Inclusive innovation: An opportunity for Africa


The largest start-up event in Africa, the SA Innovation Summit, recently concluded with the BOOSTUP Africa Day which focused on the African ecosystem.

As more African entrepreneurs pioneer creative business ideas to deliver essential services and life-changing products to low-income communities, inclusive innovation is becoming an opportunity for organisations to combine social impact with profit models. With this in mind, the theme of inclusive innovation was a focal point for the day’s talks.

The sessions kicked off with a think tank, the topic of which was Building Resilience with Inclusive Innovation. Hosted by the Southern Africa Innovation Support Programme (SAIS 2), the discussion centred around how inclusive innovation tools have helped innovators build resilience in the changing market and business environment. It also explored how inclusive innovation can build resilience amongst grassroots innovators and contributes to sustainable community development. Moderated by Thabiso Mashaba, Co-Founder and CEO of  Botswana-based global social enterprise startup, These Hands, the panel was comprised of Ricardo Borges de Castro, Associate Fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy; Ina Wilkie, Environmental Communications Consultant at the Namibia Housing Action Group; and Hupenyu Allan Mupambwa, Desert and Coastal Agriculture Researcher at The University of Namibia.

Mupambwa shared that, unlike abstract innovation, which entails the development of new products without involving the end user, inclusive innovation includes the people that you are trying to create a solution for, using your innovation. “Innovating together with users has a significant impact for marginalised communities because much of the innovation we see normally targets the people that are at the top of the pyramid.”

Touching on the resilience aspect of the topic, Borges de Castro added, “If people do not own the project and are not invested in it, it’s much harder to build resilience, but I think that foresight also has a role to play.”

The think tank was followed by a masterclass hosted by SAIS 2 and Bopinc on Making Inclusive Innovation a Mainstream Approach. Facilitated by Gerwin Jansen, Inclusive Innovation Program Manager at Bopinc in The Netherlands, and Yvonne Achieng,  Inclusive Business Specialist at Bopinc in Kenya, the workshop provided insight on what inclusive innovation is and what will influence its success by highlighting stories of inclusive innovators and their journeys. It also provided recommendations to organisations looking to train entrepreneurs on inclusive innovation during a live Q&A session.

Exploring how COVID-19 has impacted low-income communities, particularly in terms of fulfilling the most basic of human needs, Jansen said: ”With the advent of COVID-19, low income people have been hit the hardest across the board but specifically in terms of access to safe and nutritious food, and good healthcare. For those living in a shack in an informal settlement, it’s also been so much harder to access knowledge about COVID-19 and to get tested and treated. These inequalities are not new. Let’s work together to rethink the system and use the power of inclusive innovation and entrepreneurship to drive change.”

Bringing the talks to a close was the BoostUp Pitch Battle, powered by Connected Hubs for SAIS 2, which saw 16 South African start-ups going head-to-head for the chance to not only be part of the cohort that will be taken by ANZA Capital on an international digital tour to connect with investors, but to also receive investment from AYO Technology Solutions. The winner, after three gruelling rounds, was Nubian Smarts, a 100% black female-owned company that strives to improve the educational experience of all South African children by creating mobile applications that are dedicated to making learning fun.

The Summit was concluded with a closing and award ceremony during which the winners of all the pitch battles and demo days were announced. Ending the event on a high note was, author , comedian, innovator , errorthoughtical engineer and futurist Peter Greenwall, with his thought-provoking song Clueless Like You.

While the Summit might be over,  the sharing of knowledge, skills and opportunities will continue with the TechTribe Community – an online ecosystem that offers the African start-ups and innovators a place to connect, create partnerships and capacitate themselves.

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