Reframe: Design thinking for Africa

Image source: Cyrus Kabiru, C-Stunners 2012. Caribbean Sun. © Cyrus Kabiru. Foto: Miguel Luciano.
What is the reframing? Cultural intelligence

What is the idea of cultural intelligence?

We start by defining what cultural intelligence is not. It is not: something derived from clever marketing tools; an myriad of digital insights that inform marketing practices; a device that is on standby and called on when needed.

We begin by understanding cultural intelligence as the air that brings life to humans, the core of what informs daily human decisions, an underlying sense of connectedness and belonging innately placed before the idea of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs creeps into an adolescent youth on their path to existential inquiry.

Cultural intelligence is the idea that culture inherently is and of itself a sentient being, a living, breathing thing, in other words human; one with thoughts, ideas and basic survival instincts. To push the envelope, the idea of its own existence in the broader category of other social nuances.

Cultural insights is a more passive and evasive stance in understanding the makeup of a tribe.

Consider this, Tim Brown, CEO of global design firm IDEO advocates for a new model of living, the circular economy – the need to move away from linear movement of raw materials along an assembly line to a more distributed and democratic model of bending the assembly line into a circular flow where the output of the system now informs how the system is built. The notion that people comes before process.

Image source: http://report.akzonobel.com/2015/ar/case-studies/the-circular-economy.html

 

This is not a new idea when one traces the harmony of man and nature, something very characteristic of indigenous tribes in Afrika. Intelligence speaks to the holistic need for change and balancing, insights is represented in the change process.

To expand on the idea of cultural intelligence, let’s take a closer look at indigenous knowledge systems, a more digestible and pragmatic way to understand it.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. Indigenous knowledge contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. It is the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education: natural resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities.

Flavier. De Jesus and Navarro (1995:10) state that:

Indigenous knowledge is the information base for a society. which facilitates communication and decision-making. Indigenous information systems are dynamic. and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external systems.

To propose a new idea of design thinking re-framed for Afrika appeals to the former stance of internal creativity and experimentation. By design, design thinking prompts the ‘innateness’ to surface. Afrikan design thinking means reverting back to dynamic communal structures and nuances and interrogate those means to which we can interpret the world and its problems.

With design firms such as IDEO and Frog Design, they have had the mileage in producing methodologies that systematically find themselves adopted into similar societies and externalities, offering a plug-and-play approach to design thinking.

Reframing for Afrika means beginning with the end in mind, starting with the understanding that systems change in Afrika rests with the information base from indigenous rural areas like Sauri, Kenya; Adet, Ethiopia; Chibuto, Mozambique and how these knowledge reserves play themselves out and inform the rural, peri-urban and urban migrant as they carry them into urban spaces.

Reframing urban dilemmas emphatically using peri-rural intelligence over insight.

Cultural preservation

There is keen debate amongst indigenous communities, government officials, public negotiators and academic commentators alike over whether intellectual property rights are appropriate for the preservation and legal protection of traditional cultural expressions. These debates need to be understood in relation to the intrinsic nature of traditional cultural expressions, and how they carry with them ‘shared, symbolic meanings, which may represent for a community a link with the sacred…its history, or an attribute of its identity’

In reframing design thinking for Afrika we begin with the idea that cultures, inherently carry with them a sense of expressions and being. To this end, we employ devices as empathy and resign preconceived notions of systems challenges in communal structures.

How might we preserve Afrikan traditional systems? How might we use cultural systems thinking to inform design thinking?

Image source: https://www.tripsavvy.com/games-played-in-africa-1454491

Mancala is one of oldest games in the world, dating back thousands of years. Pits have been found carved into the roofs of ancient Egyptian tombs in Luxor and Thebes.

How might we build a culture for Afrikan design thinking?

  1. Isintu (empathy)Design and innovation are geared to solving problems, problems experienced by humans.

    Derived from Ubuntu, isintu suggests consistent and genuine human values being a part of everyday life gathered from “umthombo”, the essence of being human.

  2. Context driven learningMany tools are used by design thinking practitioners locally. While functional, how many of those tools have been informed by indigenous knowledge systems?

    The idea of a deep, native narrative creeps up in the learning. Learning from folklore practice and oral storytelling and charging this into the facilitation.

