03/05/2014 09:05 am ET Updated May 05, 2014

Leapfrogging Africa

We all agree that Africa represents most of the remaining untapped markets today. We generally talk about Bottom of the Pyramid markets but Africa is more than that and tends to under value its potential for a leading role.

Since it is "untapped" Africa has one of the best opportunity nobody else in the world has: a low industrial network, limited infrastructures and community driven people. Its citizens have not had access to the high living standard consumerism we know of in the western world. A move to a zero impact growth world could be difficult - if not impossible - to achieve in the West, but may not sound too far out of reach for Africans. Especially when most countries' footprint are below the world average 1.8 global hectares demanded per person. Besides - and that is where things can change quicker than we think - people do not have to operate the mindset shift that we all preach in sustainability conferences: they will bypass that exercise and go for the most practical and economical way of doing business i.e. by simply living responsibly. Why? Because there has not been any other choice in Africa other than using, re-using, re-re-using and fixing phones, broken appliances or out-of-service cars. Everything gets recycled, no matter what! Not only there has not been such a choice of producing, using and throwing away used products but there won't be any in the future either. Landfills have always been valued in Africa by its people.

Taking this into account let's our imagination fly for a second. A broad shift of incentives from oil to renewables linked to a drastic drop in renewable energy equipment prices could lead the way to a broad lateral development of clean energy for its people, its businesses and industries. We have known long enough that our natural world can provide enough clean energy for our own development and beyond. That would also enable the adoption of restorative products and services thinking, fully in synchronization with the way people in Africa have learned to live thus far.

Imagine a continent that runs on solar, wave, wind turbines and geothermal power across the board? Coupled with a network of 3D printing labs that would print the necessary equipment that landlocked countries have been deprived of ever since their existence. And this with zero - or lower - impact on the environment. Imagine governments and companies that prioritize restorative products that are sold as a service, allowing people to pay as they use those goods, given that most of them are a too expensive upfront investment anyway? Is this a dream or one of the best opportunity Africa has ever had? With some of its economies in fast growing mode isn't it the right time to grasp the latest findings in eco-innovations and breakthrough technologies to reconcile Africa with growth? A responsible one on top of that!

Not only it would teach other continents a lesson of humility but it is the only way forward for Africa. Following the industrialized world path and fossil fuel based economies would be a mistake and would delay even more the development of African countries. Investing full speed only in renewable energies is the opportunity that Africa and its citizens cannot and should not miss. No other continent can achieve this today, neither at the transformational pace level nor at the adaptation level. Why? Because Western and Asian societies have experienced the frugal way of living that we can no longer afford.
Africans have the opportunity to live according to a 1-Earth-Economy concept and educate the rest of the world on how to do it. It would open up opportunities for research and development that is beyond Africa's imagination. It would put Africa in the highest pedestal, not in terms of Growth Domestic Product per capita, or other monetary silo-ed indicators we have been using so far, but as a responsible continent, changing forever the face of Africa.

With countries that are the closest to a no impact world African leaders should lead the way in addressing such evolutionary shift, broadly adopting the latest technologies, and reducing their dependence from expensive power supply not adapted to today's and tomorrow's ways of living. Best to jump straight away into holistic eco-systems where we learn, live, play and work in socially and environmentally minded communities, away from individualism and extreme consumerism.

By leapfrogging Africa to an interconnected and well-balanced continent both social and environmental innovations will flourish. Renaissanced Africa would become a lab hub and a model that other economies would be looking at replicating, and maybe, one day, would even depend on Africa's regenerated environments to neutralize the already uncontrollable carbon cultures.

If there is a chance for Africa to develop itself towards a brighter future it has to be an integrated one: laterally powered green economies expanding as we learn how to balance natural elements and human living patterns, leapfrogged technologies that allow instant use of materials with no transportation required, sold as a service to allow wider access of the same product to a large population, and preserved communities using nature as a renewable paid service. It is the pathway that Africa has to take given its pole position.