In recent years there has been a lot of talk about disruptive innovation in Africa, but what exactly is it? The term, which was first coined by Clayton M. Christensen in 1995, means an innovation that creates a new market and value network, disrupting the existing market and value network and upsetting existing firms, products and services.
Due to the ‘leapfrogging’ effect that everyone discusses when talking about the future (and present) of Africa’s innovation, the continent is supposed to be a fertile ground for disruption. (See this blog to see why many are getting carried away with African disruption) Of course, there are many innovations that are not disruptive because they are simply to expensive for the entire market to jump on board. For example, Katanga, the Ghanaian designed and manufactures automobile, which is a great leap forward for African manufacture, can not disrupt the market. It is out of the price range of most and, for now, will not be the most seen car on the market. On the other hand, if a company could work out the way to build cheap, energy efficient taxis or mini buses for the African market, there would be disruption.
Market leaders are not usually the ones that produce disruptive innovations. Initially, these innovations are not very profitable and therefore market leaders shy away from them, sticking to their current model. In order for innovations to compete against the existing market, resources need to be pushed into them, and that often does not fit into the market leaders plan and they are not willing to take the risk. This is also the case to a certain extent in Africa, but many of the disruptive developments in Africa are coming out of established firms. These firms understand the capabilities of the African people to take on and use new technologies and are willing to invest in new technology.
The obvious example of this is M-PESA, the mobile money service launched by Vodaphone for Vodaphone and Safaricom in 2007. This innovation came about because rearch by Gamos and the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation noticed that people were Since then it has gone on to take over the financial market in Kenya and spread to South Africa and even outside of the continent. This was possible because these leading firms were willing to take a risk and invest, albeit in a sector that was outside of their telecommunications remit. Even now, Safaricom is still committed to investing in innovation. The success of M-PESA as a disruptive innovation has taught them that the risk is worth it. If only 5% of investments become successful, it is likely they will still turn a big profit.
Inventive Africa has written about many innovations over the past year. It seems like every week there is a new tech hub popping up and a new technology being tested on the market. Solar innovation is really making a difference. Storage innovations are making solar power more of a reality and schemes like that of the Solar Sisters are enabling people to light their houses and charge their phones. This is disruption at the grass roots level. It is not changing the whole industry, but enabling people to use new technology. With a little power, people will be able to charge their phone and televisions and utilise innovation, making it even more disruptive.
Mobile apps are changing the health sector by enabling people to receive remote treatment, and also assuring the safety of medicine. Drones are also making strides to disrupt the health and environmental sector, both delivering blood and medicine, as well as assisting rangers in stopping poaching of Africa’s beautiful wildlife. There are also big potential innovations that will disrupt the agricultural sector. Apps like FarmDrive offer credit for farmers and We Farm, which enables farmers to share information. Even education is getting a tech makeover. The development of mobile technology and tablets have enabled teachers and students to have access to up to date educational content and learning solutions. University students have not been left out as massive open online courses (MOOCS) enable students to pick up degrees from all over the world, without the expense.
Do you think African technology and innovation is actually disruptive? Is it just M-PESA that is has disrupted a sector or do you have other examples. Please don’t forget to comment andplease share the blog on Twitter and Facebook
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