THE BLOG
01/30/2015 03:35 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2015

West Africa: Transforming Potential Into Impact

Sub-Saharan Africa contains 10 of the most fertile countries in the world. By 2050, the region's population is estimated to grow from 900 Million People to 2.1 Billion. With this spurt of high growth we have to ask what is the economic potential of a region that is facing immensely tough challenges like HIV, clean sanitation, energy access, and most recently, ebola? Will they have the opportunity to prove their global economic status?

Let's Take A Closer Look

Sub-Saharan Africa, is also a region with the highest rate of adults involved in early-stage entrepreneurial activity. The entrepreneurial activity occurring in this area is over two times that of North America (11 percent) and over three times that of Europe (8 percent). This means that approximately 27 percent of adults (ages 18-64) in Sub-Saharan Africa are involved in startup businesses. This is significant when we consider the high output potential of the region. However, this manifestation of high entrepreneurial activity in a factor-driven economy doesn't necessarily correlate with a high output of innovation.

Data shows that the number of entrepreneurs is higher in factor-driven economies and that number declines with increasing levels of GDP. This causes an inverse proportion between innovation and entrepreneurship. This inverse proportion happens when entrepreneurs are mainly driven by necessity versus having the freedom to pursue true innovations. When entrepreneurs are creating businesses solely out of need for a source of income, they create small, non-innovative businesses that seldom have any relevant impact on the local economy.

The Other Side Of The Innovation Divide

North America recovered from the economic crisis of 2008 partly thanks to entrepreneurship and now has the most cutting edge technologies invented for connecting more people. Most of the innovation of that continent comes from an exclusive area, Silicon Valley, that benefits from two important factors that most historical movements have in common: geographical location and a concentration of an elite community. All around the world, people talk about Silicon Valley as an innovation Mecca. Silicon Valley has made its mark on history. Let us keep in mind that we are talking about a precise geographical region of 3.5 - 4 million people compared to 316 million for the entire United States.

In his article, "Welcome To The Second Human Potential Movement", Lucian Tarnowski explains that there is something unique about this historical moment:

"The internet is enabling much larger numbers than ever before to benefit from this 'Digital Enlightenment' period, which is giving birth to the Second Human Potential Movement."

Even though the access has been democratized, the result hasn't changed much. Lucian further explains that

"We still have a small number of individuals that are writing the history of our time-people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk. Notice how they also all know each other, and location remains equally important. The difference is that the fruits of their creations are now accessible to billions of people."

Unlocking Talent Across The Ocean

Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the fastest growing population and highest number of emerging entrepreneurs in the world who face the most crucial issues in the world. Instead of creating need-based businesses with short-term solutions, what if these emerging entrepreneurs could stay focused on creating innovations that potentially have longer term benefits to their communities?

We can either choose to see Sub-Saharan Africa as a region full of poor people, or one full of talented people. As C.K. Prahalad, author of The Fortune At The Bottom Of The Pyramid, states,

"If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole new world of opportunity will open up".

The global bottom-of-the-pyramid market consists of 4 to 5 billion underserved people with an economy of more than $13 trillion PPP (purchasing power parity). Much of Africa is considered part of this bottom-of-the-pyramid market, so let's focus on what Africa has, instead of what it doesn't.

There are already forward thinking investors who recognize the immense potential of the region. Nigerian billionaire and philanthropist, Tony Elumelu, has already committed $100 million over the next ten years to create 10,000 African entrepreneurs. This has a potential of creating 1 million new jobs and contribute $10 billion in annual revenue to Africa's economy, making them major players on the global innovation platform.

Moving Forward And Bridging The Innovation Divide

I have been lucky enough to grow professionally in Silicon Valley and experience what it means to live in a place where anything is possible if you have a clear vision and goal. But this culture does not exist as strongly in other countries. The young, talented people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to the same entrepreneurial culture and spirit that we take for granted. We have to face the fact that when smart, young people leave their countries in search of a better life, we actually take a step backwards into a less sustainable world. To create a more inclusive system, we need to create a global culture where people are free to cultivate their visions and stand proudly in discovering how their talents can transform them into global "digital" citizens. These young, talented individuals are the greatest and most precious resource any country can have.

Many influential entrepreneurs, investors, and policy makers recognize this. So do we. This is why I am pleased to announce that, in order to help drive the success of Sub-Saharan Africa, Hack for Big Choices will be uniting the most talented and ambitious entrepreneurs through the launch of our program and the largest hackathon ever to be held in the region to date. Our program will be held in Accra, Ghana and take place from January -- February 2015.

The goal is to impact African economies by bringing together their hungriest and most talented entrepreneurs in order to create sustainable, innovative businesses that match their entrepreneurial intentions with opportunities.Together we will help write Africa into the history books as the next great success story from the developing world

The internet has brought the advent of modern, globally traversing online communities. Geographical location has been fully disrupted and become a relative afterthought. Technologies to create innovations have become cheaper and more readily accessible. If the access portal has already been created, we must allow people to walk through it. In Africa, there are 900 Million strong dealing with the toughest problems facing our globe. They are the hungry ones, who will show the world that creating an inclusive environment focused on high-impact innovation can be historically transformative. We should look to them as part of the future of disruptive innovation, as the Second Movement of Human Potential. African entrepreneurs will disrupt the mythos of Silicon Valley and show that borders are overrated.