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Unleashing ICTs for innovations and youth entrepreneurship

Ssali MuzafaruThe African Development Bank (AfDB) has embraced a new approach to development that puts innovation at the centre in the delivery of Bank projects at both the staff and client levels. The Bank sees its role as not only that of a financier and policy advisor but also as a promoter of knowledge and innovation.

By Foster N. Ofosu, Capacity Development Specialist. African Development Bank Group

This is implied in most areas of its operations, as indicated by the Ten Year Strategy of 2013 -2022, as well as its sector strategies.  Recently, the Bank has established a next-generation approach whose goal is to unleash a new wave of development and growth shared by all. The vision is captured in five objectives – the High 5 Goals: feeding Africa, lighting up Africa, industrializing Africa integrating Africa, and improving the quality of life in Africa.

Two observable demographic trends in Africa today are the rising proportion of youth and the high skill levels.  With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the youngest population in the world – and it keeps growing rapidly and getting better educated. On the other side of the good story, African countries are at the forefront of global economic growth. So on one hand we have a growing educated population and growing economies. This, however, is as far as the good news goes. The problem in Africa may not be the lack of employment as measured by current global methodologies, but rather underemployment and lack of decent jobs.  Therefore, when discussing the creation of jobs for the youth, emphasis has to be put on decent, well-paying jobs.

The African Development Bank’s vision of expanding opportunities and unlocking potentials will only be achieved through a retooling of knowledge and skill-sets. Today’s youth have a responsibility for delivering on the High 5 Goals. To realize this vision, a plan for training, incubating financing, and implementation is needed. Youth engagement throughout the design and implementation process is critical for success.

To promote the empowerment of young Africans to engage in the development process, the  African Development Bank seeks to contribute to youth employment through entrepreneurship and capacity development on the Continent. The role of the AfDB in this process is envisaged as

  • helping identify the main micro and macro-level barriers affecting the successful deployment of ICT in capacity development
  • identifying ways in which ICT can help improve the delivery of capacity development for youth entrepreneurship and employment
  • creating an environment in which various stakeholders can collaborate to build innovative capacity for development

ICT should be recognized as both an input, and output of innovation. The emergence of technology hubs across the Continent, as well as the growing efforts by young African “techpreneurs” in developing mobile applications to solve health, education, financial inclusion, agriculture, and other socio-economic challenges all point to evidence of ICTs as outputs of the innovation and entrepreneurship processes.

I believe Africa not only needs to do more in utilizing ICT in the development of skills and entrepreneurs, but also has to manage ICT properly as an input to achieve the development goals as set by the AfDB. For example, techpreneurs should receive support that fosters the adoption and diffusion of mobile applications, while simultaneously allowing them to continue growing their ventures. Currently, there is growing evidence that although individual technpreneurs are winning awards and being celebrated outside the Continent, the adoption and diffusion of home-grown mobile applications need to be further supported and promoted. Another example is the use of ICT for developing entrepreneurial skills and supporting start-ups. Though ICT has been successfully deployed in formal education at various levels, there is still scope to expand the use of technologies to train young entrepreneurs.

To achieve the desired outcome of leveraging ICTS as both inputs and outputs, Africa needs to develop the capacity of its youth to innovate. Innovative capacity holds the key to unlocking Africa’s potential and achieving inclusive growth and sustainable development. The Innovative Capacity Approach includes a series of activities aimed at building the abilities of African youth to develop home-grown technological, marketing, processing, and organizational innovations for value addition.  The concept of innovative capacity creates avenues that enable individuals and organisations to

  • view things differently
  • apply new tools to existing processes
  • measure the potential for innovation in any organisation, nation, or region
  • consider and enhance collaboration and linkages among stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem in entrepreneurship and growth.

In the context of entrepreneurship, we need to build the capacity (and support) in various realms of innovation:

  • innovation in financing – the capacity for risk-mitigation measures and funding
  • technological innovation – capacity for innovation to engage technologists and entrepreneurs, those young men and women who are eager to tackle the challenges they face every day
  • market innovation – the capacity to develop innovative market-access solutions for young entrepreneurs and promote intra-African trade
  • innovation in system linkages – the capacity to create and strengthen linkages among government, universities and research institutions, the private sector, and civil society.

To address some of these issues, the AfDB has recently initiated the Innovation and Youth Entrepreneurship Support Programme (iYes), which will back African youth in creating and growing innovative ventures and technologies. The capacity- building interventions include

  • innovation and start-up weekends
  • AfDB innovation fellowships – training, coaching and mentoring of winning ideas
  • new venture creation – incubation/excubation and other start-up support
  • growth-design capacity.

The iYes Programme makes use of distance and eLearning as part of the process, in addition to face-to-face interventions. Additionally, the programme is designed to address the innovative capacity gaps in the four areas and at the same time emphasise the element of growth to ensure the commercialisation and diffusion of home-grown technologies for the achievement of the High 5 Goals.


Hear more from AfDB’s initiatives promoting innovation and youth entrepreneurship at eLearning Africa 2016 on Wednesday, May 25th, 2016.

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