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Organic innovation is born in Africa and in the South: let’s meet its actors

Dec 2018

Plenary of the 21st of November 2018 - Led by France 24 thecamp - Emerging Valley

-Rajeev Kher, CEO et Fondateur de SaraPlast (Inde)
-Aphrodice Mutangana, Directeur Général du kLab (Rwanda)
-Sihle Tshabalala, CEO et Fondateur de Quirky 30 (Afrique du Sud)
-Claude Borna, Conseillère Numérique de la Présidence du Bénin et CEO de Sèmè City (Bénin
-Astria Faraki, CEO et Fondatrice de Energy Generation (Togo)
-Steve Tchoumba, Manager d’ActivSpaces (Cameroun)

Using digital to solve concrete issues in Africa: examples in the field of energy, education, and health


Astria Faraki and her organization Energy Generation belong to those major African initiatives that address the lack of infrastructure on the continent, especially in the energy sector. She created this Pan-African organization, starting with a joint observation: first, energy is a significant vector of socio-economic development and second, it is almost impossible to answer the difficult access to energy in Africa with local resources only. She thus aimed to educate African youth to innovate in the energy sector in order to participate in the African energy transition. Her programs are focusing on technical and entrepreneurial skills development.

“African youth is ingenious. We need to teach it to be at the heart of the African energy transition. Today, for example, we train young people to innovate by transforming plastic into fuel.”

Sihle Tshabalala disrupts the education sector with Quirky30, a non-profit organization that gives digital and entrepreneurial skills to disadvantaged young Africans. After an atypical journey with eleven years in prison, he decided to bring innovation in communities that have always been excluded. His ambition? To change kids’ mindset and to convince them that they have control over their destiny and can always choose differently.

“I’m in the business of selling hope.”.

Rajeev Kher, another impact entrepreneur, is renowned is the field of sanitation with his company Sara Plast that provides people with toilets and waste management solutions. For a social enterprise to have an impact, Rajeev Kher underlined the necessity to create a profitable business able to scale up. He was giving the example of Sara Plast that has grown from scratch and that benefits today from the support of many partners and from the Indian government. They developed recently buses led by and for women, which serve as unique breastfeeding stations. The startup aims currently to share its different sanitation solutions in the rest of the world and plan on expanding in Africa, especially in Ghana and Kenya.


“To reach more people and impact more lives, there has to be an element of business: this element comes with your own ability and skills to get all the resources such as private equity, loans, venture capital funding, and to grow your business”



Supporting impact entrepreneurs: focus on ActivSpaces and kLab


“It’s tough, it’s difficult, but with the network, we arrive to get there”.

Steve Tchoumba worked for 9 years with entrepreneurs in ActivSpaces. Before supporting them, he had first to educate people and communities by raising awareness about their mission. He recalled the necessary but also difficult task to help entrepreneurs who solve real daily problems when government efforts are insufficient. In this regard, belonging to a network such as Afric’Innov has enabled them to improve their support capacities thanks to content, platforms, and methods shared by all the community.

Representing another incubator within the panel, Aphrodice Mutangana talked about the kLab, which helps young Rwandan to realize their innovative ideas and offers them a space, access to internet and mentors. Created in 2012, the kLab counts today more than 200 members and 200 enterprises, including 60 startups that have reached the break-even point. The structure adopts a “tech4good” approach to support young entrepreneurs: that is to say to find a problem the society is facing and use technologies to resolve it.


The government’s role in accelerating social innovations: the example of Sèmè City


“It’s an open-air laboratory, we will measure, fail, learn quickly and correct our mistakes together to have an impact. It was not about creating a perfect and unchangeable structure, this is not what I call innovation.”

Claude Borna, calling herself an “intrapreneur from the public sector” underlined the innovative and transversal nature of the project Sèmè City. As a public sector’s project pursued by entrepreneurs, it answers the ambition of the Beninese government to create a “knowledge-based economy, creating jobs, generating wealth and contributing to sustainable and inclusive development.” Sèmè City was born to create a space enabling all the Beninese people and foreigners to participate in the development of the country. As an international city of 5000 sqm and voluntarily open to the world, it is strategically located between the borders of the French-speaking African countries and the English-speaking ones. It currently hosts computer and design schools as well as research centers that are all engaged in the co-building of the place. Sèmè City also regularly launches calls for applications dedicated to entrepreneurs with innovative ideas and sharing this collaborative objective. Their programs are opened to all the inhabitants and foreigners entrepreneurs, only if their project has a social and economic impact in Benin.


African entrepreneurs emerge from a common will to offset the lack of infrastructures and to answer urgent issues met by the continent in different fields, by using technologies as catalysts for impact. Many startups such as Energy Generation or Quirky 30, have the ambition to make African youth autonomous and transform them into real players of their future and of the continent. Impact enterprises don’t differ from the other ones and need to answer the same objectives of profitability and scaling up, in order to ensure the durability of their project and to maximize their impact. With the aim of participating in the development of social innovations, several support structures for innovation are mobilizing capacities throughout the continent with sometimes the help of governments. This is particularly the case of the Beninese government and its disruptive project, Sèmè City, that turns out to be a real symbol of an open and collaborative innovative ecosystem, at the crossroads of public services and entrepreneurship.


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