How Innovation Prizes Can Build Better Service Delivery Culture among African Governments
By Raymond Erick Zvavanyange
The Quartz Africa Innovators’ Summit in Nairobi and video by Kenyan lawyer and tech investor, Ory Okolloh brought home a critical point in discussions on innovations and entrepreneurship in Africa. According to Quartz Africa, the African Innovator honoree provoked a debate and among other things said:
“…You can’t entrepreneur around bad leadership, we can’t entrepreneur around bad policy. Those of us who managed to entrepreneur ourselves out of it are living in a very false security in Africa. There is growth in Africa but Africans are not growing…”
Fundamentally, what Okolloh said was that Africa cannot pull itself out of problems using the “hype” on the popularized necessity for “innovation” and “entrepreneurship”. There should be found, on top of the “hype”, concrete steps and actions that are focused on improving the quality of services citizens in African countries get. Hence, there is a need for a new “hype” of governments which intentionally showcase their public-supported and evidence-based “improvements” in service delivery which are to the satisfaction of its citizens and meets international standards. These are big challenges – that require teams of experts, practitioners, and so forth, but ones that at a minimum requires the creation of a new culture in which all citizens are nurtured and flourish under their very own governments and service providers.
The talent pool that is working to create new products and solutions in Africa across sectors should work closely with their governments and service providers as a matter of priority. This requirement is even more important as the global community is set to adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals. Optimism is one step in addressing problems in basic service provision in Africa but so is the creation of new cultures and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in which actors are society-oriented, maximize on the use of resources, and create synergies. Even with the “do-it-yourself” cultures governments and service providers need not offer excuses as to why basic service provision is not at its best. Indeed the spirit of volunteerism is part and parcel of these new cultures – it needs to be nurtured in the search for practical solutions.
Targeted approaches needed
Just as Innovation Prizes are specific with regards to criteria for submission, evaluation, and judging; impact, scalability, originality, and scientific relevance should be our approach. These approaches should be targeted and should be implemented with much ease as well as allowing for monitoring, evaluation and adaptation to suit prevailing and changing conditions.
For example, the Africa Innovation Prize which is celebrating its 5-years milestone in promoting innovation in Africa is doing an amazing job through its continent-wide outreach programme so that more people are aware of its existence and also, that they gain confidence in submitting their innovative ideas for selection. When more ideas are selected ultimately, it is the best that should be showcased. Regardless, of the selection outcome all submitted ideas become part of the new cultures that should inform governments and service providers.
In another example, Innovation Baraza in Zimbabwe is a story of change within far-reaching positive impacts. Innovation Baraza has advanced through three stages of competition: from a country-wide call for ideas, to a round of 40, then 10 finalists, and then finally, to 4 finalists at the Simba Savannah investors’ forum. A third example, again from Zimbabwe, the Phiri Farm and Food Innovators Award launched in 2014 is evidence of the role which innovation prizes play in bring out the best in food and agriculture. Though the original innovator, of whom the award is named after, is late, the Trustees of the Phiri Farm and Food Innovators Award and allpeople inspired through his life’s journey, will likely build on this firm footing. Excellence showcased should be enough motivation to naysayers to be a part of exciting new things, initiatives, and programmes.
Take home messages
From the Quartz Africa Summit in Nairobi, the relentless pursuit of practical solutions and not superficial solutions, should always be rooted in “our own realities”. The local and continental platforms emphasize the idea that these realities are a pursuit and should not be abandoned when our own local systems fall short of the international standards.
Strategic insights and focused conversations, now constitute, the new forms of education in our society today. This will not only raises awareness and build new cultures in basic service provision, it will also restore the hope in human capabilities in bringing prosperity to all citizens.
These ideals within the reach of governments, service providers, and innovators should give us enough motive to collaborate more.