By Takreem El-Tohamy
There’s a wonderful word in Swahili that I think expresses one of the imperatives for the future of Africa. The word is “harambee.” It means pulling together, collaborating and supporting each other. I believe that one of the key factors in the ability of African countries to create sustainable and equitable economic growth will be the emergence of innovation ecosystems. Harambee perfectly captures an essential element of such ecosystems—the ability of institutions and individuals to pull together and build a mutually supportive environment.
Innovation ecosystems are complex organisms that are difficult to create yet tremendously powerful when they work. Think Silicon Valley. They require a melding of all of the capabilities of governments, businesses, financiers, universities, and individuals. Together, these organizations and individuals provide the web of support that makes it easier for startups to launch and grow quickly, and for established companies to innovate more aggressively. With that kind of support, African entrepreneurs and businesses will find it easier to produce new products and services, or even create whole new industries. You can think of an innovation ecosystem as a collective intelligence—harnessed for the good of society.
IBM is committed to helping Africa build successful innovation ecosystems. The latest sign of this willingness is our new IBM Innovation Center in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s a place where people from established companies, universities and startups can tap IBM technology and expertise to help them create solutions to the country’s business and societal challenges. We’re dedicated to helping Kenya fulfill its Vision 2030, which provides a strategy aimed at helping large numbers of Kenyans emerge into the middle class. Here’s a video about the center..
Our company has been doing business in Africa since 1921, when we helped out with the South African census. Today, we are expanding rapidly. We have offices in more than 20 African countries, including South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco and my native Egypt. The company has helped deliver everything from online banking and dependable mobile phone services to technologies for improving city services and government transparency.
In 2012, IBM established its first research laboratory in Africa—in Nairobi. It’s one of only one dozen such labs worldwide. Here’s a video about the impact we believe the Nairobi lab will have across Africa.
My IBM colleagues and I understand that expanding in Africa comes with a unique set of challenges. Our company must aid in building the capacities of Africa’s people and institutions—including knowledge, technology infrastructure, business sophistication and governance. These are the underpinnings of innovation ecosystems.
What’s the key role for IBM in Africa? To help feed the momentum. As a strategic partner with governments, universities, established businesses and startups, IBM can provide a wealth of technology know-how and problem-solving expertise that helps kick start initiatives and accelerate the speed of change.
Africa is coming into its own. The spirit of harambee is helping to drive progress. And IBM is dedicated to helping African countries, companies and individuals achieve their aspirations.
Here’s an IBM Blue Paper about what it takes to build innovation ecosystems in Africa.