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Africa is well and truly open for business

For those that hadn’t yet noticed, Africa is changing – and fast. The oil boom years obviously delivered mixed blessings – high levels of GDP growth and in many countries, high levels of investment in national infrastructure. Without doubt, the good times were of enormous benefit to the region.

The harsh reality however is that by many social change indicators (poverty, sanitation, childhood mortality rates), progress has been slow. And it is this reality, perhaps, that has led to such rapid change in the zeal for economic diversity and innovation.

In a few short years, we have seen innovation surge to the top of the pile of government’s priorities. Many organizations, including the World Bank and the African Development Bank have launched new campaigns and initiatives to reach out to young minds with great ideas. People from academia, the sciences, small farmers, students and people running excellent small businesses have come to the fore with incredible innovations.

These people have created brand new technologies, methodologies and products that are delivering incredibly important solutions to some of Africa’s greatest challenges. These range from new diagnostic tools that help in the battle against tuberculosis, to powerful new products in agriculture that boost crop production and change the way antibiotics are used in livestock.

Many of these ‘social impact’ innovations have come through the Innovation Prize for Africa; a pan-African competition that awards innovations with a high social impact with cash prizes of up to $100,000 every year. These kind of organizations should be celebrated. They are sending out a clear message that innovators can – and will be – supported. And not just with cash. They provide practical support to those who do not come from a business background, equipping them with the skills and knowledge that they need in order to grow a business. We need to push them towards expansion, new markets and to investors.

Their success is Africa’s success: delivering the economic diversity that countries need in order to have robust, sustainable domestic economies and stronger non-oil exports. These businesses, which grow from innovative solutions go on to create jobs and contribute to a richer supply chain. The IPA has delivered success to many. It has awarded innovators in sectors such as manufacturing & services, ICT, health & wellbeing, the environment, energy & water and – perhaps one of the fastest growing sectors – agriculture & agribusiness.

We talk so often about the challenges that Africa faces, particularly in light of global economic headwinds. We need to talk more about our successes – and celebrate those individuals who have done so much to change lives and enrich society through their hard work. We also need to shout loud that Africa is buzzing with incredible talent, presenting great opportunities for domestic and foreign investors.

Africa is, more than ever before, entitled to celebrate – and tell the world ‘we’re open for business’.

By George Stothard, Senior Writer, London