Why innovation-driven economies are key for Africa’s development

By Nonye Mpho Omotola, a Brand Africa council member and a respected advocate for economic growth through innovation, technology and education

Africa needs to grow considerably if we expect to get a seat at the global economic table and become part of the conversation shaping the world. The African Innovation Summit, which takes place from 6-8 June in Kigali, could not have come at a better time because Africa does not want to be left out in the cold. We have brilliant young minds, strategic know-how and an abundance of manpower with research indicating that 60% of our youth are under the age of 30, many with vast technological skills.

Despite Africa’s ugly historical circumstances, we have proven to be formidable in competitiveness and business, and scaling towards innovation-driven economies will boost us further.

Innovation is key in developing competitive economies in order to generate higher levels of income and profitable returns on investment, as well as increase national growth potential, according to Growth Champions, a group working in the innovation sector collaborating with leading global innovators to find sustainable solutions for growth.

The ‘Global Competitiveness Report’ by the World Economic Forum analyses many drivers that enable national economies to achieve sustained growth. It states that innovation-driven economies use the most sophisticated processes to compete by producing and delivering new and different products.

Deloitte, in a report titled ‘Innovation is the new driver of growth in Africa’ at the WEF in Kigali in 2016 said many African states require structural change for significant economic improvement. The impact of structural change is however only felt in the long term. It reported that given the poor historical trend of resource returns supporting structural change, innovation provides a far greater opportunity to drive more inclusive growth than the traditional resource-based business models.  While the continent may not have large innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, innovation is critical for economic development, and African public institutions need to play a greater role.

If Africa had to attain innovation-driven economies, can you imagine what it would look like in 10 to 20 years. We would be able to come up with solutions to address challenges with development, poverty, health, food security, climate change, governance, productivity, water and so forth.

Maybe we can learn and follow China’s footsteps on how to go about reaching our full potential. In the book: “The China Path To Economic Transition And Development”, author Yinxing Hong states that many factors are needed for innovation-driven economies.

“We need to adopt knowledge, technology, corporate organizational systems, and business models to reallocate existing tangible factors of production, including capital, labor, and other material resources…. As new knowledge and inventions are introduced, traditional factors of production will be endowed with a higher capacity for innovation. The integration of such innovation and production factors will give rise to an endogenous growth pattern in China,” the book says.

So for Africa to reach this development goal, we need to cultivate our ideas and invest in our young Einsteins to mature Africa and catch up to the rest of the world in the technological age.

This is what the African Innovation Summit hopes to achieve. It is harnessing the innovation potential of the continent with the aim of mobilizing people with the ‘power to act’ into a coalition for collective action to promote and build an enabling environment for innovation in Africa. The goal is to engage as many people as possible in order to build a broad constituency in support of innovation in Africa. The basic fact is that Africa cannot outsource its development. The AIS platform includes regular Summits to promote dialogue, facilitate exchange of best practices among stakeholders and African countries, showcase what is happening on the continent, and share lessons of experience. The platform also includes engagements with African researchers and scholars to undertake case studies to tease out lessons of experience in order to facilitate learning by stakeholders.

Africa has tonnes to offer and deserves a seat at the global economic table, rightfully so. We could potentially become the world’s food basket due to our high agricultural production and ideal weather. With the right tools, vision and people, we could be a force to be reckoned with when we take our seat at the table.