Front-row Seat for the African Youth in the Innovation Space

Front-row Seat for the African Youth in the Innovation Space Front-row Seat for the African Youth in the Innovation Space

The place for youth in Africa is continually achieving new and more definitive levels of interest from critical sectors in the socio-economic province in the continent. Particularly, more investors are consistently actualizing the concept of providing nectar for young innovators in Africa as a contribution towards supporting start-ups, entrepreneurial formats as well as progressive ideas.

Notably, there has been an upsurge of competitive structures calculated to suit and benefit Africa. This can be mirrored through the examples of, among many others: the Africa Energy Innovation Challenge;'s Brilliant African Innovations against COVID-19 Competition; Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa; Africa50 Innovation Challenge, and more recently, the Africa Innovations Challenge 2020, powered by the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) in collaboration with seasoned industry players of the caliber of Huawei Technologies, Intel Corporations and GSMA.

At the tail end of August, as the ATU launched the Africa Innovations Challenge 2020; the Union's Secretary General Mr. John OMO provided a glimpse of the mindset behind the inspiration for this new interest in the continent's youth. "The youth must be presented with a practical environment that can successfully recognize, test and highlight disruptive innovations and new business models with the capacity to redefine Africa, as this will certainly enhance their productivity," he said.

Mr. OMO's sentiments correspond with a combination of convincing realities. For starters, it is evident that the private sector across the continent is actively leading the quest to minimize the burden on governments with regard to supporting talent development among African innovators. Today, it is safe to conclude that more people, organisations and industries are looking at investment in youth from the lenses of collaborations and partnerships. It is no longer a 'one man's problem' if government is to be personified.

Although it is only recently that this upsurge is achieving visibility, companies like Huawei have been building ICT infrastructure, promoting ICT skills and enabling ICT innovation across Africa for over 20 years. Similarly, Intel Corporation has been at the forefront in supporting technology programmes aimed at improving health and safety as well as technology inclusivity while expanding digital readiness in Africa.

Vice-President of Public Relations for Huawei Northern Africa Region, Mr. Loïse Tamalgo who was also part of the ATU Innovations Challenge 2020 launch event reflecting on why the company has consistently stood for this blueprint model of support, underscored Huawei's devotion to innovative approaches towards growth in the continent predominantly in consideration of talent development. "It is our desire to bring out the creativity and entrepreneurship residing in the African youth," he said.

The ATU Africa Innovations Challenge 2020 just like's Brilliant African Innovations against COVID-19 Competition is one of the programmes specifically tailored to define and resolve a global problem from an African point of view. For ATU, the Challenge has been structured to identify and support young African innovators who have developed mobile applications useful for benefiting the fight to contain COVID-19' and possibly other emergency situations in Africa in future. As a way to generate interest and inject the needed start-up capital that is crucial for enabling innovators to financially kick-start their innovations, winners of the ATU competition are looking at walking away with cash awards to the tune of USD 5000 for the winner, USD.3000 and USD.1000 for the 1st runners up and the 2nd runners up respectively. Other prizes for the finalists include a trip to France for the winner and being engaged in mentorship and partnership programmes.

Remarkably, this type of funding has been institutionalized by some organisations. GSMA for instance, has set up the GSMA Innovation Fund for Mobile Internet Adoption and Digital Inclusion. According to Caroline Mbugua, GSMA- Senior Policy Manager, Sub Saharan Africa, the fund, providing grants ranging between £100,000-£250,000 aims to support innovations that increase mobile internet adoption and usage for the underserved and those who are currently not using mobile internet services.

Whether this is a new frontier opened for Africa or the augmentation of a persistent desire for growth by the African people, is a question for the future to decide. Perhaps the relevance too may not be measurable today. The continent could just be charting the path for another revolution story.

The African Telecommunications Union (ATU) was founded in 1977 as a specialised agency of the Organisation of African Unity, now African Union, in the field of telecommunications. ATU took its present name in 1999. This led to the transformation of the agency into a partnership between public and private stakeholders in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.

ATU provides a forum for stakeholders involved in ICT to formulate effective policies and strategies aimed at improving access to information infrastructure and services. In addition, the Union represents the interests of its members at global decision-making conferences and promotes initiatives aimed at integrating regional markets, attracting investment into ICT infrastructure, and building institutional and human capacity.

The mission of the Union is to accelerate the development of the telecommunications/ICTs in Africa in order to achieve digital economies. The Union envisions an Africa that is empowered as an inclusive information society with strong digital economies for sustainable social, economic and environmental development in Africa. ATU's core activity programmes include; internal institutional capacity, support by key institutions and strategic partnerships.