I am very excited about what lies ahead for African Innovation in 2014. Socio-economic and political trending points to a more stable environment on the African continent, now, more than ever before. Trends that promote growth and incentivize a healthy competitive environment for African entrepreneurs and their ideas. For a continent that has had more than its share of trials and tribulations, this trending upsurge is a welcome sight for sore eyes and crucial to sustainable development. These are exciting times.
Leading the trend in innovation in Africa is the technology sector which is in full bloom on the continent. Sustainable startup companies and technology-focused businesses reinforce my belief that nowadays, every business is a digital business. In 2014, technology on the continent will continue to offer consumers a better and cheaper way to do what few imagined in the past. With this in mind, here are my favorite innovation trends for the year. As an entrepreneur and philanthropist, they have captured my imagination.
A range of technology appeared last year that collects information about people and their bodies, and I predict that innovators will continue to develop "wearables" that will transform lives on the continent and beyond. These sensor-based technologies are poised to revolutionize how we take care of ourselves. Their ability to measure pulse rate, blood pressure and sleep environment can significantly enhance the quality of life for the aging population. Diabetes patients can better manage sugar and insulin levels by "wearing" devices to monitor weight and glucose levels.
Technology in the Health Sector
A South African innovator, in partnership with the University of Cape Town, has developed a 'smart glove' for leprosy patients. Currently being tested in India, the glove tracks pressure points on the palms and fingers and helps prevent injuries as a result of nerve damage and sensory loss. This kind of innovation not only highlights African innovators' unique foresight, but it also shows that Africa is poised to launch innovation and market-led entrepreneurial ventures that will benefit populations far beyond the continent's borders.
Also in the health sector, African innovators are using technology to overcome ethnical boundaries. With medical staff and doctors sometimes unable to communicate efficiently with their patients, innovators are finding ways to use technology to translate medical questions accurately enough for them to provide the correct diagnosis and treatment, covering a wide range of medical terms. This trend is especially important for a continent with over 2,000 native languages.
Internet connectivity on the continent, a major need in the information-dependent global ecosystem in which we live and work, is no longer an elusive goal in Africa. Despite the lack of dependable, consistent electricity in some parts of the continent, African innovation companies and non-profits, such as Kenya's Ushahidi, are leading the trend of portable, durable and battery-operated internet connection hubs.
These innovation trends give clear indication that Africa is moving closer to the development we envision. According to the United Nations Population Division, sub-Saharan Africa's 3.6 percent annual urban growth rate is almost double that of the global average. Yet, despite Africa's rapidly growing urban population, most Africans still live in rural areas. 2014 will see exciting opportunities for African innovators and entrepreneurs to launch solutions that tackle the continent's biggest challenges and improve the lives of Africans in the most remote rural areas.
At the forefront of the developmental agenda, innovators are making sizable intellectual and financial investments to formulate new ways of using technology to address the continent's food security needs (the greatest challenge to civilization this century), integrate software, sensors and communications in cyber-physical systems in the manufacturing sector, and achieve sustainable wastewater treatment and desalination.
Generally speaking, it seems that FABA (For Africans by Africans) innovations will continue to increase in quality, scope and reach across the continent in 2014. Region-specific features will ensure that these innovations are adapted to the environment in which they are used and employ local resources and materials. I wholeheartedly agree with South African Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom when he points out that technology trends in Africa need to be "going beyond the mere generation of new technologies to ensuring that technology development is informed by the needs of the country and people, and that social and economic value is generated".
I strongly believe that development and progress cannot be separated from innovation. Start-ups and incumbents have the potential to rewrite the rules of market sectors and propel Africa's already impressive economic growth to unprecedented heights. Our challenge in 2014 is to ensure that multi-sector stakeholders rise to Africa's call for development and create the conditions to build viable enterprises, growing economies across the continent, and continuing to improve the living standards of Africans. Here's to another year of immense economic growth for the continent.