Tap youth efforts in innovation –experts

Building a sustainable ecosystem of innovators requires countries to take advantage of youth who currently make the biggest part of African population, experts from the public and private sector said.

During a sideline event that was organised by Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on Wednesday at the ongoing Transform Africa Summit, leaders shared their experiences and cited Rwanda’s case as an example to build a sustainable ICT innovation ecosystem.

Janet Longmore, the president and CEO of Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), said they believe young people are the early adopters of technology, appealing exactly to what they want to do in their lives, which is to use technology to drive social change, and create jobs for others.

“As DOT, we have made it our strategy to listen to the young people in all of the countries and to engage with them during the programmes’ designing as well as delivery,” she noted.

Longmore mentioned the case of their success in Rwanda and explained that engaging the youth has significantly made unprecedented impact to the entire innovations ecosystem.

“For example, in Rwanda we have launched the Digital Ambassadors’ Programme with the Ministry of Youth and ICT, and they are these people who will be working with the people of Rwanda as facilitators of digital learning. They then get to identify problems easily and consequently get to create and innovate to address them,” she said.

Devising a user approach based on the needs of the communities will make youth develop more innovative solutions, she said, adding that bringing the other part of women will also accelerate the development and bridge the digital gap.

The Minister for Youth and ICT Jean Philbert Nsengimana told participants that Rwanda decided to put in place more friendly policies that enable the ICT use among all people.

“The post-genocide development required good leadership, and within the process of rebuilding the country we realised that building an ICT ecosystem had more benefits and a long-term impact. We had a purpose, right partners and saw profits within this area,” he said.

Dr. Hamadoun Toure, the executive director of Smart Africa Initiative echoed the minister’s remarks, saying partnerships or having the right partners is always an assurance that every component of the economic development can be sustainably achieved.

Toure pointed out that increasing investment in capacity building, in particular content development and software development will accelerate the growth of the African ICT innovation ecosystem.

He said this can also be achieved through building infrastructure like data centres where Africa can manage their own data.

To scale-up the success, experts said that utilising the human resource and empowering more women is a force to drive economic development.

Other challenges that were highlighted by experts that still block Africa to achieve its digital revolution are lack of skills to effectively and efficiently innovate, lack of capital as well as access challenges.