In our always evolving world, with technological innovations changing the reality on a daily basis, the field of innovation has become the “holy grail” of governments all over the world. I have written before why I believe that the African continent must transform into an innovation-based economy, as I strongly believe that Africa faces a unique opportunity to become a global leader of the sector.
Indeed, in recent years, various governments across Africa have begun to invest resources in developing local ecosystems of innovation and entrepreneurship, aiming to encourage researchers and entrepreneurs to “jump in” and lead the revolution. But creating an entire ecosystem requires much more than resource allocation: it takes strenuous and well-planned work processes to support those entrepreneurs and researchers including the creation of a mentorship array to accompany them, the injection of smart capital to first-stage ventures, the establishment of tools and methodological training, and much more.
One of the most significant factors is the development of a global network of relationships and connections. Local networks simply won’t cut it. In order to break through and innovate in the reality we live in, an international network is not “nice to have” - it is a must. And just as a young startup depends heavily on its network to succeed and thrive, so does an entire ecosystem, which must have strong relationships with other innovation hubs in order to grow and prosper.
The ultimate bridge
For African governments that are working to build an ecosystem, the importance of international bridges is even greater. But while in many parts of the world (especially in the United States, Europe, and East Asia), leading innovation hubs are already well established and solid, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is now presenting a unique and intriguing opportunity.
In recent years, various Emirate governments (especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi) have come to realize the tremendous importance of innovation and entrepreneurship for their local economy. To that end, in February 2018 the UAE announced the National Strategy for Advanced Innovation, along with widespread financial investment, and investment in high-quality human capital (in both investment and technology fields). Nowadays, they are looking for cross-border collaborations, with the aim of expanding the impact and continuing to establish their status as a global hub of innovation.
African countries can benefit greatly from this situation. The continent’s economy presents huge potential for innovation and entrepreneurship; the substantial needs and challenges, combined with the high level of innovation and quality human capital, are creating huge potential for entrepreneurs and investors alike.
12,000 African companies are registered in Dubai
In the past few years, the UAE has established its status as the second-largest investor in Africa, second only to China. The collaboration potential is bigger than just capital: More than 140 Fortune 500 companies established headquarters in Dubai, creating massive, global opportunities for businesses. This growing bridge between the regions brought over 12,000 African companies to register in Dubai, and the numbers are increasing on a daily basis.
Last week, Dubai hosted the Global Business Forum conference, which was all about building bridges and collaborations, fostering business relationships between regions even more. The conference attendees witnessed collaborations created in real-time: entrepreneurs and investors, tech-savvies and mentors, Africans and UAE residents, all blending together harmoniously and engagingly. The African heads of state that attended the conference (from Uganda, Liberia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and more) also testified to the importance of this potential.
During the past year, I have spent most of my time between Dubai and Africa. During that time, I was amazed by the interwoven collaborations between the regions and the enormous potential of those relationships. Building a solid and viable bridge between Africa and the UAE can provide African governments with a much-needed element in order to build innovation ecosystems, and lead the entire continent to a more advanced future.
The writer is the founder of Ignite Power, a solar power firm in Rwanda