05 March 2011

Innovation in Africa - Bola Olabisi

When I visited Sierra Leone in 2007 I was impressed by the resourcefulness and energy of the people. This was a country that had emerged recently from a vicious civil war (the subject of the film "Blood Diamond"). Though ranked close to the bottom in terms of nominal GDP, 12th from the bottom on the Human Development Index and 8th from the bottom on the Human Poverty Index I found the country boiling with inventiveness.

Take their use of mobile phones for example. The capital, Freetown, had frequent power cuts yet everyone was on line - not with computers but with mobile phones. They were used not simply as phones but for the rapid transfer of funds, market intelligence (the boys on the streets of the second city Bo knew the market rate for sterling long before the commercial banks), the electoral register (the committee rooms for one of presidential candidates in the general election were in my hotel), sports news (all the English Premier League clubs have legions of supporters and the scores are followed miles from the nearest TV set), calculators by schoolgirls from the Annie Walsh Memorial School not to mention traders in Big Market for quite complex maths and stores of vast amounts of visual and textual information.

The reason I mention all this is that I recently watched a presentation by Bola Olabisi to TED (Technology, Education and Design) in which she said that if you want something badly enough you will invent it. This presentation is inspiring so please do watch it. Bola Olabisi has founded GWIN (Global Women Inventors & Innovators Network) which has itself launched the British Female Inventor & Innovator Network.

We have all heard of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) as the economic powerhouses of the future but many countries in Africa will be important too. Scroll down to the bottom of the nominal GDP page and you will see forecasts for 2050 based on IMF data showing Nigeria's GDP of US$4,640,000 million as not that far behind our own US$5,133,000 million and considerably more than Italy's US$2,950.000. There are other countries in Africa with at least as much potential - South Africa, Egypt, Kenya and Ghana to name but 4. In 40 years time these countries will be major markets but also sources of technology for here.

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