5 Reasons We Are Optimistic About Africa
On January 9th, Bill Gates published his first blog for 2017, titled 5 reasons I’m optimistic about Africa.
With the main goal of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation being “addressing a multitude of challenges in the areas of health, agriculture, and financial services for the poor,” it is only natural that Mr. Gates has been looking at Africa for some time now.
In his article, he writes about 5 reasons he’s hopeful about Africa, mentioning the rich cultural tradition, NGOs working with african grandmothers, hinting at the advancements in the energy sector fostered by entrepreneurs, exemplifying UK born venture Bboxx.
We would like to challenge this image of Africa and the idea that there’s a need for optimism in spite of its challenges and rather propose 5 reasons we believe the future is being built in Africa because of these challenges.
Africa Progress Report 2015 published an extensive research on energy solutions in the African continent. The report addresses the need for universal energy access and highlights the focus on commodities exports in countries such as Nigeria, an oil-exporting superpower, where there are still 93 million people who do not have access to electricity.
The report also concludes that “African nations do not have to look into developing high-carbon old technologies; we can expand our power generation and achieve universal access to energy by leapfrogging into new technologies that are transforming energy systems across the world.”
At Seedstars World, we are looking for innovators who are at the forefront of this movement. Startups such as Juabar from Tanzania, which builds a network of solar electricity stores that provide phone charging, or Intellectric from Nigeria, which aims at reducing the cost of energy by 30% by implementing a proprietary solar and battery design, are working in the right direction.
Kenyan startup, BRCK, provides a holistic education technology that turns every classroom into a digital classroom.
Education is a main contributor to the economic growth and point of interest of many when discussing Africa. According to UNESCO, education trends in Africa are positive, with primary school enrollment growing steadily since 1990.
Overall, more children are in school now than ever before.
At the same time, acknowledging that a large number of african schools still does not have electricity, it is worth considering how the new image of african education is going to look like once things change.
A perfect example of how entrepreneurs are addressing these challenges can be Chalkboard Education, a startup that offers mobile learning solutions that can work on any device and can be accessed without an internet connection, and Etudesk, supporting academic institutions to build efficient online platforms.
It is exactly from this generation that the future African intellectuals and researchers will come from, and who will have the chance to shape the often Western-centered global academic discourse.
3. Food production
As the population across Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase by 755 million, or 81% between 2015 and 2040, the demand for quality food and sustainable production solutions will keep on increasing.
African countries are responding to the challenge by innovating in different fields, ranging from sharing economy focused startups like Hello Tractor, that allows the shared use of a tractor by several farmers, to Illuminum Greenhouses, which provide irrigation kits with solar sensors that improve water conservation and to East Africa Fruits Farm & Co which focuses on reducing post harvest produce waste.
In the face of the scarcity of adequate water and fertilizers, Africa’s challenge to feed the growing population needs to be addressed, but the issue could be tackled more easily if more farmers would be able to access the knowledge and technologies. This reconfirms the relevance of startups like Abithrone, using big data analytics for intelligent farming.
It is thanks to the ideas of courageous entrepreneurs that Africa will be able to overcome its food production shortages and set an example for sustainable production to other developed countries.
4. Financial inclusion and infrastructure
Since two-thirds of adult Africans do not have a bank account, financial inclusion plays an increadingly vital role in the development of the continent.
The lack of infrastructure, such as roads and reliable electricity, makes it inherently impossible to implement traditional banking systems at a speed that would answer to the demand of some of the fastest growing economies in the world.
But also here, young entrepreneurs see an opportunity to overcome the challenge by leveraging innovation and technology, tweaking their applications to adapt to their country’s needs.
Some of these pioneers we have met personally: Simple Pay, that offers a secure online payment methods; Flexpay Technologies which are building an SMS based platform for those who who have no access to traditional banking, without requiring the use of a smartphone or internet connection. Others, such as Wi-Connect, have created free wi-fi hotspot zones to connect the previously disconnected 70% of the population in Angola to internet.
5. Consumer goods
Much of the growth of African countries has come from the traditional exploitation of natural resources, such as gas and oil. At the same time, Africa is also a very young continent, where 53% of income earners are between 16–35, a group willing to spend money and try new products.
As these countries continue to grow, millions of people are lifted above the poverty line and are becoming part of the demand for new products and goods. Again, infrastructure challenges make for great ideas and they force entrepreneurs to find new ways of connecting with customers and building trust.
While educating the customers to adapt to a changing world will be of key importance, there are several startups that have managed to tackle this issue. Modular Innobox, for example, is delivering goods in rural and low income communities, and the success of online marketplaces, such as Agrovative Limited, Compra.co.mz, Tekci and RhinoRecon Group, are a proof that the market is ready for online purchasing.
With its diverse history, linguistic, cultural and economic background, Africa surely still has challenges that need to be addressed. However, every single year when we travel across this vibrant continet, we continue to see positive results of the hard work of the entrepreneurs and truly believe that their optimism and talent will lead the way to a better future.
Keep up the good work, entrepreneurs! We shall see you around.
If you want to meet some of these amazing innovators from Africa, make sure you get your tickets to the Seedstars Summit!