Building a Resilient Innovative Africa in a COVID-19 world

ScalingHomegrown InnovationsBeyondBorders Scaling a growing business across borders in Africa is difficult at the best of times with well-known constraints ranging from weak cross-border logistics and transport infrastructure, to high tariffs, multiple language barriers and limited access to investment capital. These familiar challenges are even harder for women to overcome and harder still for those in Africa’s vast informal sector. The experts that have taken part in the development of this study explain how all these factors have become magnified since COVID-19 closed borders and crushed investment. Government initiatives to alleviate some of the burden on entrepreneurs appear to be only delivering limited relief and require more tailored approaches to meet the needs of entrepreneurs, both in the formal and informal economies. There is optimism that the AfCFTA when it formally launches will serve to ease some of the structural and practical hurdles that existed before and during COVID-19, provided decision makers address key challenges pertaining to how the free trade area will support informal markets. StrengtheningPolicyDevelopment toEncourageR&Dand Innovation There is significant room for improvement in R&D funding and strategy across the entire African continent. The country-level adoption of the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS) has been slow since it launched in February 2020 owing to the current crisis. However, findings indicate that COVID-19 will accelerate progress in the digital economy, with technology getting ready to play a much larger role in key growth sectors such as agriculture, education, healthcare, and ICT. As such, stronger and more transparent structures, policies, and funding for innovation-focused R&D is required on the continent to build innovation resilience. The role of R&D in education innovation has special focus, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. Appropriate platforms, frameworks, programs, and policies must work concurrently and cohesively to address this challenge. Innovative financing options are required so that education and training is accessible to all Africans. Driving Innovation Inclusivity–Women, Youth, and InformalMarkets The standout concern for the continent’s innovation future rests in the ability of African countries to prioritize inclusivity ranging from gender gaps in terms of entrepreneurship funding, to widespread access to internet, data and digital learning in both urban and rural Africa. Even before COVID-19, women and youthwere largely disenfranchised. It is even harder for those within the informal sector who form 90% of African economies, and who remain invisible during times of economic crisis. Experts engaged in authoring this report say that keymeasures to drive innovation inclusivitymust take into account variables ranging from co-creation of policies with key innovation stakeholders such as hubs, to gender responsive budgeting, universal data access and connectivity, and reframing education to adapt towards a skills-based model with a focus on preparing youth for the 21st centuryworld of work.


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