Exploring Transformative Innovations in Africa for an Inclusive Future

Guest post from Rebecca Barnett:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 6th annual Africa Innovate Conference 2016 ignited passion, inspired, and engaged a distinguished guest audience of professionals and students from all around the world. “Transformative Innovations for an inclusive future” was the theme this year, focusing on ways innovative technologies can be a life-changing tool to build and sustain a better Africa.
Within the last decade the continent has experienced rapid economic growth allowing Africa to leapfrog several technological developments in pioneering ways. With this progression comes the need to seek scalability and consideration of social impacts for successful business and an improved quality of life for the people. With this realization comes reflection: What is working and what is not? Where is change needed most?

The conference kicked off with a screening of the film Poverty, Inc., providing a rude awakening of the social-economic impacts from the multi-billion-dollar poverty industry. Various forms of charity were examined from social entrepreneurs to orphanages and what is the lasting impact from these ventures. The big questions the film addresses are: who really benefits from aid and what are the consequences? A resonating quote from the film was No one wants to be a beggar for life, which calls to action the need to find ground-breaking ways to lift people out of poverty instead of continuing an endless cycle of destitution.
MIT Africa 2016_3After the film, attendees enjoyed a networking dinner. Claude Grunitzky, a serial entrepreneur, author, and Sloan Fellow, presented an exceptional keynote presentation. Grunitzky spoke about his unique journey and how the concept of his newest venture started in the MIT classroom and developed the concept there. Their ideas and collaborations grew to become an international media-tech platform called TRUE Africa. The company focuses on giving Africans all over the world a voice and emphasizes their perspectives in culture, music, sports, lifestyle, politics, fashion, and tech. Stories of young innovators among the TRUE Africa 100 list were highlighted in an inspirational fashion.
Day 2 of the conference was endowed with influential leaders from the African continent who exhibited their expertise and deliberations on 5 different panel discussions in the areas of energy, finance, education, agriculture, and telecommunications. Each discussion analyzed initiatives for forward movement using new innovations. It is not only about disruptions but also building a stronger, sustainable continent that brings people into inclusion. Essentially it is time to rethink Africa.

MIT Africa 2016_2
Michael Joseph, Director of Mobile Money for Vodafone

Informative sessions by MIT professors revealed the MIT-Africa Initiative and various projects in recognition of how instrumental the continent is to the future. MIT looks to strengthen their reach into Africa and by exposing their students to the abundance of opportunities that the continent provides. MIT students/founders showcased their exciting African-focused start-ups and explained their business models, among the companies were: Dechets a I’Or, Moringa, MDaas, Practical Education Network, Dare to Innovate, The Releaf Group, and OneText. A motivating Vision Talk regarding the struggles and sacrifices made by African entrepreneurs was given by the co-founder of Metro Africa Xpress (MAX), a cutting edge delivery company revolutionizing how merchants deliver goods to customers in Lagos, Nigeria.
Michael Joseph, the Director of Mobile Money for Vodafone, delivered the opening Keynote speech. Joseph offered insights on the progression of one of the most exciting developments in tech – Mobile Money. The mobile money service launched by Vodafone in 2007 called M-Pesa is highly regarded as a successful case study for conducting business in Africa, introducing mobile technologies, and producing products that result in strong economical impact. Joseph admitted that although there has been immense success, there is still much left to accomplish within Africa. He demanded: “It is time for a new model – stop corruption! It is the biggest thing that holds us back”.  Joseph believes “this is the time we can change lives through innovation and make people a part of a world that they were excluded from before”.
MIT Africa
Ibukun Awosika, Chairman of First Bank Nigeria

The Chairman of First Bank Nigeria, Ibukun Awosika, delivered a powerful closing keynote. Ms. Awosika advised the audience: Your first opportunity can change your life, it all depends on what you do with it”. She explained her rise to become a leader as a young woman. Her inspirational journey was encumbered with challenges and bountiful with those who did not believe in her. Despite the impediments she remained strong, pursued opportunities with passion, and succeeded. She reminisced on her upbringing; her parents raised their children with “the heart of lions, telling them that they can change the world” even as females in a world full of sexism. She went on further to explain, “Nothing or Nobody should stop you”. Awosika ended on an influential note, reminding the audience: “Although the whole world is focused on Africa, Africans need to make and lead the change.”
The MIT Africa Innovate conference 2016 left participants enlightened and inspired from a strong line up of topics and experts from the African continent. After the conference you will come to a realization – there is still accomplishments to be made, opportunities to pursue, and need for progression. How can you become a catalyst for transformative innovation and change?
Rebecca Barnett
Rebecca Barnett is a mobile payment Marketing Director, Sub-Sahara Africa business development strategist, and cultural intelligence aficionada.  Her mission is to revolutionise marketing and consumer engagement with a diverse, young, mobile and tech-savvy market on the African continent.

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