  3. Content driven ideationAs suggested by the context driven learning point above, practitioners ought to move into a space of iterative content ideation, the aim of creating unique design tools and innovation methodologies.
  4. “Cultural misappropriation”Although counterintuitive to the main idea carried by this piece, cultural appropriation suggest being unapologetic and disruptive jeering of cultural intelligence in design practice. Instead of using insights and layering them onto an appropriate medium that advertising and marketing types place on campaigns (ready-placed frameworks), a deliberate celebration and highlighting of innate cultural qualities needs to surface.

    The idea of Afrika with a “K” and not a “C”

  5. Deep dives and immersionDriving a culture that all are ethnographers, that every team member once given enough latitude can relate to a situation and personalities and not treating the challenge from a passive stance.

    Mindfulness, that every moment presents an opportunity for observation and learning.

  6. GamificationUsing Afrikan games as a point of assimilating and expounding on new approaches to design and innovation.

What are the impacts of reframing for Afrika?

Seeking first to be understood and then to understand

For the better part of this thought piece, reference to the marketing and advertising arena is made, not to take away from its impact however to highlight approaches to problem-solving where corporate Afrika relies heavily to solve problems of understanding people to gain market traction.

Design thinking over-emphasizes the human.

Reframing design thinking places a deeper need to understand the human, wholly, from a point of their decision-making.

Systems change

With an invigorated approach, this contextual with content backed by evidence and facts-based intelligence and the creative confidence to implement to problems, Afrikan design thinking is a host to new innovations.

References
1. http://reference.sabinet.co.za/webx/access/journal_archive/10113487/324.pdf
2. http://www.piipa.org/images/IP_Book/Chapter_5_-_IP_and_Human_Development.pdf

Pretotypes and prototypes

Why is prototyping so important and how does it fit in to the design thinkers tool kit?  In this short read David Kester looks at some recent projects he has observed and been involved in and shows how invaluable it is to get prototyping early and then keep iterating to build your minimum viable product (MVP).  From a floating school to a sexual health service the prototype proves key to de-risking projects.

John Farrer_POD PrototypingDraft 593x354

 

Prototyping in design is often much misunderstood.

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure to interview the Nigerian architect, Kunle Adeyeme. He is a deeply thoughtful, talented and hugely experienced architect tutored under the great Rem Koolhas at OMA and now running his own highly successful practice NLE in Holland.  One of his areas of research and investigation has been in the field of amphibious buildings.

Just before our interview on stage at What Design Can Do, two interesting things happened:  Kunle was awarded a Silver Lion for his new design for a floating school at the Venice Biennale.  The original prototype that he built with the local Nigerian community in Makoko was destroyed in a storm.  The fact that it had always been conceived as a prototype and had been a wonderfully successful living experiment was completely missed in the media.

 

floaring schools-593
Kunle Adeyeme’s original prototype Floating School on the left and the developed scale sconecpt at the Venice Biennale.

Prototypes and what some call “pretotypes” (very early concepts for user testing) are the vital stock-in-trade of a design thinker.

When a telecoms company came to us recently we worked with product teams to develop pretotypes in the form of quick storyboards.  They were developed following customer observational research and provided the syndicate groups with a super-fast (2 hour) method of establishing concepts  they could test in “cognitive walk-throughs” with end-users.

orange storyboard-593

 

Quick prototypes developed to test, iterate and also eliminate early concepts with end-users

One of my colleagues (who I admire greatly for his work in health design) Chris Howroyd, has deployed this sort of fast, quick and constant prototyping to develop, test and bring to market on of the most successful new health services for the treatment of sexually transmitted disease.  It’s a 24 hour self-testing service called SH:24.  The programme is re-writing the script for these services in the UK.  A comparison of the early storyboards and the current operating model is a powerful demonstration of the value of prototypes, and constant iteration in order to bring to market minimum viable products (MVPs).

David-blog-493SH24-593

Early prototypes and the user journey for the sexual health service SH:24

Pearson Lloyd-593

Pearson Lloyd’s design for an NHS commode on display at the Design Museum alongside one of the early prototypes

Pretotyping and prototyping has its origins in industrial design.  My good friends at Pearson Lloyd created endless prototypes in order to develop the multi award-winning NHS Commode in a project Chris and I ran at the Design Council.  The techniques of prototyping have been adapted by interaction designers and service designers.  They are there to be used and incorporated by innovators and are an essential tool for design thinkers.  The benefits are huge:  designing around the user; aligning multidisciplinary teams around evolving ideas, and that great design thinking mantra…”failing early and cheap”  so that success comes with minimum risk.

