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 Issue Overview

Africa’s outlook is now optimistic and its narrative is changing from a developing continent in need of aid to a prime opportunity for growth and prosperity. Many African countries are now seeking emerging-economy status within the next two decades which will be achievable through sustained double-digit growth. These high aspirations call for new governance models to capitalize on opportunities and to address challenges. Africa is also challenged to identify quality-growth models that can increase competitiveness and employment, while lowering poverty. Concurrently, Africa’s swelling consumer base is throwing up new retail opportunities.

The ongoing commodity boom also offers the opportunity for Africa to transform its natural resource wealth into much-needed infrastructure and basic development. In addition, Africa needs to contend with a changing global landscape with an economic slowdown amongst traditional trading partners and upsurge in economic interest amongst the leading emerging economies. Africa remains vulnerable to global risks, including the global financial crisis and climate change. These changes call for new economic and social partnerships.

Chaired by Lenah Mohohlo, Governor of the Central Bank of Botswana, with Leslie Maasdorp, President, Southern Africa, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, holding the position of Vice-Chair, this year’s 18-member Global Agenda Council explored the important opportunities and challenges arising from Africa’s growth through three viewpoints:

  • Focus 1 Driving Value Added: Unlocking New Market Opportunities in Agriculture and Extractive Industries; dimensions include contract management, regional infrastructure development and revenue sharing.
  • Focus 2 Delivering Human Capital Development through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs); dimensions include education, entrepreneurship, health, job creation, poverty reduction, skills and leadership development
  • Focus 3 Scaling up Innovative Grassroots Technologies; dimensions include budget transparency, climate change, democracy, media, and mobile banking.

Proposed Council Response

Through virtual meetings the Council has decided to work on Focus 3 given that innovation is a nexus issue that is relevant for all three focal areas. The growing importance of innovation in the region was demonstrated by the 2010 launch of the African Innovation Outlook, by the African Union Commission, in collaboration with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) Agency. This was part of the implementation of the African Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators initiative. This Initiative seeks to establish a reliable database of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) developments in the region to support evidence-based policy-making

Apart from the heightened interest in promoting innovation for development on the part of public policy-makers, there has also been an upsurge in initiatives driven by international organizations such as the World Bank’s InfoDev programme and by private sector companies such as Nokia, Google and Microsoft. The primary thrust of these initiatives is to spur innovative entrepreneurship to address unemployment and grow Africa’s nascent SME sector as a foundation for sustainable economic development.

The Council identified the following interventions:

  • The World Economic Forum on Africa 2012 Public and Private Programmes served as platforms that bought together relevant stakeholders for in-depth discussions on how innovation is shaping both the regional agenda and Africa’s position in the global arena.
  • The Africa Innovation Models (AIMs) initiative is a model for identifying and promoting innovators and innovations in Africa with the capacity for widespread impact.
  • The Council received a request to partner with the Liberalizing Innovation Opportunity Nations Partnership ([email protected]), which is currently being championed by the Global Partnerships Initiative (GPI


Africa Innovation Models (AIMs)

The AIMs initiative seeks to engage and profile the continent’s top 100 most innovative change makers. The objective of the initiative will be to identify innovation models that have the potential to make a dramatic impact on improving the state of Africa in private, public and social sectors.

The following innovators and Council Members have already seen significant scaling and expansion of their ideas and can help to inspire others as well as work with the Council to promote, project and design the overall initiative.

Bright Simons – President, MPedigree Network (Global Agenda Council on Information and Communication Technologies)

Empowers consumers to protect their health using simple and user-friendly technology to instantly authenticate and verify the safety of pharmaceuticals at point of purchase.

Aleem Walji – Practice Manager, Innovation, The World Bank (Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government)

Launched Open Data in Kenya, making data available on indicators such infant mortality, GDP growth rates, and CO2 emissions. This initiative emphasizes the importance of searchability, usability, and secondary use of Bank data sets.

Ory Okolloh – Founder, Ushahidi (Global Agenda Council on Africa)

Started a non-profit tech company that builds open-source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping for democratizing information, increasing transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories.

Erik Charas – Founder, Charas LDA (Global Agenda Council on Africa)

Founder of the first free high-quality newspaper in sub-Saharan Africa, @Verdade, meaning The Truth. It is currently the biggest circulation newspaper in Mozambique, reaching well over 600,000 people.

Modelled on the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and Africa Innovation Foundation’s Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA), the goal of AIMs would be to encourage innovative achievements that contribute toward developing new products, increasing efficiency or saving cost in Africa. The top five winners would then have the opportunity to showcase their work at the 2013 Africa summit in Cape Town.


In recognition of Africa’s economic emergence, the US Department of State, in collaboration with the Council, Microsoft, the African Development Bank, and other private sector stakeholders, is launching the Liberalizing Innovation Opportunity Nations ([email protected]) Partnership, a new public-private alliance to enhance and deepen the start-up and innovation ecosystems of targeted fast-growing African economies. By fostering new venture creation, the main goal of the LIONS @FRICA initiative is to strengthen Africa’s start-up and innovation ecosystem; promote and facilitate new investments; and foster innovative business models.

