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“Ultimately, connectivity will drive innovation,” says panel at AfricaCom

Africacom panel

A panel of African telecoms and digital professionals debated the necessary steps to help drive investment and innovation in Africa at AfricaCom today. Orange, Facebook, Airtel and mPedigree concluded that in order to drive innovation, to drive financing and to change lives, connectivity is the be-all and end-all.

“The big distinction with African entrepreneurship from Silicon Valley entrepreneurship is that we don’t have the luxury of just developing photo-sharing apps,” said Bright Simons, president of mPedigree. “When we innovate, it’s to save lives, like using small chips for tracking medicines and pharmaceuticals. That saves lives. I don’t have a problem with photo-sharing apps, but it’s not our biggest pull.”

Drawing applause from the audience, CEO of Airtel Africa Christian de Faria pleaded with Facebook’s director of global operator partnerships on the panel, Markku Makelainen, to increase their partnerships and working relationships with operators

“I would like to invite Google and Facebook to open a campus at Airtel in Africa,” he said. “Not just some big head office in Johannesburg, but to really help us in Africa. You’ve got the capital, you’ve got the money; but you guys have got the knowhow and the capabilities to really boost innovation here in this continent. I’d give you the office for free!”

Elsewhere in the keynote session, the panel discussed the role of government in helping to drive the uptake of e-commerce and banking based on mobile platforms. General consensus suggested that there is a knowledge and acceptance that governments understand what they need to do to drive innovation in countries across the continent.

The biggest hurdle is financial, so the panel say. And NTV Kenya’s Larry Madowo quizzed Orange EVP of AMEA, Marc Rennard, on what Orange is doing to drive investment in African businesses. “Let’s take a specific use case, in some countries we are trying to plug an Uber-like app to allow users to pick up cabs. Our job is to help them replicate and give them the tools to replicate in other countries and cities.”

“Silicon Valley has a model of ‘let’s invest in 100 businesses, and the 2 that succeed will pay for the other 98’,” continued mPedigree’s Simons. “That is not the case in Africa, nor is there the means from angel investors.  Entrepreneurship in Africa is identity driven; it’s about the image and not the product so much.”

“Ultimately, connectivity is the biggest enabler for startup innovation,” concluded Facebook’s Markelainen. “Once you can get connected, everything else can follow.”


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