Last month's conclusion of the Appstar Challenge demonstrated that Kenyan youth are the driving force of the country's revolution in innovation and entrepreneurship. The African Development Bank (AfDB), recognizing the imperative to capitalize on Africa's talented youth is investing in education and skills development, particularly in science and technology in Kenya.
Africa's mobile technology revolution is at the heart of Kenya's ICT transformation and young innovators are finding many opportunities to cash in on this growing sector. The mobile technology showcased at Safaricom's Appstar Challenge is not necessarily new, but it is becoming accessible to many: 29.7 million mobile subscriptions were reported Kenya in 2012, representing 71 per cent of the population.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, Kenyan science and ICT students saw the potential of mobile technology, identified a need and developed applications that have wide-reaching appeal and impact.
Marcel Ogweno's Mimba Bora app, for example, helps expectant mothers find a nearby health facility. Gordon Owiti's innovation, M-Shamba, seeks to digitalize Africa's agriculture and enable the government agencies to solve the crisis of poor food distribution. This application, which won an award from the AfDB at the first Africa Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation and won the Appstar Challange, will help farmers in rural Africa link up with crop researchers, meteorological departments to raise their farm yields.
Africa's economy is growing and its population is booming. The continent's 1 billion people will more than double by 2050, creating a young workforce that is predicted to surpass India or China. Through investments in education and training that match skills with jobs in an increasingly technology-driven market, and through large-scale projects like Konza Technology City - dubbed "Silicon Savannah" - the Government of Kenya is starting to capture this demographic dividend. "It's encouraging to note that the Government has set aside an innovative fund to support emerging ideas among the youth - the challenge is to scale up these innovations into services and goods for the marketplace. Kenyan youth have come of age in innovations and entrepreneurship," said said Ruth Charo, AfDB's Social Development Specialist based in the Nairobi Field Office.
The AfDB is helping to accelerate skill and knowledge creation through investments in Kenya's education system, and in so doing is promoting a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. On November 14, 2012, the AfDB approved a loan to Kenya to invest $43.7 million to enhance science and technology in Kenya's education and training institutions and develop skills needed in the changing labour market. The project will benefit an estimated 12,600 students.
"Kenyan youth at all levels, from basic education to TIVET to universities and those in the informal sector, are an innovative lot and are hungry to demonstrate and scale up their new ideas and innovations to solve local problems," added Charo.
The AfDB is developing partnerships to facilitate innovative capacity-building solutions, through ICT skills development and e-learning. Since 2008, the Bank has been working with private sector partners like Microsoft to improve connectivity for all Africans.
In the education sector, the AfDB's investment in the Virtual African University, a distance and e-Learning network in over 27 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, is helping to increase access to higher education through information and communications technology (ICT) and helping African institutions benefit from and contribute to the global production and distribution of knowledge.
The AfDB has also invested in recognizing innovations through its eHealth award. The award encourages the production and sharing of knowledge and ideas on solutions, incentivizes innovation and seeks to discover the current work being done in ICT solutions for health. Seventeen innovative proposals were received from Kenya, ranging from tele-triage through mobile phone services to web-based patient management systems.
Through these investments in human capital, the AfDB is helping to cultivate a dynamic innovation ecosystem and nurturing Africa's move toward a knowledge economy that supports the jobs of tomorrow.