the bottom-line, and do so cost-effectively. Africa has not been immune to this, but it has embraced the complexities of this new environment by going back to its roots of people-centricity. Look at GE for example – a company that has been at the forefront of power innovation in Africa for decades; their recent Bridge Power Project in Ghana which will not only address the long-term energy requirements of Ghana by providing more than 17% of the country’s reliable generating capacity, but will also create hundreds of jobs during both the construction and operation phases. This project also brings much-needed reliable and affordable electricity to Ghana, and will have an immediate positive impact on the running of schools, factories, offices, hospitals and households.

Addressing the needs and requirements of citizens across the continent has become fundamental in an Africa 4.0 environment that looks to unlocking the potential of emerging technologies specific to the unique requirements of the continent.

At the end of last year, Thomson Reuters Labs launched a Cape Town location joining others around the world to connect the best information, intelligence, and professional expertise with developers, entrepreneurs and other like-minded individuals.

These are exciting times where we can combine the African spirit of entrepreneurship with global best practice and a uniquely local way of thinking. In many respects, this combines the best of all worlds with technology innovation as the glue to grow the opportunities on the continent.

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