Nairobi, Kenya – the backdrop of an innovation ecosystem which is nothing short of vibrant, energetic and enigmatic. I was invited to take part in Ashoka’s movement to unearth and mobilise young people across Africa who are using social entrepreneurship as tool for constructive change. It was such a joy to get this news, not only because of my admiration for the great work Ashoka is doing and getting a chance to directly contribute to this work, but I was particularly anxious with excitement because of all the wonderful things I’ve heard about Nairobi. Having never been before, I was absolutely childlike in anticipation for my visit. And oh boy Nairobi did not disappoint.
I will forever be indebted to Nairobi for awakening a renewed spirit of social innovation in me, my work and my vision for what I want to contribute to Africa. The restlessness of the young entrepreneurs who refuse take no for an answer for their lofty and ambitious goals. The willingness to collaborate and co-create as opposed to the typical ego and ownership that too often blocks many entrepreneurs for creating multi-disciplinary synergies. It was absolutely breath taking to me to immersed in this vibrant environment. The environment which birthed ground breaking innovations such as M-Pesa, Maduqa, Eat Out and Wazua.
So why is Kenya leading the tech and innovation scene in Africa I asked myself. It boils down to a number of societal structures. Most importantly I believe is “the development of open spaces, hubs and labs fostering innovation in the region. Places like the iHub, Nairobi’s Innovation Hub, are set to play a key role linking technologists, innovators and investors.” Being currently based in Windhoek, Namibia I can confidently say that spaces like these or the lack there of (in Namibia’s case) is a huge determining factor for the rate of innovation for any given society.
However, despite the great strides being made in Kenya, the country still deals with complex socio-political and socio-economic challenges which are a result of entrenched and systemic issues. From poverty and tribalism to terrorism and corruption. This is what makes the energy and optimism of the youth-led innovation scene that much more intriguing. They are essentially taking their development into their own hands, refusing to be reduced to passive participants in the nations narrative.
Sharing my work as a social innovator at the Africa Youth Forward event run by Ashoka and MasterCard was an honour and particularly nerve wracking considering the caliber of innovators in the room. So it was great to get such positive feedback from Ashoka Fellows and social innovators a like about what NamibiaNow aims on doing. (More info on NamibiaNow can be found HERE.)
So I came home from Nairobi overwhelmed with gratitude, energy, ideas, inspiration and so so much more. So Asanti Nairobi! Thank you for being the light that you are despite challenges which would typically impede youth participation and innovation.