 Start-up Weekends

These are weekend-long, hands-on experiences where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs can find out if start-up ideas are viable. [email protected] plans to support Start-up Weekend events in over 30 African cities throughout 13 countries. The Council will work to identify which cities/countries are most relevant and host the event where possible. On average, half of Start-up Weekend’s attendees have technical backgrounds, the other half have business backgrounds.

Council Role: Local Council Members will help to identify these attendees in advance in conjunction with GPI and partners, and will serve on a panel of experts on Sunday evening as teams demonstrate their prototypes and receive valuable feedback.

GIST Start-up Boot Camps

The Department of State-sponsored Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) programme builds capacity for young scientists and technology entrepreneurs to translate innovative technologies into new products, companies and jobs. Start-up Boot Camps and incentive-based competitions are key [email protected] activities that identify, train, and mentor high-potential technology start-ups. The two-day boot camp workshop will connect about 80-100 participants with successful entrepreneurs and expert investors from the US and the region.

Council Role: The Council’s responsibility will be to advise, in conjunction with GPI, on who would be most relevant and, where possible, tap into respective networks to bring in these external entrepreneurs and investors.

Meet The Lions

Inspired by Europe’s Meet the Dragons, [email protected], in collaboration with Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), plans to host Meet The Lions during GEW on 12-18 November 2012, aimed at supporting African start-ups turn their ideas into reality and to inspire and stimulate youth entrepreneurship in Africa. Selected African start-ups will be given the opportunity to present their business plans to prominent African entrepreneurs and business executives in an effort to secure an investment up to $100,000.

Council role: The Council’s responsibility will be to advise, in conjunction with GPI, on who would be most relevant and where possible tap into respective networks to bring in prominent African entrepreneurs and business executives.

Next Steps

Innovation Pillar in the Private and Public Programme at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2012

Innovation was featured prominently across the meeting’s public programme. Through the lens of “Scaling Innovation for Shared Opportunities” we explored the cross-sectoral nature of innovation in a range of public sessions, including: Africa’s Innovators (featuring Council member Ory Okolloh, Policy Manager, Africa, Google), Accelerating Job Creation, From Digital Divide to Digital Dividend and Africa’s Education-Employment-Entrepreneurship Nexus (featuring Council member Charles Dan, Regional Director, Africa, ILO).

In the private programme, several important events were dedicated to profiling new innovations in technology: Innovation, Impact and Governance – Finding a Balance for Africa’s Digital Economy, Grow Africa Investment Forum and The Missing Middle – Scaling Businesses in Africa. Ideas for scaling up clean energy innovations were also looked at in the Water and Green Investing events.

Under the theme “Leveraging Africa’s Open Technology Platforms for Crowd-sourced Innovation”, a well-attended private dinner was co-hosted by the Council and moderated by Council Vice-Chair Leslie Maasdorp. During the dinner, inspirational stories were shared on the power of technologies to transform the means of fighting poverty. One of the table hosts was LIONS @FRICA founder Thomas Debass, Head of Global Partnerships at the US State Department, who spoke to the importance of the initiative in promoting and supporting innovators on the continent.

Launch of Initiative at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2012

The 22nd World Economic Forum on Africa on 9-11 May 2012 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, served as the official platform to launch the LIONS @FRICA initiative.

The press conference was well-attended by pan-African and international media and the panellists were high-level representatives from the public and private sector who have teamed up to sponsor the initiative. Vice-Chair Leslie Maasdorp represented the Council. He described the strong rationale behind the Council’s interest in partnering with LIONS @FRICA, highlighting its original idea to profile the continent’s top 100 innovators through AIMs. The other speakers were Kris Balderston, the Secretary’s Special Representative for Global Partnerships, US State Department; Donald Kaberuka, President, African Development Bank; Aben Kovoor, Area Director, Developer & Platform Group, Microsoft Middle East & Africa; Neal Silverman, Senior Vice-President, DEMO (USA); and Gerard Brandjes, Vice-President, Nokia South East Africa.

Media publications:

Long-Term Engagement

Opportunity exists for long-term engagement in the following venues and future events:

  • CEO Roundtables
  • Pan-African Shapers Hubs
  • Pan-African Young Global Leader (YGL) Networks
  • Annual Meeting of New Champions, 11-13 September 2012
  • World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, 8-10 May 2013: through the medium of a private event or collaborative public session. This will involve the profiling of a select few break-out entrepreneurs and their innovations

Innovation and entrepreneurship are a viable solution for creating jobs for Africa’s growing young population and for addressing Africa’s socioeconomic challenges. The Council will contribute by disseminating the insights generated at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2012 through the Forum’s various media platforms, as well as by supporting the AIMs and [email protected] initiatives. These two initiatives will bring together key private and public institutions to provide much-needed resources to emerging African start-ups. Real start-ups are being created in Africa, developing real-world solutions, worthy of investment and global attention.

Council Member Publications

Okolloh O, Frustrated Innovation. InTechnology Review, MIT,, 2012

Drummond J, Transparency Will Help the Aid Debate Grow Up. In Huffington Post,, 2011

Publications as part of the “Global Agenda Council Spotlight” project on the Forum Blog:

Maason L, “BRICS: The “S” for South Africa represents the rising “A” for Africa”, 2012

Leke A, “What if the Arab Spring turns into an African Summer?”, 2012


The opinions expressed here are those of the individual members of the Council and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.