African innovations in technology are life enhancing tools that contribute to a more productive economy and improvements in quality of life for African people. Most the innovations are directed at rural Africa and the unique challenges living outside urban areas brings. The entrepreneurs who lead the way create jobs, new income and bring about solutions to the everyday realities of millions of people in very creative ways.
Here are seven solutions to some of the continent’s unique situations:
Non-profit technology company Ushahidi has come out with a new innovation called BRCK, a wireless, battery powered modem. It allows users to connect to the web anywhere in the world, and is particularly useful in areas with no electricity and limited Internet access.
Ushahidi’s website writes that BRCK functions like a cellphone “by intelligently and seamlessly switching between Ethernet, Wifi and 3G or 4G mobile phone networks.” It gains connectivity through a SIM card or other Internet connections and has a smart battery that lasts for eight hours if the power goes out.
BRCK is described as the “backup generator to the internet,” which supports up to 20 devices connected at once. The product is “physically robust, able to connect to multiple networks, a hub for all local devices, enough backup power to survive a blackout.”
Currently, the creators are seeking to produce and fund the device through Kickstarter. It will cost $200.
M-Pesa was created in 2007 and has become a leader in innovative cell phone technology. A joint venture between Vodafone and Kenya’s Safaricom, M-Pesa allows cellphone users to transfer money as easily as sending a text message.
An estimated 50 per cent of the adult population in Kenya uses the service to send money, according to studies. It is also used to pay for things, such as utility bills, groceries and even taxis.
Customers register with Safaricom at an M-Pesa outlet. There they load money onto the phone. It is sent to a third party by text message. The third party takes the phone to their nearest outlet, where they pick up the cash on the other end.
M-Pesa is particularly useful in rural areas where there are few banks. Clients can transfer funds with their phones to pay bills.
This innovation by Medisoft East Africa Limited allows medical professionals to send medical images via the web or desktop program. It was created by three Kenyan entrepreneurs who understood that when a patient got an x-ray or other medical image in rural Africa, there wasn’t always a qualified professional around to make a proper diagnosis.
It also gives hospitals the option to outsource interpretation services to offsite radiologists.
The CEO and founder of Kenya’s Virtual City Group John Waibochi created AgriManagr, a mobile app with programs to help farmers to make produce purchasing transactions.
The app allows the weighing, grading and receipting of produce gathered from farmers at rural or urban locations. It also allows purchasing agents to pay the farmers through cashless transactions using an M-Pesa account on their cell phones. The app has the ability to automatically reward frequent and favoured supplier with bonuses and premium services.
5. M-KOPA Solar
This is a start-up that saw opportunity in the fact that 80 per cent of households in Kenya rely on kerosene for lighting. The company installs solar panels and a wireless payment and a monitoring device that lets a household pay back the investments in small installments. The panels are much cheaper. The average cost of kerosene is 18,250 shillings a year, but for an investment of 16,900 shillings, households get the same amount of energy through solar power which is free once the initial investment is paid off. It’s catching on quickly. In May, the company surpassed 15,000 customers.
The product is now available in 550 retail shops nationwide. In particular, the product helps low income families. They can pay off the initial investment and then have unlimited free light. It is popular in rural areas that aren’t connected to the central electricity grid.
6. GAVI Alliance
GAVI Alliance and Vodafone explore how countries in sub-Saharan Africa can use mobile technology solutions to improve their immunisation programmes.
Increasingly, people in developing countries have access to cellphones resulting in innovative ways to help healthcare providers increase the take-up of vaccinations.
Some methods include alerting mothers to the availability of vaccinations by text message, allowing healthcare workers to access health records and schedule appointments through their phone. This helps health facilities in remote areas monitor stocks and ensure that vaccinations are available when mothers and children arrive.
This is the first company in East Africa that produces bio-fuel and organic fertilizers from a renewable indigenous resource called the croton plant. The company uses the oil from the seed of the nut to produce a liquid which can replace diesel in large stationary engines. The excess husks and seedcake produce an organic fertilizer and plant health products and solid fuel which is used as a charcoal replacement fuel. Processing the plant engages local farmers and provides them with additional income. It reduces the demand for wood charcoal and is sold at a lower price.
Eco Fuels Kenya was awarded an investment from Village Capital and Growth Africa for top social enterprise in the fall 2012 in Nairobi.
The seven innovations take into consideration the unique situations that Africans face, particularly in rural areas. With this group, there is a distinct effort to examine the situation and come up with a specific solution: it is using croton nuts, a plant with no commercial value, and converting it into biofuel, or finding a way to bring urban medical expertise to rural areas, or working with the continent’s growing cell phone technology to bring information and services to individuals who might not get it otherwise. Some of the innovations fall into the green energy category, which the rest of the world is slow to adopt. In this sense, African entrepreneurs show global leadership. The examples are varied, the innovations are creative, and distinctly tailored to unique realities of the continent. They are not found anywhere else in the world.