The African Development Bank (AfDB) hosted an inaugural Innovation Weekend at its headquarters in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, from October 9-11. The goal: to find technology-led solutions from West Africa to better the lives of women and youth.
“We want big ideas to generate big wins, and that means taking big risks,” said AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina in his message to participants. “However, ideas without money will eventually die. As the African Development Bank, we want to look at ways in which we can create accelerator funds to incubate these ideas,” he said.
One of the speakers, Freddy Tchala, General Manager of MTN Côte d’Ivoire, highlighted the need to create a tech hub in francophone Africa, which he dubbed the “Abidjan Valley”.
Over 1,200 aspirants registered online from across West Africa for the 160 available spaces. To accommodate the overflow, a second Tech Innovation Weekend has been planned for the spring. The inaugural AfDB event gathered young entrepreneurs from technology and development communities, ranging from app developers to students and academia from Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Togo and Senegal.
The three-day event focused on two main themes for technology innovation in West Africa: financial inclusion and developing skills for women and youth to address the region’s need to spread modern finance and create jobs. About 60% of the unemployed in Sub-Saharan Africa are 15 to 24 years old, 72% are living on less than $2 day, most of them being young women. There is great scope for mobile technology – which is growing rapidly in the region – to create 6.6 million jobs in the next five years, according to Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), an organization representing mobile operators.
The event saw a non-stop 72-hour contest held to motivate participants to transform their ideas into top workable technology innovations that will spur Africa’s growth. Attendees were first taken through a design thinking workshop by Dahlberg Global Advisers. They learnt how to shape their ideas, and had access to mentors, among them Africa’s top technology experts.
Four emerged winners; they included PayFree, a multiplex platform for payments; La Ruche, a marketplace for artisans to sell their wares; Coliba, a mobile platform for managing urban waste; and BioPRO, an intervention seeking to help rural people get access to energy and electricity. They will each receive an AfDB fellowship with Ampion, a pan-African ICT entrepreneurship initiative. Ampion will accelerate these projects to become viable companies, while Orange will incubate them and help the innovators to find investors.
“The AfDB is committed to projects across the whole value chain of innovation: from ideas through acceleration, from incubation to final investment,” said Ralph Olaye, head of the jury.
A second and third group of novel tech innovations received subscriptions to Facebook Start, a package of startup advisory services, including mentoring with top Silicon Valley technology experts. They also benefitted from free coaching from Google LaunchPad.
“We want to reclaim the heritage of innovation that is indigenous to West Africa, such as Timbuktu, formerly the greatest centre of learning in the world,” said Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, the AfDB’s Special Envoy on Gender.
The AfDB also took part in the event to nurture technology innovation inside the Bank, and to find new ways of collaborating with policymakers, the private sector, entrepreneurs, academia, and civil society in order to develop, deploy and disseminate technology in Africa. Partnering with the AfDB for the Tech Innovation Weekend were Google, the International Telecommunications Union, Facebook, Women Techmakers, among others.