Does technology impact culture?

Original article: https://mediaculturesociety.org/2013/01/29/does-technology-impact-culture/

In today’s technology driven world, people expect to have the means to communicate with others at any given moment. The ability to create relationships based solely on mutual understandings and shared common interests have fed the social media phenomena. In the past, people were able to get together physically and discuss concerns or share thoughts. However public spheres are changing from gathering in coffee shops to meeting online through forums and other social media platforms. As read in Mediated Society – a critical sociology of media, the prospective of critical sociology, the focus is on how media practices impact what we see as normal and affects society’s values. In today’s world, the easy access to technology creates the situation that, when you look around, people are often using smartphones or using their computers to check on what’s happening in the world around them, providing a feeling of connectedness. Does this ease of connection to the online world hold significant consequences on culture?

Let’s start by defining culture. According to Georg Simmel, “objective culture is seen as a ‘thing’ and subjective culture as its ‘unique experience’ (Jackson, J. D., Neilsen, G, and Hsu, Yon, 2011, p. 10)”. Culture is experienced, shared and adopted.

According to Digital Nation, a 90-minute PBS documentary which aired on Feb. 10, 2010, the purpose of the program was: “to examine the risks and possibilities, myths and realities presented by the new digital culture we all inhabit”. One of the many insights from this documentary is that in this wired world, people living in the same house or workplace can all be looking at different screens and communicating with different people. This changes how people interact with each other, as well as where our public spheres may be found (online instead of discussions at the dining room table or in meetings at work, perhaps?). Most concerning to me is the suggestion that multi-tasking online is not to be applauded but to be concerned because of the impact on cognitive abilities.

Sherry Turkle, is an Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor in the Program of Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and is considered to be a distinguished scholar in the area of how technology influences human identity to understand what happens when mind meets machine.

As seen in TED talks, Turkle shares her thoughts on technology’s impact. She says, “As we expect more from technology; we start to expect less from each other”. She suggests we often hide by sending messages electronically rather than discussing difficult issues in person. This is because of the belief that online is less personal and the effort to connect on a human level and is reduced by sending messages online rather than in person. Why? If by talking about the issues or concerns in person, discussions are open up where feelings, thoughts, ideas are exposed to be shared and probed. Turkle suggests we can hide from each other even though we are more electronically connected. She points out we’re not building relationships with each other, but building relationship with technology as if it’s a real thing. Turkle explains that technology doesn’t empathize, and doesn’t experience death or disappointments. Instead we select to use technology when we feel vulnerable and technology provides us with an illusion of comfort and of being in control.

Turkle says, “We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” Does this approach of using technology have an impact on relationships?

It’s important that we look at the reasons for the messages we send. Berger’s research looked at the thought processes people go through in order to produce the messages they speak. Berger concluded, “Most social interaction is a goal-driven; we have reasons for saying what we say” (Griffen, 2012. p. 130). With the speed of technology and pace for which many people respond, do they really consider and think through the potential consequences of what they are conveying?

As discussed during our class, Always Already New, the media history and the data of Culture (Gitelman, 2006, p. 59), “Publics are comprised as users, but not all users are entitled or constitutive members of the public sphere.” This can divide more than connect people based on their ability with technology, choice in being connected 24/7, skill in written communications and use of tone in writing.

Constant communication through use of technology is changing the way people think of themselves and how they communicate. They can get attention, always be heard, and never have to be alone. Connecting electronically can also lead to isolation. They often don’t allow the time to think or listen to each other with the constant sensory stimulus of texts, tweets, Facebook updates, emails and more. Understanding the prospective of critical sociology and how media practices impact what is seen as normal affects society’s values. The ease of connecting through technology and communicating online does have an impact on culture locally and globally as more and more people choose to communicate online instead of in person.

