African innovation is flourishing. In cataloguing our African transformational stories over the past few years and writing the book Disrupting Africa: The Rise and Rise of African Innovation, I’ve noticed that the best innovators are those who know Africa best. Africans must define what’s important for Africans: our best solutions are home-grown ones.
At the time of writing – it’s always changing – here are my top ten home-grown solutions for our continent… not in order of preference.
Uncollected trash is a huge problem in Africa, and who would have thought it could be solved with bicycles? Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola did. Founder of WeCyclers, a household recycling service for informal settlements in Lagos, she decided to not be limited by traditional thinking around sanitation solutions but to address the problem as an African for Africans. Trash is ‘money just lying in the streets,’ she says. Rather than seeing the problem, she saw opportunity.
WeCyclers incentivises people to clean up by rewarding them for every kilogram collected and recycled through points sent by SMS. If you know how huge mobile penetration is in Africa, you can see how this works for Africans. The points are redeemable against goods such as cell phone minutes or basic food items. Rewards have also been funded in partnership with big brands.
Ghanaian entrepreneur, Fred Swaniker who is the co-founder of the African Leadership University (ALU), is the quintessential African innovator. His vision for ALU has been hyper-futuristic: combining traditional brick and mortar facilities with digital classrooms to launch 25 African Ivy League Universities across the continent – he has already launched three.
What Swaniker has successfully done is to disrupt the traditional university education model by offering higher quality education at a lower cost, leveraging of the power of Massive Open Online Courses – MOOC. In doing so, he has broken the monopoly on knowledge that any one university would have by picking the best learning content from global universities and curating them into one central source using technology.
He is extending his university’s traditional infrastructure reach into the digital realm by using technology such as virtual reality goggles to teach.
South-African, 30-year-old Dr Imogen Wright has created a software solution that enables healthcare workers, in a much lower-cost way than ever before, to determine how well an HIV-positive patient will respond to antiretroviral (ARV) drug treatment.
Her company, Hyrax Biosciences, builds online tools that analyse the DNA of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and other bacteria to look for drug resistance.
This has traditionally been a very expensive exercise. But now any doctor with Internet access in theory can now prescribe the right drugs across Africa.
Bozza.mobi, dubbed ‘Africa’s answer to iTunes, Netflix and Spotify’, is a mobile-first digital marketplace for the pan-African entertainment industry, allowing artists to directly connect with fans in a uniquely African way, by creating a digital distribution platform where Africa’s artists can sell directly to customers across the continent.
With traditional distribution in Africa being a challenge on the continent, and content piracy a real plague, Bozza.mobi is filling a real gap for the entertainment industry. The African market is more mobile-centric than the rest of the world and even further, less app-centric, so Bozza.mobi has focused heavily on data compression, which is perfect for feature phones.
They have even taken it one step further by engaging with telecommunications operators to ‘zero rate’ the Bozza content, so that when a customer downloads the content, it doesn’t count towards the user’s data.
The Vula App, developed by Dr William Mapham, helps health workers in rural areas send data and photos of cataracts to a specialist in a nearby city. They can then diagnose the problem, suggest a solution, and even book appropriate surgery.
People who live in these remote areas then don’t need to go through all the costs of driving to the city several times and (hopefully) being attended to, but go once and receive the 20-minute surgery.
Sproxil, the brainchild of Ghanaian, Ashifi Gogo, is fighting the dangerous scourge of counterfeit medicine through a simple SMS system.
When you get your medicine you scratch on a panel hiding a unique Sproxil code and SMS the code (for free) to the Sproxil number. It then texts you back and lets you know if it is genuine.
Counterfeit medicine is a huge problem in Africa, resulting in deaths or people just constantly sick. The Sproxil technology is helping authorities, patients, doctors, and the pharmaceutical industry to curb this – and it’s working. It’s also in place in Asia and North America.
Dr Eddy Agbo from Nigeria has made great strides in the field of curbing malaria. A molecular biologist, with a PhD in Molecular Genetics from Utrecht University in the Netherlands and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Ibadan, Nigeria, he has created a new 25-minute test for malaria that costs only around US$2.
Until now the only way to test for malaria has been via blood samples that can take days before anyone receives results. Agbo’s innovation, however, is a simple urine test – much like a pregnancy test. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) telling us that 214 million deaths in 2015 in Africa were due to Malaria, this is all pretty revolutionary.
In keeping with malaria solutions, Dr Valentin Agon developed Api-Palu, an anti-malaria drug treatment made from natural plant extract. This has makes it significantly cheaper than the anti-malarial drugs currently on the market.
Some African governments spend up to 40 percent of their public health budgets on treatment for malaria, and the Api-Palu treatment – available as tablets, capsules, or syrup – will make a huge change for patient and budget alike.
Set up by married couple, Aisha Pandor and Alen Ribic, Sweepsouth lets you book a reliable home cleaner through a simple app. It’s flexible – you can cancel or reschedule, book in advance, and even list multiple properties.
It’s available in most major cities. Cleaners are experienced and fully vetted, employed by Sweepsouth. I suppose you could call it the ‘Uber of cleaning services’. It also has a small ecommerce element where you can buy eco-friendly products.
In 2013, Kenya suffered a nationwide power blackout, which – thanks to a power surge in Nairobi – completely fried many electronic devices. This prompted Kenya-based company, Ushahidi (Swahili for ‘testimony’) to come up with a unique and interesting product – a surge-resistant, self-powered, tough and durable mobile Wi-Fi router which provides a steady data connection even when the power is out (or if you’re out in the middle of nowhere). They call it the BRCK.
It also collects weather data, creates secure networks wherever you set it up, and can perform remote repairs via the cloud. But the way the product is designed has led to much more than just that. It has prompted Ushahidi to partner with educators and merge the BRCK with a Raspberry Pi (a low-cost, credit-card sized computer) to create toughened-up tablets with huge battery life and an easy-to-use interface. This low-cost solution, called the Kio, is being used in classrooms. Along with it comes the Kio-Kit – basically a suitcase which can be locked and can store up to forty Kio tablets at the same time. And they charge wirelessly.
These innovators are solving uniquely African problems, and I firmly believe that African innovators are, without a shadow of a doubt, the future. I’m deeply excited by the Africa I see rising, and we continue to move forward!