Direct experience of Silicon Valley helps, too. Chanda Chisala, who runs a software house in Lusaka, Zambia, credits the year he spent at Stanford University with expanding his horizons. With another Zambian code writer, he’s designing an ambitious algorithm to organize news and information in “an unsung African version,” Chisala says, of what Google offers.
By its number of patents or commercial innovations, Africa does not yet rate a spot on any global table. But there’s a growing awareness that creating novel products and services is essential to Africa’s health.
This year, the Economic Commission for Africa launched the inaugural Innovation Prize for Africa, which is the first official effort on the continent to recognize the power of invention. A
t a recent meeting on prospects for indigenous innovation, Ghana’s minister for trade and industry, Hannah Tetteh, talked openly about how Africans can find pathways toward creating hits on the scale of Facebook or Twitter. Such talk once would have seemed quixotic or even delusional.
Not anymore, because of the smash success of M-Pesa [PDF], the original mobile-money system, introduced five years ago in Kenya and now used by tens of millions of people around Africa. M-Pesa, while designed in Britain and tested in India, satisfied an urgent African need: a safe way for people working in cities to send money quickly and cheaply to their families.