By: Deonta D. Wortham
Across the African continent issues concerning accessibility to medical, educational, and financial resources are rampant. Nearly everywhere you look there are pressing concerns that need to be addressed through the acquisition, or use, of a life-changing product.
The only question is: "Who actually develops these life-altering novelties?” Increasingly across the continent, we are finding that innovative, sustainable products capable of reaching the masses are coming from an unlikely group of individuals.
They are driven by a form of entrepreneurship that hinges primarily on positive societal impact. They are willing to utilize and create new technological instruments to fix age-old problems. They are committed to the social, economic, and political transformation of Africa’s various societies. They are Africa’s rising "Innovative Class."
In western societies, these individuals might the granted the clichéd title of “start-up founder.” These individuals are building companies that are creating entirely new markets or fundamentally changing old ones. They are actively reaching a consumer base that has remained untapped for decades. They are unafraid of crossing long-held boundaries of “containment” that have persistently prevented socio-economic growth across the continent. Thereby, commencing a new era of economic growth, spurred by innovation, that is transforming the lives of millions of Africans.
Then there is the fact that the Africa's “Innovative Class" is not doing this for the sake of profit returns, or to be featured on the cover of Forbes Africa, but for the greater good of the African people. They are the real deal.
Take Ismail Ahmed a Somali businessman that is transforming the way that remittances are sent and received across the continent. Noting the important role of remittances in the economy of nearly every African nation, Ahmed founded WorldRemit a “mobile money” transfer company that places a virtual banking institution in the hands of Africans in cities centers and rural villages across the continent. Mind you, this is all taking place on a cell phone. In a recent interview with Ventures Africa Ahmed stated, “At WorldRemit, we see ourselves as paving the way for seamlessly connecting Africans around the world with friends and family back home. . . [w]e are embracing mobile money as new technology that is set to revolutioni[z]e banking from the ground up and make money transfers more convenient for everyone.” WorldRemit is bringing comfort to families separated by oceans, seas, mountains, and customs procedures through the form of a secure digital transfer mechanism that ensures needed funds are sent and received in a timely and safe manner.
Then there’s Katherine Lucey, founder of the Nigerian-based company Solar Sister a clean energy technology firm that empowers women through employment opportunities and pathways toward financial security. Working in three countries – Nigeria, Uganda, and Tanzania – Solar Sister is empowering women to invest in themselves and their communities. To date, the organization has worked with over 300,000 individuals across the continent and has employed just over 1,000 Solar Sister Entrepreneurs.
Finally, there's Nisha Ligon of Ubongo an "edutainment" company based in Tanzania. Noting the lack of education resources to millions of Tanzania’s children, Ligon developed an “edutainment” firm that brings quality taught educational programming directly to them. Every Saturday morning, thousands of young children gather around their televisions and interact with lively programming that aims to equip them with basic literacy and numeric skills. The positive effect that the Ubongo has had on Tanzania’s youth has led the program to expand across East Africa, unquestionably ensuring that millions of children experience the work of inspiring work of this innovative firm.
These entrepreneurs are serving a swath of the world’s population that has persistently been overlooked. They are examining the various issues that plague their continent and are presenting African solutions for Africa’s problems.
As Sally Osberg, President & CEO of The Skoll Foundation, has stated, "Social [innovative] entrepreneurs see possibility where others see problems. They are unapologetically ambitious, setting their sights not just on incremental improvements but on systems-level transformation. And to achieve their audacious ends, social entrepreneurs enroll those most vested in that transformation — people oppressed, marginalised, or constrained by an existing reality."
There are thousands of individuals across the continent that belong to Africa's rising "Innovative Class." In establishing innovative firms across the continent that are altering the very nature of African life, these individuals are laying the foundation for a new, transformed Africa. They are the continent's greatest resource.