In Africa, innovation is about much more than new technology. Yes, the continent is the world’s fastest growing mobile phone market. The rapid development of user-friendly mobile applications offers exciting new platforms and tools for development work. But technology is simply one step in a long and complex process.
Solving persistent problems in Africa may require applying old technologies in new ways, or devising the right systems to supply new products. Renewable energy technology is one good solution to Africa’s chronic blackouts. But innovative management systems and financing methods are also needed, along with new approaches to mitigating corruption and other political economic factors. Innovative products such as solar lamps can bring light to rural households, but how will companies market and distribute them over hundreds of miles of remote terrain? In financial services, forward thinking banks have tackled the geography problem by reaching rural customers through branchless banking networks that distribute unique low-income products. Mobile phones are just one tool that makes this innovative system possible.
Pursuing innovative answers to development challenges also requires rigorous management systems. In fund management, for example, one of core areas of expertise, we tailor our granting systems to help clients achieve a balance between innovation, impact and risk, based on their individual goals. Every fund that we manage is different. Ideally, a fund seeking to test out new ideas could achieve widespread successful innovation, high impact and low risk, a position represented at the centre of this diagram. However, in reality, a fund pursuing innovation will have a diverse portfolio of successes and failures with varying levels of impact and associated risk. Projects will fall at various points along and within the “diverse portfolio circle” shown here, according to the specific characteristics of your fund and the systems we design to manage it. Read more about the way we address different elements of innovation in our work: