What the present day grass-roots innovation movement has to say about your career.
By: Nnamdi Oranye
In the first two articles of this series I discussed the past and the future: how the world has been shaped by an African innovation in the past (the University) and how the future is actually African-centric, not Western (tomorrow’s top megacities will be in Africa). I’ve used both of these examples situated in the past and the future as a way of showing how you can future-proof your career. In this article, I’ll focus on the present.
One of the challenges we have as Africans is we never really talk about our innovations and that’s why so many of us look to trends in the West to understand how to build our careers. But there is a lot happening at a grass-roots level in Africa. If we understand that Africa will soon have the largest workforce in the world (by 2034) we ought to realise that African innovations are going to be a pretty big deal. Who better than Africans innovating for Africans? But we have to think about building new ecosystems. The industrialisation days are long over and we have to forge a new way forward of our own – or else risk always being left behind.
In many of my talks around the world I showcase how just four present-day African innovations not only affect the lives of many Africans today, but how, if you put them together, they can create a whole new ecosystem – something beyond what we see even in the West today.
The first innovation is MFS Africa, which connect mobile money systems together with other financial institutions, allowing for remittances to and from mobile money accounts. Mobile money is certainly one of the big driver’s for financial inclusion today and an example of how Africans are creating a very different future. To date, MFS Africa have plugged in 170 million mobile money wallets – that’s about 15 percent of Africans connected to this platform in some way.
The second innovation is MicroEnsure, which operate out of Kenya. Insurance is very difficult to sell on the continent but can actually change lives for the good. Selling airtime, by contrast, is actually pretty easy to do. MicroEnsure therefore provides free health insurance to users on the back of airtime.
The third innovation is one of my favourites – M-Kopa. This Kenyan innovative company is selling pay-as-you-go solar power for very low daily fees. After 12 to 18 months you’ve paid off the solar panel and it’s yours – giving you free solar electricity for the lifespan of the panel.
Lastly, there is Vula Mobile, an app developed by Dr. William Mapham, which allows workers in rural areas to easily identify cataracts through photo scan technology and automatically book surgery for patients, cutting out the many hours and travelling doctors and patients had to go through in the past to remove a simple cataract.
Gogo lives in rural Limpopo and has cataracts, identified with Vula Mobile, which has also booked her surgery. Watch how these four innovations together can change her life. On her way to surgery, Gogo is building health insurance for herself off the back of the airtime she’s using with MicroEnsure. When she gets to the clinic her operation is paid for. When she gets home she tops up on electricity through a simple mobile money payment, sent to her by her family on the other side of the world. Altogether, the entire process has probably cost her 40 U.S. cents.
That’s the kind of new ecosystem we can build: where does your career and business fit in? I said in my first article that you need to have horizontal views across industries to help inform your vertical view on your position in your particular industry. That’s how the world’s best innovators, even the likes of Google, think today. Whether you’re doing this for your side or your main hustle, you need to have the same approach – and it ought to be a Pan-African approach.
A few years ago I came across the Diffusion Innovation Theory, and if you’re in marketing or tech you need to know about this theory. The principle is quite simple: in order to reach your target for sales on a particular product you need to get about only 15 percent of your target to love your product. That’s your point of critical mass which will propel you to your target. Of that, you only need 2.5 percent to be absolute fanatics – the kind that line up at midnight for a new product launch. If we had to apply the same theory to shaping a new vision for Africa, we only need 2.5 percent percent of the 1.2 billion people in Africa to become absolute fans of our continent (that’s 30 million people). If we keep drilling it down, we realise that all we need are 17 visionary leaders who see the next generations and want to build for them, who have bold vision to see our continent move forward.
The question here then is: where do you fit in?