Celebrating African women

Celebrating African women – a powerhouse for innovation!

Women at the forefront of the innovation frontier

Today, the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) joins the rest of the world in commemorating International Women’s Day (IWD). The 2016 theme for IWD is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.

Commemorated annually on March 8, IWD celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women globally. March 8 also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. We thus applaud African women-led countries such as Mauritius, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Liberia, who have made history in shaping our continent’s growth and development. We support the increasing number of African women holding leadership positions, and these include past and current Heads of State and governments in Malawi, CAR and Senegal, and the Rwandan parliament. Women are shaping the social and development agenda, heading institutions such as the African Union (AU), and influential global bodies like Oxfam and the World Bank.

As women in Africa represent more than half of the continent’s talent pool, they should take their rightful place at the forefront of the innovation frontier, not just out of a sense of fairness, but to ensure that the very best and dynamic minds, men’s and women’s alike, are brought together to address the challenges they confront.

Bottom-up approaches that harness the massive and beautiful energy and spirit of African women are key to inculcating a spirit of innovation. After all, women are disproportionately affected by inequality, facing huge challenges at both micro- and macro-level.

To overcome these challenges requires new, innovative solutions that are informed and driven from the ground by African women themselves. Overcoming traditional stereotypes, isolation, speeding up change and taking success to scale is vital to ensuring that women become a force to be reckoned with, not only in their space, but in the larger community.

Walking the talk at AIF

At AIF, we are celebrating too! Largely a team of women with a passion for igniting innovation, we harness our different sets of skills base from program management, to strategic communications, innovation for development and partnership collaboration. We want to see change as we catalyse the innovation spirit in Africa.

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AIF is driven by women-led innovative programs and a combination of versatile skills. L-R: Sophie Bussmann-Kemdjo, ALL Director, Elodie de Warlincourt, AIF MD & SIPA program support, and Pauline Mujawamariya Koelbl, IPA Director

Yes, we walk the talk!

Through our ground breaking and Africa’s premiere initiative, the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) we actively seek to recognize and highlight innovations with the “Made in Africa” mark. Women and young people are pivotal to our mission, and active players in building Africa’s growth and prosperity.

The fifth edition of IPA is being held on June 22-23 in Gaborone, Botswana. This southern African metropolis is fast moving towards a knowledge-based economy, with innovation at the core of its national strategy. IPA will provide a grand cash prize of US$150 000 and many other incentives, as well as business development support for top 10 African women innovators.

Dr Lesley Scott, a South African innovator and university professor made history as the first woman to win the IPA Special Prize for Social Impact in 2015 for Smartspot, a tool that examines the accuracy of machines used to detect tuberculosis (TB). “Women must innovate and believe in their ideas … they too can achieve their end goals. We always seem to multi-task and juggle lots of balls; this energy should not exclude innovative thinking and securing ideas through business and entrepreneurship,” said Scott.

According to CNBC, Africa has one of the highest numbers of women entrepreneurs in the world, indicating that 25 per cent of women have set up businesses in various sectors across the continent. This proves that women can self-innovate, at great scale too!

Our African Law Library (ALL) program supports advocacy to facilitate access to legal information and governance – critical means for bringing women entrepreneurs from urban to rural areas in the formal economy. This move not only boosts leadership skills, but builds a path for women to make tangible contributions to national GDPs.

We encourage more women and young girls to engage on our ALL platform, an innovative tool for access to governance and legal resources. The e-library is renewing momentum to address important women’s issues, such as patriarchal legal and cultural traditions. We want to ensure that more women can address these and other pertinent matters such as land use policies – sure steps towards agricultural development and inclusive growth.

There is something about the wider context of the 21st century that calls for a stronger presence of attitudes and behaviours commonly associated with African women, such as a caring spirit, collaborative, involving, and future-orientated. We believe that women have higher levels of social sensitivity, increasing the likelihood that their innovations will have wider social impact and influencing positive change in Africa.

Our Social Impact Program for Angola (SIPA) supports women-specific community programs that not only enhance the nurturing spirit of African women, but are geared towards equipping them with skills for social inclusivity, entrepreneurship and transformative growth.

Engaging innovative approaches, SIPA targets over 10 000 families in the Huambo and Benguela provinces, supporting women as entrepreneurs through market access for potato production, and strengthening their primary care-giver role through improved feeding practices.

The neonatal m-health program targets 120 000 babies, 60 000 mothers and 360 traditional birth attendants in the Bie, Huambo and Huila provinces. Twice weekly during the first six months after birth, mothers receive 90 second pre-recorded messages promoting good practices on food, nutrition, hygiene and vaccination.

Our journey continues with women in mind …

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At AIF, we fully believe that innovation is about finding a new way to do something or providing a service, sometimes entirely novel, and at other times combining two existing items. It is always about solving a problem to improve lives.

In order to inspire greater participation of women and girls in Africa, we will keep shining a light on the diversity of women role models who are spearheading innovation in their communities, and continue to share stories of inroads made to solve problems at a legal, cultural, societal and economic level.

The louder and more tangible we can make women’s innovations and voices heard, the more rewarding for Africa and her prosperity!

From team AIF, Happy International Women’s Day!

By Aulora Suerga Stally, AIF Communications Manager & Masimba Biriwasha, AIF social media team member

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