The conversation around Africa is changing. While this year’s GSMA Mobile 360 Series – Africa provided the anticipated discussions on mobile money and regulatory challenges you’d expect, there was also a real feeling the continent could be on the verge of something special.
Throughout the agenda of this year’s event in Kigali, Rwanda, there were a number of sessions looking at some of the positive changes underway within Africa.
Day two – especially – was filled with startups and investors showcasing success stories and big statements on the positive effect being delivered by digital services and the continent’s mobile operators.
The agenda also included a session on the impact of IoT and its potential in the region – a theme prevalent with several of the fledgling companies featured on the showfloor.
Startups, but not as we know them
The Mobile World Live inbox is filled on a daily basis with correspondence from startups and companies around the world trying to gain a foothold in the market. Many are making tweaks to existing services or trying to capitalise on a new trend – sometimes the products are unique, sometimes not so unique.
Many of these companies have one thing in common, though – they aim to make money, with entrepreneurs no doubt looking for the final payoff when they sell to one of the big boys.
However, what was strikingly different about the majority of the Africa-centred companies on show was the drive to solve an issue while also forming a fledgling business. And who better to solve real-world problems in some of the continent’s most underdeveloped areas than people who live there and truly understand its issues?
Adviser at Smart Africa, Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, said during the event that “something bright is happening in Africa’s tech startup ecosystem.” On the evidence presented it’s hard to argue: the consultant’s figures showed investment in the continent’s startups hit $560 million in 2017, double what it had been the previous year.
Every startup presentation seemed to have its roots on the continent and an element of social good hardwired in.
Agriculture app Farmcrowdy, for example, allows investors to sponsor a farm with the ultimate aim of providing a financial return while also providing the seed funding – so to speak – for the farmer to maximise the use of their land. It also addresses the huge issue of Africa’s food importation bill.
Though figures are sketchy, several reports based on UN statements from 2016 suggest Africa’s annual food import bill is somewhere around $34 billion. Companies focused on agriculture are not only helping boost local producers’ bottom lines, but also slashing the huge volume of imported food coming into the continent every year.
In urban areas, workers are being supported by apps including Lynk, which provides direct employment opportunities on a casual basis in Kenya – usually to those without access to traditional means to find these opportunities.
These are just a couple of examples – there are many across the continent providing services to improve lives, boost economies, increase inclusion and attract inward investment.
This year’s Mobile 360 Africa illustrated the startup driven change in some of the world’s toughest markets. It’ll be fascinating to see how these companies develop and hopefully the burgeoning entrepreneurial scene will be one day visible and thriving throughout Africa.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.