At the end of May, the second Open Innovation Africa Summit (OIAS) took place in Nairobi. It was organised by mobile phone giant Nokia, grant-management World Bank organisation infoDev, and management consulting group, Capgemini.
Following on from the inaugural OIAS event in December 2010, the aims of the meeting were bold: the focus was on how to successfully unleash Africa’s innovation potential and tackle the wide range of problems that African innovators, especially in the technology sector, face. Expectations when it came to participant performance were also high, with organisers keen to ensure that all attendees took part in debates and problem-solving in workshop atmosphere.
With cross-sector collaboration being one of the key messages of the summit, the event attracted a wide portfolio of stakeholders, including not only policy makers and representatives of large multinationals but also entrepreneurs, investors and researchers from Africa and beyond.
The variety of speakers throughout the three-day event reflected that philosophy. On the first day, a panel on innovation from an African perspective included two Nokia representatives (Jussi Hinkkanen, Vice President of Corporate Relations, and Gerard Brandjes, General Manager of Nokia South Africa Middle East and Africa), Dr Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary in the Kenya Ministry for ICT, Finland’s Ambassador to Kenya Sofie From-Emmesberger and infoDev Programme Manager, Valerie D’Costa.
With leadership as one of the key themes of the summit, Fred Swaniker, Founder and CEO of the African Leadership Academy and Patrick Awuah, the co-founder of Ashesi University, the liberal arts college in Ghana, also delivered impressive speeches on the leadership challenges which African innovators face. Awuah in particular stressed the importance of liberal arts in unleashing the creative capabilities of tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.
Shiv Shivakumar, Senior Vice President of India, Middle East and Africa for Nokia and Dr Yves Morieux of Boston Consulting Group both discussed the importance of cooperation and management in their presentations on global leadership trends. The two major themes that emerged from their lectures were that simplicity is the key to effectively managing and running businesses, and secondly the importance and power of cooperation within firms.
Participants were split into streams to discuss different problems and solutions that African innovators must contend with. The first stream concentrated on the financial obstacles that innovative firms with high growth possibilities must contend with and worked towards fine tuning recommendations for specific actions which could address the problem. Ideas that were put forward within the stream included an online portal to plug the information gap and a ‘crowd funding’ pilot, involving two major investments.
In the Ecosystem for Innovation stream, approaches to creating a holistic, well-connected and effectively functioning overall environment to stimulate innovation in a given country were discussed. One of the concrete projects which was suggested as a possible action for the future was Start-up Heaven, a project which entailed running a series of events to link entrepreneurs with venture capitalists, and the African Youth Innovation e-Library, offering easy-to-digest multimedia learning tools and resources to African internet users.
Meanwhile, the E-transformation stream focused on ICT’s role in making social and economic breakthroughs on the continent, for example, in the health, agriculture and climate change spheres. Project suggestions included an Open Climate Change Data Platform to provide relevant stakeholders with climate change-related open data and information and an initiative to roll out ‘last mile’ mobile banking services.
Finally, the Mobile Information Society stream concentrated on how to support local developers to create the mobile solutions that will in the end drive further uptake of mobile communications in Africa. Some of the ideas were strikingly simple. One, entitled ‘connecting the dots’, involved nothing more than creating an online communication portal to connect hubs and labs across the continent, an uncomplicated but potentially extremely useful step to lubricating crucial dialogue about best practices and common problems. There are high hopes that participants will continue to try and drive their projects forward in coming months.
Power of collaboration
One of the striking aspects about the summit was its structure and format. Capgemini coordinated all the discussions in line with its own facilitation methodology, known as Accelerated Solutions Environment, which the organisation refers to as “a completely innovative and collaborative approach to working together”. All attendees, often broken down into smaller groups, were encouraged to participate, strictly focus on specified problems and discussions (rather than going off on lengthy tangents), and remain aware of the short time period they had to come up with solutions.
A select group of some of Africa’s most innovational entrepreneurs was also invited to participate in the summit by demonstrating their own unique projects and products in an assigned demo area. Participants then voted for the best innovation.
“It was great to have even more African innovators and entrepreneurs at this year’s OIAS. Their interaction brought forth many interesting ideas. We really saw the promise and potential of Africa’s innovation leaders and we hope they continue to build links with one another,” said Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager, commenting on the event overall.
There was an emphasis on moving forward on projects and keeping networks and relationships alive beyond the event, as well as writing up a collection of recommendations on innovation to present to governments and other powerful stakeholders in future.
“We must try and do our best to ensure that the process continues and that it does not just stop here,” said Jussi Hinkkanen of Nokia at the close of the event.