AfricaCom 2015 opened today with a keynote panel on innovation leadership, asking how to support a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship in digital Africa.
Moderated by Larry Madowo, tech editor at NTV Kenya, the panel brought together Christian de Faria, CEO of Airtel Africa, Markku Makelinen, Director of Global Operator Partnerships at Facebook, Marc Rennard, EVP of AMEA at Orange and Bright Simons, President of mPedigree and award-winning entrepreneur.
Christian de Faria started by stating “We’re not doing enough in terms of innovation. There’s a lot of talent in Africa so how do we support it?” He mentioned the partnership Airtel developed with Facebook as a way of supporting innovators and called for the gian OTT brand to expand its presence in Africa beyond the new office opened recently in South Africa.
According to Markku Makelinen, the driver for all innovation is connectivity to the internet.
For Marc Rennard, innovation is part of our Orange’s DNA: “We support local innovation through partnerships with incubators, venture prizes, technocentres etc. The most important thing is to create a favourable local environment as the innovation coming from the field in Africa meets actual needs of local people”
Bright Simons said governments are uniquely positioned to support innovation: “Africa is very fragmented so the market isn’t the best place to transform innovation into a scalable market-winning product. Governments can create the initial spark for local innovation and the market will follow.” Other panellists agreed on the lack of support from governments, who don’t always have the will or ability to look at long-term objectives. Taxation was once again mentioned as an issue in the tech field.
To wrap up the discussion, Bright called for ecosystem innovation; Marc said the future will be API, open innovation and a multi-cultural approach to innovation; Markku advised entrepreneurs to innovate not imitate; and Christian called for the industry to get together in a more meaningful manner and encourage the bright minds we have on the continent.