A monthly inflight magazine this month features an inspiring story of a young Kenyan who is transforming education and learning in great bounds through innovative technology.
The interactive tool he has developed brings a whole new experience to the way pupils and teachers source for, share and reproduce knowledge in an instant through desktops, tablets or mobile phones.
Starting off a few years back with a small number of students, the app has achieved a digital scale-up to over four million subscribers within Kenya and beyond, not to forget the millions of dollars that this life changing digital experience has attracted from donors and venture capitalists.
This is just one example of the great stuff that Kenyan youth can conjure up, given the right opportunity and support. A lot has been written and said about Mpesa and Ushahidi, among many other products originated in Kenya.
In addition, there are many other Kenyan start-ups that have won global acclaim and awards for great disruptive innovations in payments, retail, agriculture, health, transport, to name but a few.
The Global Innovation Index 2017 placed Kenya above the rest of countries in Sub- Sahara Africa and in league with India, the global powerhouse in digital innovation.
A key factor that places Kenya ahead of the pack in this regard is good internet connectivity powered by the undersea fiber-optic cables with a fairly good inland penetration.
This easily and cheaply avails the cloud and a load of other tools that are essential in the development, testing, piloting and even hosting of digital products.
It also eases accessibility for the consumers of these products. In addition, the high penetration of smartphones in the country, the relatively higher education levels coupled with the general Kenyan entrepreneurial spirit ensure that the fire of digital innovation is constantly fuelled and kindled.
It has been argued in many fora that the key to unlock Kenya’s potential and that of the African continent is investing in the potential held by its youth through innovation. In a world that gets complex each day, we need a comprehensive approach on how we identify, support, fund, implement and commercialise niche ideas.
This needs to happen at all the strata of society from schools, polytechnics and universities, to corporates and research institutions.
Having worked as a senior technology leader in various multinationals, I can attest to the fact that organisations that are successful in digital transformation embrace and support the change as a culture at all levels.
The board is attuned to the journey and even hold senior management to account on the strides made in realiding the benefits of digital investments.
This then spurs a chain of activities that requires innovative ideas to either be generated internally, or sourced from start-ups that then go into overdrive to deliver the same as commercial products.
Where it starts really doesn’t matter. Internally or externally, the purpose is to ensure a positive change in the organisation that is eventually reflected on better customer experience.
These organisations take risks and adopt what is known as ‘fail fast’ in an agile environment. Innovation and change are carried out in small quantum and what works is quickly applied. Whatever fails is dropped fast but having contributed greatly to the knowledge pool.
The private sector needs to embrace digital innovation on a bigger scale, just like it has done with the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) over the years. There is need to invest more in innovation by funding the start-ups through various models existing. It is also important to find ways of inculcating entrepreneurial and social discipline in these start-ups, mostly started by techies with minimal if any trainings in other fields. The private sector should also partner with the right entities in identifying the right talent and mentoring individuals to leadership. This needs be fast and deliberate if we want to remain the beacon in the digital race.
The government can invest more in the right infrastructure that supports digital innovation. Connectivity is still erratic and quite expensive for an ordinary techie who is still in college.
There is need to develop more incubation centres like the iHub and the government needs to create the right environment to attract more of these from local and global corporations. An incentive that rewards original ideas which go all the way to implementation and commercialisation will see more people come out to contribute both for national good and self development. Public universities and other research institutions should be funded more with clear performance indexes on innovation in general and digital products in particular.
As a country we have had many attempts in getting our economy to fly. Digitisation is our tool at hand. Unfortunately, it is also in the hands of many other nations and societies. We have an edge at the moment, but this may not be for long. Tapping into the innovative spirit of our people and building beneficial relationships with relevant stakeholders can place us way ahead, address unemployment and earn the much needed revenue to eradicate poverty.
The writer is a digital technology consultant