Building a better design culture

Original article: https://design.google/library/building-better-design-culture/

Designers are special creatures. Mike Buzzard understands this, and for the last four years he’s been working to make sure Google develops a strong appreciation for design and designers. His mission at Google is ambitious: to foster a world-class UX culture through cross-functional product development, internal operations, programs, education, talent recruitment, and perhaps most impactfully, by improving how Google defines roles and performance expectations for designers. This is an endless exercise in refinement, revision, and keen observation. So how does one become an unapologetic design evangelist in a world where engineering reigns supreme? It helps when you yourself are an edge case: a high-school dropout, an entrepreneur, and a self-taught developer who loves design. Buzzard has learned a number of lessons on his unconventional path to becoming a design lead—ideas helpful not only to understanding the rising stature of design at Google, but also for fostering excellent design vibes on any team.

Amber Bravo: Tell us a bit about how you came to work at Google?

Mike Buzzard: I started out in the ’90s as a self-taught developer with a strong interest in design. I worked for an architecture firm and built a bunch of internal, internet-based tools. Then I moved to San Francisco in 2000, and worked at a startup while also building a freelance practice. I ended up co-founding a design and development studio called Cuban Council. We ran the company for about 10 years out of San Francisco, New York, and Portland. We did a lot of identity, branding—logos for Facebook and Quora at one point—and content management tools for startups and more established entities like NASA, Francis Ford Coppola, BBC, Evernote, et cetera. Google was a client for about seven years, which is how we eventually got acquired to work on Google Plus.

AB: What inspired you to get involved in fostering the UX community at Google?

MB: Well, I had immediate design needs for Google Plus, so I had that motivation. But I also joined the hiring committee and gained a top-down view on how we source, qualify, and assess design talent, which put me in unique position to start bolstering the design disciplines. I also had an existing network of UX leads across Google that I’d meet with to understand their needs and perspective. I realized that by changing the documentation you can actually reframe the way the whole company views a discipline. In 2012, there were a lot of design generalists at Google, and we were trying to diversify and enhance our design capabilities by hiring a lot of specialists. It’s one thing to source specialists, but it’s completely another to build confidence that they’ll be successful. That requires making sure the company understands who they are and what they do, and how to sequence the various disciplines successfully in the product design process.

AB: How has this work evolved over the years?

MB: Google is an engineering-driven company, and I think it’s important that those roots remain. However, I do think Google can become more design oriented. Signals of that would be in the vocabulary engineers use when talking to designers about their work, or even just a top-down, bottom-up sort of comfort in understanding how design influences the company’s products and culture. To me that influence should be visible from the outside. Things like the Google rebrand or Material Design, for example. It’s a slow transition, but it’s clear that the company is definitely moving in this direction. The number of people working in UX at Google has multiplied over the last 5 years—that magnitude of growth is partly why we created a team dedicated to UX community and culture, to ensure the health and success of UX across all of Google.

AB: What types of designers thrive at Google?

MB: I think designers who are interested in creating products from top-to-bottom, who understand the importance of how something functions as well as how it looks and feels. Designers working in brand marketing are often responsible for making sure that brand, content, and functionality goals are met, but often don’t receive the same level of rigor and testing that Google requires. At Google, it’s not uncommon to be working on something that will affect hundreds of millions of people, so there’s an inherent responsibility that you need to get the design as close to “right” as possible before you push it out the door. A lot of people who come in actually appreciate that rigor, that level of ownership and accountability. People with an agency background tend to be great listeners with a strong sense of self-awareness because they have to be—every client is different and their needs are different. That’s a really translatable characteristic that can serve the designer well at Google.

AB: At Google, all designers are hired and evaluated based on the same universal criteria: impact. How does that fit into fostering the company’s design culture?

MB: The idea is that as we hire into roles and grow both the diversity of disciplines as well as the diversity of experience, it will feed back into improving the broad culture of design at Google. We started with scaffolding, or a framework—first aiming to simplify by focusing on the essentials, and then we focused on refining and evolving rubrics. This helps designers better understand and communicate: What is hard about the work I do? What did I do to make a difference or what would have happened if I wasn’t there, and what impact has my work had? When you have peers from different job functions evaluating each other, they’re absorbing this information, and it influences how they think about design roles within the company.

AB: Having a strong criteria is great, but is there a level where feedback and self-assessment has to be tailored to each team?

MB: Really good managers will provide tools and education for their team, they’ll create clear language which people can evaluate themselves and their peers against. It’s important to have a framework for people to tell their story, to help others understand and appreciate the work that they do, especially with the broad range of team compositions. We aren’t doing this work in a vacuum. We observe design promotion committees, we help compose them, we also collect heaps of feedback from pools of reviewers ranging from specialists to leadership. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that people understand their job profiles and criteria for advancement, by routinely providing resources and training. It’s an end-to-end, ongoing process.

AB: Measuring your personal success or job impact doesn’t necessarily require that the project or product you worked on was successful, right?

MB: It can be an impact on a project. It can be an impact on a product. It can be an impact on a team or on Google at large. A good example of impact that isn’t necessarily quantifiable, or measurable, or launch-related could be something like building tools for automation, or identifying common problems that designers have and creating programs to address them. It might be very project specific, and if it is, and everybody adopts that program or process, then it just made the whole team more efficient in their work.

AB: What’s the key to attracting talent at different levels and from different backgrounds?

MB: When we look at the slotting of a discipline at a particular level, we are careful to consider all of the data we have available to us. We look at a person’s former or current role and assess his or her level of influence, leadership, and impact. It’s very important that they will be able to meet or exceed the expectations of the teams when they join. At the more junior levels, we’re looking for opportunities for designers to feel their individual contribution helps them develop a strong sense of purpose and self-awareness. It’s up to them to deliver the value, not just the assets, but younger designers aren’t often wired that way. You’ve got to put yourself in meetings where there’s something to be gained or learned—you can’t always wait for invitations, especially when you have a curiosity or an idea or a concern about the larger product work that you’re contributing to. We look for the hint of an entrepreneurial spirit.

AB: What do you think is uniquely challenging about evaluating design success at Google?

MB: Google is big and has so many different teams. Part of developing criteria for measuring success is to not overly prescribe based on the norm. I’m a great example—I’m a one-off at Google. The ladder has to be general enough to allow me to show how I have impact and demonstrate leadership, yet at the same time it can’t be too vague. We have to be considerate of all the different use cases, and it’s not something we finish and then just walk away from. As Google’s understanding and appreciation of design matures, we need to make sure that the documentation that sets those expectations is representative of the culture that we want. We’re constantly collecting feedback. Some of it’s very small and detailed, and some of it is very philosophical. We’ve come up with different models and frameworks for testing the concepts, profiles, and criteria that we produce. And we regularly observe committees to see how these materials are considered and applied in practice.

AB: In the UX ladder you talk about many qualities of leadership—driving an idea to fruition, building consensus, being a thought leader—can you be a strong leader and be deficient in one of those things?

MB: Leadership manifests itself in many ways. I wouldn’t say that you have to check all the boxes to be a good leader. You could go very deep in one area that has significant impact. As many people progress in their career, they move into the management realm, often times circumstantially. If you have more than eight people reporting to you and you’re not spending more time managing the careers and efficacy of those individuals, you’re doing a disservice to the team and probably the product. In the agency world, this is similar to transitioning from a designer to a creative director, where the challenge is to detach yourself from the details of the design execution and essentially learn to design through others. A “lead” is a person who’s designing through others as they scale themselves. And a lot of the great managers will build a team that’s so high-functioning that they can then focus their time more strategically. When this happens, the manager typically begins to think more logistically about how the team is operating and functioning, focusing on things such as resource allocation, product strategy, and cross-functional partnerships. For example, I know one director who thinks very carefully about personality pairing in trying to identify who’s going to be the UX lead that partners with such and such product manager. What keeps that person up at night is not the pixel accuracy or the simplification of a flow, as much as it is the level of healthy collaboration of the team with its partners. People have to be acutely aware of these organizational traits if they’re going to successfully grow as a managing leader.

AB: What advice would you give to a young designer interested in working at Google?

MB: Excellent design skills are table stakes, communication and presentation skills are also extremely important. If a designer comes into a role and they’re the only designer on the team, they need to be able to confidently express their ideas, rationalize and justify their design decisions, and understand how to align both user and business goals while being mindful of engineering constraints and opportunities. If they’re not comfortable with that level of engagement, then they might consider working on a larger team where they’ll get more mentoring and structure to grow.

AB: How does pedagogy play into this?

MB: Investing in education is about helping people find their passion. In 2013, I started visiting design schools just to see what kind of events we were running and the message Google was sending. Immediately I recognized that there was room for improvement. We were sending mixed messages, and students were leaving school not knowing how they wanted to apply and expand their training or what type of organization would be the best first step down their career path. So a lot of my involvement with Google’s university recruiting programs has been spent trying to help on both sides—to help students develop a better understanding of what type of company, role, and work would provide them with the best opportunity to thrive—and to help Google set clear expectations that help students self-qualify more confidently.

AB: How much of your work is about ensuring general happiness?

MB: We want to make sure that Google is a great place for design and designers, whether you’re a 15-year veteran designer coming from a small brand studio or an entrepreneurial junior designer. We want people to be comfortable on a product team. That’s a big ask. There’s often a sort of a reboot with somebody’s personal identity when they come to Google. They need to try to figure out how to apply their skills within a massive product organization.

To me, this work is most important because it helps designers understand where they exist in the world of Google. They have specific criteria to measure themselves against and can align their day-to-day work with those expectations. Equally important is the definition of what is expected of designers within Google to people in functions other than design. I want it to be a healthy place for designers to grow and evolve. Not everybody is going to climb all the way up the ladder, nor do they all want to, but everyone should have the opportunity to grow, whether it be intentionally developing specific skills, assuming more ownership over a product, or leading a team. I just want to see happy, successful, healthy designers and design culture. I can’t think of another way for me to have a more widespread effect than in doing this kind of work.

What design thinking can do for Africa

Original article: http://www.designindaba.com/articles/point-view/what-design-thinking-can-do-africa

WHAT DO YOU INTEND BY DESIGN?

Design is thinking with your hands. Design is arranging the world around us to ensure the functioning and well-being of our communities. Design is the inherent human capability of understanding a challenge and its context followed by the instinctive act of rapid, iterative trial and error until a solution is found. Design is having trust in your intuition to take non-linear creative leaps in order to beat habit. Design is never finished but constantly adapting to a world in flux.

Growing up in Northern Malawi, Ackeem Ngwenya experienced first-hand rural farmers’ difficulties of bringing goods to the market with their villages being cut off from the country’s designated road networks. An experience that followed him throughout his life, he was eventually empowered to address the problem while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. Under the name Roadless he is designing a shape-shifting wheel that is able to adapt to different, previously impassable terrains, providing market access for rural communities.

While the linear approach would be to wait for those roads to be built, the designer’s nature is to make their own way to overcome the challenges at hand.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING AFRICAN ENTREPRENEURS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DESIGN?

Design today knows no perfect solutions, but only continuous adaption to constantly changing environments. Considering the abundance of infrastructure vacuums across the continent, Africans have to be creative in every aspect of their lives in order to survive. Broken or non-existent structures – from government and transportation to education and health care, to name just a few – force people to adopt inquisitive, entrepreneurial dispositions in order to work their way around the system.

However, this may turn out to be Africa’s greatest advantage over the next decades, since less defined structures allow for greater systemic change. As more and more Africans gain access to the internet and thereby a pool of nearly infinite knowledge, tools and communities, the ubiquitous challenges at hand could serve as fertile soil for groundbreaking technologies and innovations.

In fact, if harnessed effectively, Africa has an unprecedented opportunity to grow more organic, agile, citizen-centric infrastructures, emerging from and thriving through the entrepreneurial endeavours of its people, by turning their ideas into the very fabric of their societies.

Witnessing migrant workers’ difficulties in Mozambique to send remittances and goods to relatives across the border, Suzana Moreira founded moWoza, a mobile phone-based supply-chain solution allowing product orders through a simple SMS and subsequent delivery to merchants in the families’ home villages. Moreira saw poor and insecure infrastructures making product delivery a costly and risky endeavor – a vacuum that she succeeded to fill with a 21st-century digital solution that is rapidly expanding even beyond African borders to places such as India.

HOW CAN WE MAKE SURE THAT MORE YOUNG AFRICANS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE OPPORTUNITIES PRESENTED BY THIS GOLDEN AGE OF DESIGN?

With the youngest population in the world, and currently the only one growing younger every day, one of Africa’s main challenges is its unemployed youth. What it takes is a mindshift among the continent’s young people to raise a generation of job creators not seekers, a deep-rooted belief that with the world’s knowledge and resources in their hands, and a community of like-minded individuals around them, they can be the designers of their own futures.

WHAT IS NEEDED IS THREEFOLD:

  1. A common challenge that gives purpose and direction and ensures the varied passions and energies of Africa’s young leaders are channelled for the benefit of a prosperous continent and all of its people. A challenge embodied through role models such as Obinna Ukwuani, who epitomises this spirit and the realm of possibility. Ukwuani embraced the responsibility bestowed upon him and used his time at MIT to set up Exposure Robotics, a summer programme teaching high school kids in Nigeria computer programming and engineering fundamentals through building and operating robots. After testing the model since 2011 he is now building an entire school dedicated to his venture.
  2. It takes resources that allow these entrepreneurs to swiftly move from idea to action, giving them courage and freedom to quickly iterate and scale their ventures into sustainable businesses. These resources include tangibles such as grants, capital or scholarships, but also intangibles such as trust, mentorship and encouragement. There is no doubt that Africa has all the resources it needs to overcome its most severe problems. What is needed is a concerted, strategic effort that is able to attract and maximise such investments.
  3. It requires filters to create a culture of action-oriented, determined and collaborative values nurturing Africa’s change-makers with only the most relevant information and resources necessary to advance their ventures. In times of an interconnected world and growing internet access across Africa, it becomes increasingly important to create spaces and tightly knit communities that ensure unnecessary information will not get in the way of those few individuals determined to embark on the courageous and risky entrepreneurial route of designing their own solutions to Africa’s challenges.

What is needed is a generation of young Africans with integrity, willing to take on the less-travelled road and do something hard over something efficient. A cadre of young risk takers for whom planning and making goes hand in hand, who are audacious enough to take the first step.

Is Africa leading the innovation revolution?

Sourced from: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/is-africa-leading-the-innovation-revolution/

Necessity is the mother of invention, and in Africa it has been the mother of innovation. While the continent is vastly different, the level of innovation has been interesting to watch, largely fueled by the equalizing nature of technology and mobile telephony.

Over the last 15 years, African economies have enjoyed growth above the global average. This has largely been fuelled by mineral agriculture, with growth linked to China’s demand for raw materials. While this demand from China is now slowing down, the rise of African countries is a new story.

It is estimated that in 2016, the African population will reach 1,069 billion people, the majority of whom are under 30. Africa has the highest rates of urbanisation; its poor infrastructure, which has previously hampered growth and development, is now a catalyst for innovation. The mobile phone in Africa has become a game-changer for the continent. According to Ericsson, the technology company, by 2019 there will be 930 million mobile phones in Africa, almost one for every person on the continent. There is greater mobile penetration than electricity penetration. Now, people are able to connect, get news, trade, get access to healthcare and even transfer money.

(In Africa, mobile phone penetration is higher than electricity penetration. Graphic by Jon Gosier of Appfrica Labs Public Domain, The Guardian)

One of the biggest innovations to come out of Africa is mobile money transfer, which has disrupted traditional financial models. The technology behind it has now been exported to the West. The continent is starting to see the rise of e-healthcare solutions and online education solutions, two of the biggest challenges on the continent.

For the first time, we are seeing a trend of being technology generators rather than just adopters, and we are seeing more innovators from the west move to the continent due to an easier, and in some cases non-existent, regulatory environment, which enables greater experimentation in the market with few competitors. These include new drone technology for the delivery of goods to leapfrog the infrastructure divide.

Overall, there seems to be good news for the continent, as Africa looks to technology to catalyse new areas of growth, a good example being East Africa, with Rwanda and Kenya in particular championing the need for an enabling environment.

“We need to ensure women are part of this revolution”

However, as the technology and innovation boom hits Africa, there is still a gender divide, and we need to ensure that women and girls are part of this revolution. It’s a prime opportunity to use technology as a catalyst to create inclusive economies, and income inequality. There is a need to create gender-inclusive technology and have women become part of the design and development of technological solutions. There are many programs on the continent leading this charge, and there is an opportunity for Africa to become a leader in gender equality in the technology sector.

The other challenge for Africa is to preserve its ecosystems, which have been under threat due to rapid urbanisation and economic development at the expense of the environment. The latest WWF African Ecological Futures Report makes it clear that we are at a pivotal moment in our development trajectory to balance growth with conservation.

It is an exciting time for the continent. Under the Africa rising narrative, in the coming years we will witness how technology can transform the way Africa works and revolutionising the continent.