Innovation in Africa: Looking ahead 2014

Trendwatching.com has published a bulletin detailing “5 must-know African consumer trends to run with in 2014”. Below are the highlights:

  1. FABA (For Africa By Africa): African solutions to African challenges done the African way
  2. Mobile roaming: The other ‘mobile’, i.e innovation boosting commuter freedom, logistical flexibility both physically and digitally.
  3. Civil info-nation: Africans will embrace even more accurate, empowering, objective and timely information in 2014.
  4. Africa (collabo)rising: Savvy African brands will continue to rise by collaborating with others.
  5. Remotely great: Great brands will be rooting for the hard to reach in 2014.

Reading such reports is always exciting for me. It’s interesting to watch the evolution of consumption preferences in Africa. A survey carried out by McKinsey (see report here) points to a large and growing, youthful, savvy, and complex consumer base that cares about quality, branding and value. African consumers are increasingly self-aware, interested in developing and engaging with a local, home-grown consumer culture. More and more they are identifying with local brands, local ideas, and are even more anxious to propagate an African identity – vibrant, ethnic, savvy, hopeful, youthful. The new identity is a fusion of ideals: traditional, modern, eastern, western, but all laced with African overtones. This is evident in the emerging culture: the music, literature, social media, fashion, technology and everyday discourse. Very soon, we will be able to look back on the days when foreign brands and ideology were embraced wholesale and exclusively, usually to the detriment of the sociocultural fabric as we knew it.

We can see this evolution in the above 5 trends predicted. Number 1 and 5 are the most exciting for me, mostly because my current research explores these two themes: For Africa By Africa (FABA), and Inclusive Innovation. Here, I focus on FABA.

Even before I delved into the literature on the economics of innovation, I’ve always had a strong conviction about the development of local (African) innovation capacity. African challenges are different. Our problems are complex and multidimensional. In many cases, foreign technologies implemented wholesale do not address these challenges efficiently. Foreign scholars of innovation have finally admitted that solutions for these problems can only be developed by or in collaboration with people who understand their intricacies, and such understanding is inherent in the locals who encounter them daily. A mixed approach to development is slowly being adopted, combining technology transfer from the North (and East), with human capital development through targeted curricular for higher education, entrepreneurship training and research.

The results of these efforts are palpable. The breadth and intensity of local innovative activity has grown dramatically over the last few years. Products relevant to local problems are being developed: cheap, efficient, simple yet elegant, and more importantly, sustainable. Innovators take into account the sociocultural orientation of African consumers while designing product concepts, thus securing the success of these innovations. Africans have begun to recognise their potential as knowledge creators and savvy consumers. And multinational firms have taken notice–collaborating with local firms and employing local talent to decipher local solutions, e.g. Dell, Microsoft, Google, Coca-cola, Nokia, IBM, etc.

The FABA trajectory is only bound to go skyward in 2014 on. I am anxious to see what the creativity of Africans brings in the coming years.

(The header image on this page was retrieved from whiteafrican.com. I’m still figuring out how image captions on this WordPress theme work)

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