Zim needs to invest in innovation spaces

The wave of innovation coming across Africa is unstoppable. The rest of the world has stopped growing. People get excited about 1-2% growth in other parts of the world.

In Africa, the market is just there. If you're looking for a return on investment, one of the best places to find it is in Africa.

African innovation can teach the rest of the world something. The world has poured trillions of dollars of aid into Africa. We've tried rock stars, we've tried celebrity-led campaign ads, we've tried all sorts of things to help Africa. But the tools to help Africa lie within the region – our human capital.

One factor that has greatly contributed to this push towards innovation, especially in technology, has been the growth of mobile, social media and internet connectivity. All this has now become more available at much cheaper rates than a few years ago.

Young Africans are getting connected, they are engaging and collaborating online, they are learning, and they are applying what they are learning to better their own lives. The dependence is less and less on traditional modes of thinking i.e. go to school, get a job. Young Africans are more and more turning to entrepreneurial activity, and the web and mobile technology are giving them the capacity to do this at a relatively low cost and with great efficiency.

Technology of course presents the unique advantage of having relatively low barriers to entry and potentially massive outcomes. Technology is a game changer and platform leveller for Africa relative to the rest of the world. ICTs have become the “hanging fruits” in a lot of countries across Africa including Zimbabwe.

It is now time for people to pluck the fruits and harness development through innovation in ICTs. There is need to promote ICTs in all sectors of the Zimbabwean economy. Sustainable innovation will transform the lives and economy of Zimbabwe in the future.

A model that has worked particularly well as far as innovation is concerned is that of creating centres of innovation, spaces where people come together, share ideas and work on them in an enabling environment where the right tools and opportunities are presented.

The Nairobi Innovation Hub was probably the first to do this successfully, and now the model has been replicated all over Africa – Bandwidth Barn in Cape Town, ActivSpaces in Cameroon or iLab in Liberia (and many more).

The Zimbabwean government and corporate world need to invest in innovation spaces in order to bring like minded people under one roof and provide resources for them to lead the country in technology innovations.

Governments in several African nations have also caught on and have sought to invest more in ICT and create suitable policy environments for tech innovation. But if we expand the scope of this discussion from just ICT and ICT-specific investment, much is still to be done. Zimbabwe needs to invest in skills development to match the growing demand of innovation in the technology space. We hope to see the next Mark Zuckerberg come from Murambinda in Zimbabwe!

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