InnovationAfrica: The year in review

In 2011, we published 550 stories. Over half of the stories were in , Knowledge Management, and ICT. In terms of impact, and Medicine has been the most significant. I have used the diagram to show how in certain sectors can have a huge impact in Africa.







The innovation in agriculture has not only been in developing new methods and technology in planting and cultivation, but also new and innovative business models. Agriculture is now recognized as a knowledge based industry, and this has led to a focus and investment in improving the agri value chains. This point is highlighted in this story.

In medicine, we have seen important breakthroughs in developing a vaccine for malaria. We ran this story about the success of Phase 3 malaria vaccine trials. We also ran an important story on an Innovative collaboration between researchers in Kampala and Seattle that  furthers specialized study and effective treatment of infection-related cancers. The story.

We have also seen major developments in epidemiology on neglected tropical diseases, such as sleeping sickness.


We can take several lessons from this year. Culture plays a very important role in innovation. Without a culture that supports innovation and a willingness to fail, it would be hard for new ideas to flourish.

Booz Allen survey of the largest global companies concluded that” nearly half are falling short of their potential, because their innovation strategies are poorly aligned with their overall corporate culture”. Of particular importance, is the assertion that “their corporate cultures are unsupportive of their innovation efforts”.

For companies and organizations in Africa, it is also important to note the following point: “innovation success is not a function of a company’s level of spending”. In other words, without the right culture, more spending will not necessarily create better products or services.

Another lesson is that without an appropriate business model, the new product/service will not become a success. Innovative ideas require a new or better business model to succeed. Business Modelling is an important tool to both captures, design, innovate and transform the business.

Bold and New Thinking
Innovation is not just about creating new products and services. In our part of the world, new thinking that will lead to new business and social models is crucial.

Health, sanitation and the delivery of public services require new thinking. For example, much of the innovation for the provision of toilets to the poor, has been focused on inventing toilets; different shapes, sizes, and new materials. However, recently we saw a different approach from Peepoople, a Swedish company.

They came up with the Peepoo. The Peepoo is in the form of a slim elongated bag measuring 14 x 38 centimeters. Within the bag there is a thin gauze layer measuring 26 x 24 cm. The Peepoo is filled with urea powder.The Peepoo is easy to carry and easy to use. It doesn’t need any supporting structure, but, for convenience, a small bucket can help a lot.

When you need to, you defecate in the bag. When done, tie the bag and bury it in your back garden. The plastic decomposes and turns into manure. Most of the poor families have a small plot in the back yard and need fertilizers.

The people at peepoople took an innovative approach. They focus on the problem…people need somewhere to  defecate. New thinking….it does not need to be in a toilet! After all, the people have been  defecating  all their lives without a toilet.

Open innovation will be critical in accelerating innovation in various fields, such as agriculture and medicine.  “Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology”.

With open innovation, one opens the challenge to different actors. This brings a multitude of approaches. Remember the old saying….when you have a hammer, every problem is a nail. With open innovation, you bring people with other tools.

To successfully meet the challenges, we need to open the challenges to people outside our immediate or the problem domain. Fresh thinking is introduced. Of course there are issues of intellectual property that needs to be addressed.

We have recently seen several major companies are now creating networks through which open innovation thrives. Just recently, Eli Lilly announced the launch of a new open innovation platform designed to help build the company’s pipeline of tomorrow and, from a philanthropic perspective, identify molecules that may have application for treating multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). It builds on the success of Lilly’s Phenotypic Drug Discovery Initiative (PD2) that was launched in 2009 to facilitate research on molecules around the world that have the potential to ultimately be developed into medicines.

People, companies and Organisations

Some years back we had Dr. Monty Jones with New Rice for Africa (“NERICA”); Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, whose sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the devastating Striga weed.

This year, Bio Innovate Africa has caught our attention. Bio-resource Innovations Network for Eastern Africa Development (BioInnovate) is a new multidisciplinary competitive funding mechanism for biosciences and product orientated innovation activities in Eastern Africa. BioInnovate will focus on delivering new products through bioscience innovation systems involving a broad range of actors, including scientists, private sector, policy makers, NGOs and other practitioners. It will use modern biosciences to improve agriculture and conserve the environment through improving crop productivity and resilience to climate change in small-scale farming systems; and improving the efficiency of the agro-processing industry to add value to local bio-resources. The program will also develop sound policies for commercialising products from biosciences research; and investigate innovative delivery systems.

In November we saw Uganda’s first electric car developed by The Centre for Research in Transportation Technologies (Vehicle Design Project), College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology , at Markere University.

Global picture

The Global Innnovation Report 2011 covers 125 economies, accounting for 93.2% of the world’s population and 98.0% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (in current US dollars).A total of 24 countries from Sub- are included in the rankings, none of which made it to the top 30, and 17 of which are ranked within the bottom 25. Not a single country from Sub- region is classified as high-income. This chat is reproduced from the website of Global Innovation Index.

Global Innovation Index
 Rank Country Score
 53 Mauritius


 59 South Africa


 70 Ghana


 78 Namibia


 79 Botswana


 89 Kenya


 96 Nigeria


 100 Senegal


 101 Swaziland


 103 Cameroon


 104 Tanzania (United Republic of)


 106 Uganda


 107 Mali


 108 Malawi


 109 Rwanda


 113 Madagascar


 114 Zambia


 117 Cote d’Ivoire


 118 Benin


 119 Zimbabwe


 120 Burkina Faso


 121 Ethiopia


 122 Niger


 124 Sudan



We believe 2012 will be an even exciting year for Innovation in Africa. We see several factors supporting our belief;

  • Increase acceptance that innovation is now critical to economic development
  • Open Innovation Initiatives
  • Improved access to ICTs
  • Increase global spending on Innovation
  • The African Diaspora will become an important source of innovation.

In 2012, we will increase our focus on public sector innovation. We believe that African Governments need to lead the way.

In 2005 I remember someone expressed surprised at the notion of a website on innovation in Africa. “But they are so poor and so many uneducated people. What is there to innovate”. I answered plenty…..plenty.  And that is how we are going to develop our countries.

See you in 2012.

Francis Stevens George

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