What African innovators need to know.

Sharing my experience as a hub manager, daily I interact with a lot of energetic youth and individuals who want to create different platforms that will solve problems facing the community through the use of technology. Their biggest challenge is investing time and energy for solutions that doesn’t meet the users requirements.

Remember when you were in primary school and your teacher asks you. Have you understood the problem and after you said yes. Only then she allows you to do the question. Our teacher realizes there is something more important than getting the solution to the problem that is “to understand the problem”. That is how the concept of innovation works someone must understand the problem before starting to search for the solution. “It’s so much easier to suggest solutions when you don’t know too much about the problem.”  Malcolm S. Forbes

If you can’t spend time to understand the problem then it is very difficult to come up with the solution. The positive solution is the results of intensive understanding of the problem. Like the famous quote of Albert Einstein “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”


Working with Buni hub members on their projects.

Regularly we think we understood the problem and we are ready to jump to the solution that is natural man instincts. Failing to understand the problem led us to come with solutions to the problems that do not exist. Two mistakes that we always do; First, we think technology is the solution while technology is just a tool and second we anticipate people need our solutions while they need us to understand their problems.

Take an example of someone who wants to develop an online booking system for local travelers in Tanzania. The fact that people don’t book tickets when they want to travel in Tanzania can be treated with many aspects. First, through the hypothesis that the booking system does not exist, second is an intelligent guess that, in our culture people don’t book when they want to travel. Simply we don’t have serious holiday seasons and all of those western methods of traveling and vacations do not apply here. Lastly, technology infrastructure does not allow an individual to do that.  The local innovator should localize his thought on the problem before coming with the solution by considering all the possibilities.

On localizing the innovative solutions, reading from the Harvard Business Review on the article “10 rules on managing global innovation” the author Keeley Wilson said ” although the challenges may be familiar, the solutions are not; what works for an innovation project conducted in a single location doesn’t necessarily work for one dispersed across many sites around the world. That’s partly because many important enablers of innovation happen naturally in colocation.”


Localizing the solution to meet the ecosystem, SME’s owners they can sell their products through mobile money.


After localizing the solutions to fit the ecosystem, how you can understand the problem, someone might ask. There is no magic trick in finding solutions, you should study the problem and do enough fields study on it. If there was a magic trick then it could be sitting down with the person who faces the problem and ask him what does she think could be the possible solution and whether the person consider it to be the problem at all. Sometimes what we consider to be the problem is not the problem at all.

It’s not easy to be an innovator, you should at least know that. The late Steve Jobs used to say, Innovation is what distinguishes between leaders and followers. You can easily understand why, people they don’t care what you have they care only if what you have tend to deliver something good and they will be ready to follow you. The coolest thing about understanding the problem and sharing the same concern with the users of the solution will always ensure a usable positive solution survive in the market.


MaxMalipo Point of Sale device which are now popular in Tanzania and recently introduced to Rwanda.

A small study; the local Tanzanian company Maxicom Africa with their product Max Malipo” they are doing good. The only reason behind is that,  they were able to collide with people concerns on solving the problem that they were facing in real time which was wasting time in queues waiting to pay for basic daily services, like paying for a cable TV. Who want to stand in the queue for hours while he can just press a button on his mobile phone and do the payment safely.

From the success story we learn if the problem is well understood and if there is real need of a solution then getting users of the solutions you provide is very easy First understand the problem and second localize the solution. Getting people using your solution it means creating client base for your business which will eventually grow.
On the other hand consider someone who invested millions of money in creating an app that will teach people about the importance of proper farming methods while they can’t even afford to put food on the table. Yes technology is fine; the app looks so cool but never forgets technology is just a tool. If you can’t use it wisely it’s very difficult to hit your target. Innovation always works with environment and implements ability. Localizing innovation is cheap and time saving and most of the time meets requirement of the final users of the solution.

The issue of adoption, local technology startups companies trying to adopt a working environment of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Frankly speaking there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is in the process they forget that in Africa technology is just a tool to the solutions it is not the solution. For technology to work it has to be integrated with the way things used to operate before the introduction of the technology.

According to Josh Weinstein of developeconomies.com one critical element that made M-Pesa successful. Kenya already had a strong culture of internal migration and domestic remittances. As people from the rural areas moved to Nairobi for work, they sent money back home in matatus (Local transport) and buses. When M-Pesa came along, there was already a huge market for remittances, which is why M-Pesa was able to scale up so quickly.

Digitizing everything and create soft solutions which works on expensive platforms, will not help Africa. Creating prototypes of devices that correspond to our current situation and customizing the solutions for our local needs is the only way to preserve local innovators and come with the solutions that works.


2 thoughts on “What African innovators need to know.

  1. I think we all as innovators needed the content in that advice in the text. Thanks a lot brother Jumanne for reminding us of the main concept of what we are to do.

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