This piece is the second of our series of reflective reports from the African Inclusive Innovation Summit (AIIS) on the future of work. Don’t miss the next one: subscribe to wearerestless at the bottom of this page.
“Man desires many things, but it is the individual’s duty to desire the proper things.” Emperor Haille Sellasie
In January 2015 African countries outlined their desires in script. Commonly referred to as the Agenda 2063, in its preamble, the African people express confidence that the destiny of Africa is in their hands and they must act now in order to shape the future that they want. The Africa that we desire has and continues to convene thought leadership spaces to gather ideas on transforming the African Continent. They further pledge to take into account lessons from the past and commit to mobilise people to own continental programs. I have a strong conviction that Agenda 2063 is a proper thing.
On the 20th of August 2019 Liquid Telecom, in partnership with the African Union Commission and the MIT Innovation Challenge, hosted the African Inclusive Innovation Summit (AIIS) at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa. The summit intended to generate discussions around inclusive technology and bridging the digital divide.
Bernard Chiira, the director of Innovation Now, Global Disability Innovation Hub delivered a keynote address on Assistive Technologies. This is one presentation I have committed to never forget in my life. Bernard has never seen having a physical disability as an excuse to be unproductive. Citing Stephen Hawking (RIP), one of the best cosmologists the world has ever seen, Bernard explained the need to break the barriers of those persons living with disability. He noted that often technologies are developed without due regard to the disabled. For instance some people are blind, and cannot have access to iris scan technology. This is only one example out of many.
With the Innovate Now Accelerator program, Bernard is offering innovative minds a platform to incubate, test, demonstrate and illustrate their innovations. I had a side conversation with him, my interest being safeguarding rights of originality by way of patent protection for inventions and innovations. He recognises that some innovators are more concerned about patent protection than industrial application but thinks innovators should be more concerned about the potential of the startup to solve community problems. Upon winning community approval, protection becomes a given.
The summit also offered an opportunity to the nine MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge contestants to moot startups and their potential to solve African problems. I noted that the requirements for startups to grow include talent, tenacity, capital, investment and ‘big problems’ but most importantly, an ecosystem that allows them to grow. John Makau of Tiny Totos Kenya shared something intriguing; innovation relies on innovation. For more startups to grow, there must be existing infrastructure that permits that growth. It is a fact that performance of ecosystems is relative, that governments play a key role in setting up and enabling the infrastructure needed for startups to thrive. Mark of Shopit, South Africa believes that it is all about the right impact, what few acknowledge is a problem with a sense of experiment. We must understand community challenges from the root cause and respond directly to the cause. It’s the best way of rating inclusivity of innovation.
I also took a chance to listen in on one of the side events that featured Mambepa Nakazwe, an alumni Youth Think Researcher with Restless Development and currently co-founder of the Seeds For Change Organization Zambia, discussing the future of work. Although we might not be living in the future, the ever changing dynamics of work help us predict the future. Soft skills and adaptability are a constant. We need to develop a growth mindset.
Okia Joseph is a lawyer based in Uganda and an alumnus of the Youth Think Tank Research Programme with Restless Development Uganda in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation.