The African tech scene was in London this month: Our takeaways
May has proven to be a popular month for African tech focused events in the UK. Just in the week of 14 – 20 May alone, our team was invited to take part in the Africa Tech Summit (ATS), a roundtable discussion organised by Africa Technology Business Network with GenPol and the annual Oxford Africa Conference. We thought we’d share our takeaways on the hot topics discussed across these three events.
The number of tech events happening in the UK and London in particular has steadily grown over the last decade. The events provide opportunities as they offer start-ups a better access to investors and to corporates but are also powerful forums for start-ups to come together.
Mobile technology is leapfrogging legacy systems
According to Herman Singh, MTN Group’s Chief Digital Officer and who was the introductory keynote speaker of the Africa Tech Summit, if MTN Mobile Money continues on its current growth trajectory, it could “become bigger than PayPal within four years”. Singh pointed out the extent to which mobile technology has changed the digital ecosystem.
Through the use of a mobile phone, the fulfilment, payment and delivery of products purchased online from an SME can now be serviced through one company. Ilustrating this, MTN’s partnership with pan-African eCommerce player Jumia has attracted one million SMEs onto the Jumia marketplace (take a look at our case study on the MTN-Jumia partnership for more).
At the Oxford Africa Conference, Alice Newton-Rex, VP of Product at World Remit and Ibrahima Soumano, founder of Senditoo (an overseas top-up to any phone online), discussed how the latest technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) are tackling Africa’s challenges. Among Africa’s most discussed problems is the absence of an efficient financial system and the large proportion of an unbanked population who ultimately cannot access credits and loans. AI and mobile money could change this; a customer’s behaviour can be used to evaluate if they are credit-worthy (for example, if a mobile phone user is consistently accessing data during a journey, it implies she/he is commuting and that the user has a steady means of employment).
Women inspiring the future of African Tech
The ATS panel on ‘Women inspiring the future of African Tech’ kicked off with a fact from the IFC’s analysis on venture funding – on average (based on Crunchbase data), between 2012 to 2017, only nine per cent of the companies funded in Africa were female led start-ups.
The panel included Wambui Kinya (VP of Success at Andela), Fatoumata Ba (founder of Janngo and member of the Group Executive Committee at Jumia), Barbara Birung (Hive Colab) and Robyn Farah (Kato Global). When asked with the benefit of hindsight what they would have done differently at the beginning of their careers, the tips offered to their younger selves were:
- Be bolder and push forward even harder with goals;
- Seek to have or to be role models and mentors; and
- If you have an idea (whether it be a campaign or business), start as soon as you can!
The focus of the Africa Technology Business Network with GenPol roundtable discussion was ‘The role of business in bridging the digital gender divide in the Africa tech scene’. One of the issues raised was that there are vast misconceptions and die-hard stereotypes on the topic. For instance, the assumption that the gender gap in technology is due to women being naturally more risk averse and are consequently less accepting of innovation. They believe that the increasing need for engagement between private and development sectors is crucial towards embedding gender concerns in this field.
Blockchain and what it means for social impact – can it (really) transform Africa?
Blockchain seemed to be the buzzword on everyone’s lips across the three events we attended.
The less commonly discussed angle is that blockchain – usually defined as ‘the decentralised, distributed and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers’ – can have a strong social impact in emerging markets (see the recent report written by GSMA Digital Identity team: ‘Blockchain for Development: Emerging Opportunities for Mobile, Identity and Aid‘).
Ecobank’s UK Country Head of Representative Office & Head of Group Research, Edward George, explained ‘How Blockchain Can Transform Africa’ because it is designed perfectly for fragmented markets and fragmented value chains, as it replaces existing systems of trust with a digital system of trust (read George’s presentation).
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Andrew Fassnidge from the Africa Tech Summit, Eunice Baguma Ball at ATBN, Chiara de Santis at GenPol, and the team at the Oxford Africa Conference for putting on their enlightening events and for inviting us to participate.
The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.
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