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Driving Africa's prosperity through homegrown innovativeness

This panel will seek insights from experts on using homegrown innovation to drive Africa’s advancement in what is otherwise called the ‘Pull approach.’ This is a bottom-up strategy that emphasizes building up local capabilities through innovation to create local solutions to local problems, without necessarily relying entirely on external assistance or intervention. This approach involves investing in human capital development, such as education and skills training. It also includes supporting the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and local industries.

A critical example of the implementation of this approach to development is the start of Africa’s telecommunication sector by a lead innovator, Sir Mo Ibrahim. In the 1980s, he saw the opportunity to bring mobile telecommunication to Africa. While the sector was not considered investable, Sir Mo Ibrahim strove to turn the non-consumptive market into an opportunity. Celtel was successful and sold for $3.4 bn to a Kuwaiti conglomerate, MTC, in 2005. Since the proliferation of telecommunications in Africa, the continent has enjoyed multi-level benefits. Telecommunications contribute over 8% of Africa’s GDP, amounting to $150 bn. It also results in improved jobs, improved ease of doing business, and enables e-commerce and logistics tech like Jumia and Orda. It is also the engine behind financial inclusion from fintech like Nala. Mobile money transactions in Africa amount to $500 bn annually, with a mobile phone penetration approaching 50%. Note that Celtel and other such companies have been able to turn a significant challenge—the lack of information flow—into an opportunity.

Given the challenges faced by the continent, including poor education access, low electrification access, gender inequality, poor healthcare, financial non-inclusiveness, poor infrastructure, and other challenges, this panel seeks to explore the insights applied by innovators. Led by Mo Ibrahim, the panel seeks to elucidate the approaches towards innovation. How can we better view challenges as opportunities? How can we unpack the solutions required in these many sectors? What are the opportunities, and, in contrast, what are the challenges? Tying into the panel on international governance, we will also seek to know the policy and regulatory frameworks that will enable the innovative private sector to thrive.

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