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LIDC Podcast: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Africa

Technological innovation and entrepreneurship are increasingly empowering Africans to lead the development of their continent. This month Development Matters talks to Senegalese-born Mariéme Jamme – the founder of business and IT development company Spot One Global – and a leading philanthropist. She helps empower African girls to become businesswomen, and is also the co-founder of Africa Gathering – a series of conferences backed by LIDC about innovation in the continent.
Technological innovation in Africa
Jamme begins by discussing the rapid growth and impact of mobile phones in Africa. She explains how mobile phones are used very differently in the continent than in the West. In Kenya, for example, M-PESA allows money transfer via mobile phones, especially useful when families are dispersed. Mobile telephony is also described as a source of female empowerment in Africa as it enables women to access information in new ways, ranging from family planning services to food prices (essential for market traders). These easy-to-use innovations have been developed in local languages. Jamme sees a "massive potential" for mobile phones in Africa, but rather than foreign operators going to Africa and imposing expensive solutions, she argues that African people need to develop their own cheap solutions. She describes how there are already many centres of innovation in Africa producing cutting-edge software, such as Ushahidi (an online crowdsourcing tool which aggregates user-generated content to create accurate understandings of unfolding events). It has been used internationally to cover elections and natural disasters, from post-election in Kenya to the earthquake in Haiti. Referring to the global impact of this innovative platform, Jamme is certain that the next Twitter or Facebook will come from Africa.
Social networking
Jamme – an avid twitterer (@mjamme) - believes in the power of sharing ideas and learning from others. For her, social networking is about giving and producing, not taking. She is the founder of iConscience- an online community promoting ethical business solutions in Africa. Every month the network discusses major issues, ranging from education to health and climate change. Furthermore, Jamme is the co-founder of Africa Gathering. It provides a platform for Africans and friends of Africa to share ideas about positive change in the continent, particularly relating to mobile and internet innovations. She said the conferences enable groups and individuals to gain visibility and credibility, and become more profitable, either "financially, emotionally or intellectually". Educating and empowering Africans is also central to the Dakar Dragon’s Project which supports and mentors Africa’s future businesswomen. Successes from the project so far include bakery and cotton businesses.
Aid in Africa
Jamme is also questioned about her critical views on the aid industry in Africa. She said: "I get frustrated when go I back and see what the aid business has done to Africa." Jamme criticised NGOs for their lack of understanding of the continent, which often leaves foreign-funded projects "dormant." She asserted that Africa needs "partners" not "masters" and recommended more strategic thinking: "Why are they [NGOs] going there, what are they going to do, and what is the impact now, tomorrow and after?" Finally, Jamme calls for Africans to lead the development of their continent. She added: "We need to come forward, we can’t just sit down and wait for things to come to us."
By Rainbow Wilcox, LIDC
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