THE BLOG
04/03/2015 07:13 GMT | Updated 29/04/2015 06:59 BST

Passion, Purpose and Policy: Why Kenyan Technology Could be the Cure to Africa's Problems

It's Friday night at 11pm. A dozen people sit around a circular table that arcs around an executive room in a modern office building in Nairobi, Kenya's capital. There are half-filled coffee cups and pizza is doing the rounds. As the conversation reaches a crescendo, anyone would think this was a preamble to a big sporting event or the build-up to a night on the town. But it's not urban hijinks that's on the menu; they're discussing how technology can change Africa.

Nairobi has attracted headlines in recent years because of the tech boom that has engulfed its start-up scene, dubbed Silicon Savannah by global media.

Leading applications have been developed to help farmers obtain agricultural information via mobile; there is M-Kopa, the market leader of 'pay-as-you-go' energy for off-grid customers, which has connected more than 150,000 homes in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to solar power; and Huduma Centres, a one-stop shop for hassle-free Government services such as tax, national ID and company registration.

And there is, of course, M-Pesa: Kenya's biggest telecoms company Safaricom's mobile money solution, which boasts more than 12.6million customers, previously excluded from traditional financial services.

But, simultaneously, it threatens to be Kenya's one truly great tech export.

The ICT sector is locking arms, however, to spell out how the existing gap between the dream - as enshrined in the Government's Vision 2030 agenda: 180,000 new jobs, improving global competitiveness, attracting more foreign direct investment (FDI) - and the reality.

For all the noises and palpable whiff of entrepreneurial flair in Nairobi, new start-ups generally flounder: 60% of small-and-medium-sized businesses in Kenya fail within the first few months; the needs of the ICT industry are not being met by the outflow of graduates from Nairobi's top universities; and procurement could be better linked up with centres of excellence.

Now a public-private collective from the ICT industry are pulling together to ensure this does not happen, driven by a tech-fuelled spin on 'PPP' - passion, purpose and policy - and how it can catapult the nation from a regional hub to a global force.

Working on the Strategic Advisory Committee alongside high-profile tech CEOs, thought leaders and senior industry consultants this week, ahead of the country's first national ICT innovation forum, I got the chance to understand first-hand how Kenya's vision could double as an African solution.

Imagine how technology solutions, which have had such a huge impact on the world, could help transform lives in Africa? The mother who loses her baby because she does not have access to early-detection ultrasound; the thousands of deaths on the road because predictive technologies aren't available. Imagine 100% literacy because of an adaptive tech platform? Or an eco-friendly city powered by solar energy. Just imagine.

Crystallising the need to create a world-class innovation system in Kenya that makes the orchestra sing together - academia, Government, industry - with ICT at its very core, is part of the remit next week. They believe that homegrown technologies could turn the intangible Brand Kenya into a global force.

Hundreds of entrepreneurs from across the ecosystem: idea, prototype and growth, will pitch up to Nairobi's Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) in the hope of meeting an investor or exposing their idea to the world, rather than expectation.

In the words of one CEO this week: "We are here today because somebody had a dream for us. Even if the dream is not mine, it's ok for me to be a part of other peoples' dreams. I may not live the dream, but I will take steps to make sure that you can live that dream."

But the time for dreaming is over. Kenya's problems are Africa's problems. If the East African hub gets this right, it won't just be its 44million-population who benefit, but as many as one billion across the continent, too.

*Kenya's first National ICT Innovation Forum & Village will be held on Monday 2nd & 3rd March at the KICC, Nairobi Follow #InnovKe on Twitter

This post has been edited to correct a factual error.

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