Awakening the innovating giant in Africa


Esther Nakkazi
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


Awakening the giant within is what two funds, the Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund (RIEF) and the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA), intend to do for African innovators.

With support from President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who is a great fan of information technologies (IT), the RIEF is a sure way for any enterprising individuals, students, researchers or youth in Rwanda to commercialise their innovations and get marketing experience.

Didier Habimana, from the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s Sub-Regional Office for Eastern Africa (SRO-EA) told a meeting on ‘Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development’ in Addis Ababa this morning that each successful project will have availed to it up to US$50,000 and up to 5–10 projects will be funded.

RIEF’s priority funding areas for now are agriculture, manufacturing and ICT. Basically the winning innovators will get financing for their ideas or products, mentoring and professional advice; they will be matched, build teams and gain entrepreneurial experience.

“We are convinced that great companies will come out of this initiative,” said Habimana. This initiative was started this year and is supported by the Government of Rwanda officially launched in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and One UN Rwanda.

Ms. Aida Opoku-Mensah, Director of ICT, Science & Technology Division at ECA has since said that, “supporting innovators, protecting their knowledge and commercializing their innovations is the essence of the RIEF”. So go on and make that application today.

Or you can also apply for the 2013 Innovation Prize for Africa now running for the second year. The concept is almost the same but I like the fact that its tagline is “the future we innovate” meaning that there is a belief that the best way of predicting the future is to create it.

According to Eskedar Nega, Programme Officer UNECA/ISTD who was speaking at the same forum, IPA is an invitation to link arms, use our potential, create efficiencies and commercialize the best ideas. “This is the future Africa deserves — a future we innovate,” says Nega.

It is a different approach to African innovations since most of them languish in laboratories due to lack of funding to commercialise them.

IPA is focused on five critical sectors: agriculture and agribusiness; ICT applications; health & wellbeing; manufacturing & services; energy, environment and water.

The winner takes home US$100,000. The second prize is US$25,000 and the third which is a special prize for social impact innovation is US$25,000. The deadline for the 2013 prize is October 31st so go on and apply now.

This blog post is part of our Making Science and Technology Information More Accessible for Africa’s Development blog, which takes place 19-20 September 2012, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

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