Global tech investment in Africa is set to keep growing thanks to a series of initiatives backed up by various firms, including tech giant Microsoft. For example, IBM’s most recent African SmartCamp was a total success, and rewarded relevant innovations in areas like mobile applications and online payment channels. In a similar move, Philips has supported the development of a mobile ultrasound technology that will surely improve Kenya’s healthcare system.
Following these recent investments, Microsoft has launched two more schemes in Africa, reaffirming the company’s commitment to supporting growth and innovation throughout the continent. The first scheme is a pilot project called Microsoft 4Afrika IP Hub, which aims to prevent IP exploitation and other common intellectual property issues that are halting the success of African innovators. This recent Microsoft initiative will make the IP protection process simple and straightforward while facilitating the monetization of African startups. Another noteworthy Microsoft 4Afrika scheme is TV White Space, a pilot project developed by Microsoft in cooperation with several South African governmental departments and private firms. This project hopes to increase Africa’s competitiveness level in the global tech scene by exposing students and teachers to IT and widening their skills base. It is expected that this project will facilitate access to information, help modernise the African educational system, and help Africans reach their full potential through the use of new technologies.
In fact, Africa’s increasing participation in the global tech scene is already a reality. During the recent US-Africa Summit, President Obama’s revealed that the country will invest $14bn in various projects across Africa, including an IT project supported by GE, which considers the continent as one of the world’s most promising growth regions. Other similar commitments are already in place, targeting female entrepreneurs and making substantial investment in the sub-Saharan region.
Planet Earth Institute (PEI) trustee Dr Alvaro Sobrinho is a strong supporter of the push for a scientifically independent Africa but also realises the importance of global investment from outside of the continent. Speaking on the fringes of a recent PEI meeting in New York with the United Nations, Dr Sobrinho said:
“It’s no surprise the global business giants are now waking up to Africa. With strong economic growth rates, a dynamic and young population and increasingly welcoming business conditions, Africa offers the world’s most untapped yet promising marketplace for the coming century. However, it’s absolutely crucial that global firms learn from mistakes of the past, and prioritise local partnerships and become embedded in African countries for the long-term.
As well as working with higher education institutes to build a new network of African PhD Centres, Dr Sobrinho has personally taken on a project with the World Bank to link business investments and the private sector to supporting African science, technology and innovation. The initiative, the ‘Africa Business Champions for Science’, offers the potential to be a ‘landmark moment in how business and science interact in Africa’ according to Makhtar Diop, Vice President of the World Bank for Africa.
In addition to corporate investment, the strategy to transform Africa into a globally competitive region entails launching initiatives to encourage innovation and know-how in young African entrepreneurs. For example, the Innovation Prize for Africa will reward innovators with up to $100,000 for developing scientific and technological breakthroughs. Calls have also been made for African entrepreneurs who wish to enter the 2014 Pan-African Prize for Innovation, which aims to broaden the scope of mobile broadband throughout the continent. Likewise, a number of outstanding innovations will be showcased at the upcoming DEMO Africa conference in Lagos, where 40 selected innovators will have the opportunity to pitch their innovative ideas to investors from all over the world. It is important to note that initiatives to support and inspire future African leaders also exist at local level. Undoubtedly, future African generations have much to look forward to in terms of technological development and improved quality of life.
Written by Tim Aldiss on behalf of the Planet Earth Institute