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Stimulating Africa’s economic growth on a thriving innovation community

In the last decade, we have seen clear indications of growth and advancement in Africa’s economy, observable in areas such as market expansion, e-commerce, the prevalence of start-ups, fintech solutions, increased cross-border trade, amongst others. These advancements, which have aided revenue generation and profit-making in the micro and macro economies, is a result of some key factors such as civilization, technological innovation. Such leaps in the social and economic systems have brought a lot of attention to Africa, and its bright potentials, which would extend beyond borders and provide actual solutions to global issues.

While these advancements are truly commendable, there are also undeniable indications that a lot of effort is still required in stimulating economic growth in Africa. Compared to Western countries, many African nations still grapple with challenges that stall their economic growth and social development; some of these range from increased rate of corruption and insecurity, financial illiteracy and exclusion, volatile economic policies and regulations, volatile business environments, lack of infrastructure and access to resources/funds/specific training, amongst others. These challenges make it immensely difficult for the economies of many African countries to thrive fully and also hinder Africa from meeting up to the ever-advancing and ever-dynamic demands of world markets.

Where is Africa’s ecosystem headed?

By now, there are tons of reports and research which warn that Africa’s socio-economic future will fall behind unless the trend is reversed. This makes innovation imperative more pressing than ever. It then beckons the question – Is there a role for a thriving innovation community in advancing this agenda? If so, what?

Considering that Africa has a vibrant entrepreneurial environment, with tech-based innovative ventures cutting across various sectors such as education, commerce, fintech, healthcare, agriculture, etc., it is clear that Africa’s ecosystem is thriving due to its adoption of technological innovation, as well as the growth of communities built around this. In addition, seeing that Africa is getting a lot of recognition as home to a youth-filled, tech-savvy population, as well as several fast-rising tech hubs- which produce brilliant solutions to Africa’s unique problems, it is necessary to leverage heavily on these strengths in boosting her economy.

African countries are yet to fully enjoy the expected economic prosperity associated with digitalization

Essentially, the pillar of technological innovation is a major factor stimulating economic growth in Africa, and this fact is not surprising- considering how advanced countries around the world with booming economies and rapid innovations are all shining in areas of technological expertise. Countries such as Japan, South Korea, China, and the United States rank first to fourth (in that order) as countries having the highest technological expertise. Expectably, these countries also boast of unrivalled economic advancement and high living standards for their citizens.

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However, the case is different for most African countries and Africa-based businesses. African countries are yet to fully enjoy the expected economic prosperity associated with digitalization because of a persistent digital divide, digital skills shortages, and non-access to the required resources and communities. Although the innovative use of technology has been found to increase labour productivity and efficiency, thus becoming a stimulus for business growth and economic development, it is discovered that these potentials are not being harnessed enough for the good of the continent.

It is necessary to invigorate and leverage the rising pace of innovation in Africa, as this is clearly an imperative to achieve broad-based economic growth and higher living standards for her nations. Although the challenges are truly numerous and deeply rooted, the fact is that a thriving space for innovation and technology would most likely be the saving grace for Africa’s struggling ecosystem.

Leveraging a thriving innovation community as Africa’s game-changer

To achieve results of real impact in Africa, these innovative game-changers cannot strive alone, hence the need for hubs and communities where significant, solution-driving ideas can be nurtured to fruition. Over time, innovative hubs have survived through resilience, adaptability, collaboration, and brilliant creativity, all of which are fostered by the right communities. These much-needed communities serve as platforms where core innovative ideas can thrive; financial solutions can be accessed, with available networking opportunities, and capacity-building resources. This is basically what organizations such as AfriLabs leverage, to stimulate rapid economic growth in the African markets.

As a company founded a decade ago (in 2011), AfriLabs has been at the forefront of enabling innovation in Africa for the past ten years, serving as a nexus point for innovation hubs across the continent, providing support to the community of rapidly evolving technology hubs through financing, mentoring, networking opportunities, and other capacity-building initiatives. This is aimed at producing high-potential entrepreneurs that will positively impact the continent’s socio-economic status.

With Africa’s youth population projected to be over 500 million over the next five years, the importance of job creation cannot be understated, and innovation hubs act as a platform that builds systems and businesses that create these jobs. AfriLabs recently collaborated with UNDP Accelerator Labs to drive innovation policy in Africa and we see this partnership as a powerful tool that can multiply the effect of our goals.

Access to funding has also been identified as one of the key requirements for a thriving innovation economy and AfriLabs has leveraged impactful relationships to provide increased access to funding. An example is the recent launch of Catalytic Africa, an investment tool that aims to increase the pool of capital available to promising African growth-stage entrepreneurs, support the startup ecosystem, and increase the visibility of impact to institutional funders. This co-matching investment was developed in collaboration with the African Business Angels Network (ABAN) and designed to fund African startups with innovative digital solutions and measurable impact.

By supporting innovation hubs and their communities to raise high potential entrepreneurs that will stimulate economic growth and social development in Africa, AfriLabs leaves its mark in a distinct yet impactful way. Also, by starting in 2011 from just 5 hubs across 4 African countries, and then growing to over 300 hubs across 51 African countries in 2021; with a larger community of over one million entrepreneurs, innovators, and start-ups across Africa, AfriLabs demonstrates that the path to economic growth is gradual yet steady, provided that the players have a defined goal and a feasible plan on how to offer value to a dynamic audience.

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