The best examples of innovation in Africa often come from local people who can anticipate which technologies will work and which will break, which ideas will be adopted and which will not.
One great example of this is a Nigerian surgeon named Oluyombo Awojobi, who founded ACE Medicare Clinics. In trying to run a full-service hospital in an area with erratic electricity, he came up with some unusual ideas: using a car jack as a mechanical lift to bring patients onto the operating table, or using a bicycle to power the hospital’s blood centrifuge.
In the photo at the top of this post, a woodcarver in Mozambique studies a plastic gear from a computer’s CD drive before carving a replica out of ebony wood.
This won’t solve the problem of a deficient supply chain for spare computer parts, but at least the computer will work.
We live at a time when it has become abundantly clear that the “hand pump” school of innovation — blindly transplanting a technology from place to place — doesn’t work. But there is an entire ecosystem of African investors, entrepreneurs, makers, and activists helping to shape the future of industry, technology, and social enterprise throughout the continent.
And increasingly, African “trickle-up” technology like mobile banking is taking root around the world. This ecosystem is embodied by initiatives like Maker Faire Africa, a yearly convention highlighting design and inventions from all over Africa, and the Innovation Prize for Africa, a $100,000 award honoring local solutions aimed at the continent’s most intractable problems.