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Africans Look to ‘Innovation’ for Solutions to Social, Economic Challeges

Nairobi — “Innovation” – promoted as a way to find solutions to social and economic challenges – has joined “entrepreneurship” as a focus of philanthropies, governments and businesses. One of the organizations championing innovative approaches to Africa’s problems is the African Innovation Foundation launched by private equity investors, entrepreneurs, scholars and diplomats. Ambassador Walter Fust, a former director general of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation, chairs its board of directors.

The foundation is inviting entries for its second annual Innovation Prize for Africa in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Prizes totaling U.S. $150,000 will be awarded for ideas that promise sustainable economic development and encourage an interest in science, technology and engineering among young African men and women.

African Innovation Foundation co-founder Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, a Swiss entrepreneur and equity investor with strong African ties, talked to AllAfrica’s Lauren Everitt about the prize and its purpose. They sat down together in Nairobi and followed up the conversation by email.

You have an extensive background in business and investing. How did you decide to get involved in sustainable economic development in Africa?

When I am in Africa, I see many opportunities and get a clear view of what can be done to address challenges the continent faces. Also, my father who is Angolan, played a big role, because he encouraged me to return to the continent and apply the lessons I’ve learned to fuel economic and social development.

After spending time in Angola – where I now reside at least 40 per cent of my time – and across Africa, I’m impressed by record growth rates and unrealized potential. I am convinced, now more than ever, that the best way to build Africa’s capacity is to invest in local innovation and entrepreneurship.

You’re a dual citizen of Angola and Switzerland. How does that shape your outlook toward aid and assistance?

Because of my deep personal connections and the fact that I am a business man, I know that aid is needed in some situations, such as emergencies. However, I believe it is by fostering the spirit of entrepreneurship and business that one can achieve a lasting impact and improve the quality of lives of many Africans.

There are so many untapped talents on the continent. We need to take advantage of African human capital if we want to achieve sustainable development. We need African led-solutions…

Read more: All Africa


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