A few weeks ago I attended Social media week Lagos (#SMWlagos) for the second year in a row. I was there to check out trends and oversee a client’s presentation on an innovative entrepreneurial project #GetStartedAfrica. What struck me most about #SMWlagos 2016 was not necessarily the countless number of people attending, nor the vast array of speakers from musicians to politicians to tech entrepreneurs or the forceful excessive company branding; it was the level of innovation that is emerging from the continent particularly Nigeria.
Innovation is the new buzz word. That in itself is not completely new; Thomas Edison was innovating when he invented the electric bulb, after all. However, innovation for the millennials age is not necessarily about inventing a plane or major transformational inventions, it is about “little” innovations that go a long way to solve the teeming challenges that our continent faces.
For those in my age bracket (pre-millennials; just in case you’re not sure, it means born between 1980 to 2000) who grew up on diskettes and dial-up internet long before cloud computing and broadband, we often feel as though, our own lives and carriers are intertwined with the history of computing technology in Africa. We modeled our carriers around the next big thing: Computers. We became computer/technology sales people, software engineers, network managers, etc.
Yet perhaps whilst we may often claim to know it all (after all we have used every version of windows since 1985) we often missed the critical innovation that was required to change the continent’s narrative.
Take for example Play Data, a company by former Nigerian rapper Lanre ‘El-Dee Da-Don’ Dabiri . Play Data claims to be a broadcast monitoring tool that helps artists accurately understand the strengths and weakness of their musical works for free. Whilst broadcast monitoring in itself is nothing new, the innovation that this young team brings to the table is the analytical information needed by the hundreds of Nigerian musicians who have no clue where their music is being played and want to know how they can monetize their music in a scientific way.
Another company I interacted with is Afrocab, a unique solution to Nigeria’s transportation mess, taking from the cue of Uber (an online taxi dispatch company), Afrocab is a bidding platform for passengers who want the flexibility of negotiating the price of their taxi fare without being bound by set prices. By taking an everyday action of negotiation between passengers and cab drivers they have devised a simple yet powerful solution to a common problem; feeling like you had a fair price for your fare.
Okonkwo Adaobi @dobbyssignature is a food blogger whose full time job is to document and share Nigerian food to a huge online audience daily. It is a simple but useful solution to the increasing invasion of our food culture by Popular American and western influences.
At the core of all this innovation by young people is the new confidence that the youth of today carry. There is a sense of entitlement that Africa has never had an entitlement not in the bad sense of the word but an entitlement that gives them to confidence to believe they can do whatever has been replicated in Silicon Valley. That arrogance is perhaps what we lacked in the past. The ability to dare, to say it can be done and forget all the teeming challenges of finance, lack of electricity, not enough skilled talent etc. is what we need.
Yes many dreams will be broken along the journey for some of these young entrepreneurs – few will truly become global icons but many more could contribute their quota if only African leadership could simply recognize that for the youth of today their dream is to be in Africa and build it from the ground up one project after another. For them Europe is 19th century, America is for education, Asia is too far off. Africa is where the action is. All they need is that little PUSH to get started!