African innovation comes in many shapes and sizes. The ones that make the press are usually the high tech software or hardware solutions that have the potential to disrupt a sector on the continent. But there are many other small innovations out there that are building on traditional skills, changing lives, and utilising technology.
In previous blogs, the manufacturing industry has been an important theme. Cottage industries have long been important in Africa, but difficult to scale. African fashion has been popular around the world in recent years, and seamstresses and tailors have been pumping out designs and clothing to be sent oversees. Other industries are not having as much success, but in one instance I found, hard work, innovation, clever usage of social media and a social orientation is reaping great rewards and changing the lives of hundreds of women and men in Ghana.
With the popularity of Instagram and the improved cameras we walk around with on our phones many people seem to think of themselves as models, or photographers, and it is partly this trend that has led to the success of Design Dua.
Design Dua creates beautiful woven baskets for babies, pets and many other uses. Coretta Owusu, the founder, innovator, designer and business woman behind the company, has gathered together a team of 25 people, from the Northern part of Ghana to weave these baskets using a special type of grass. She has gone through a long process in refining the designs and technique, including finding a new way of bleaching the grass so it is white than usual.
Over the last 18 months, Design Dua’s Instagram page has grown and grown and a staggering rate. Now (at the time of writing) almost 28 thousand accounts follow her Instagram account, to keep an eye on the hundreds of pictures of cute babies (or pets) in their baskets. The strategic use of Instagram has been a winner for Coretta and Design Dua, and the pride of mothers of their newly borns means she has a steady supply of incredibly artistic photos to post to her eagerly awaiting followers.
The Instagram account is of course only part of the success. Without the team behind her, working tirelessly to create these beautiful products with excellent quality, her customers wouldn’t be so satisfied and share so many photos. It was important from the beginning that those working for her, often from the under privileged north of the Ghana, received a fair wage, and favourable working conditions, so they themselves could develop personally.
It isn’t all plain sailing for manufacturing companies who are selling their products outside of the region. There are many hurdles that need to be crossed, for example the logistics of getting your products to the customers. Shipping goods from Ghana to the USA and Europe has proven extremely time consuming and at times unreliable. Despite her team working hard to make sure that all orders are sent out on time to customers, on too many occasions the postal service all to often don’t their promise, delaying shipping and even losing good along the way. (This isn’t just the normal occasional mistakes that can happen within postal services! This is thousands of packages going missing or being delayed, costing thousands of dollars worth of disruption to small businesses!)
In order to compete on the import export market, freight services trading out of Africa need to make sure that they maintain reliability, or they risk ruining the reputations of companies like Design Dua, who are battling a negative stigma of reliability attached to many African companies.
Coretta is a serial entrepreneur, with a law degree, and an understanding of business in both Ghana and the USA. What is fascinating about her is that when she has an idea she is passionate about, she does the research and then gives it a go. This is a huge lesson for creative minds throughout Africa. If you have an idea, develop it, and if it looks like it could work, TRY IT! Of course, there is always a chance that it is not successful, but at the very least, you will develop your skills, and increase the chances of future projects.
Coretta and her business should be an inspiration to anyone in Africa that wants to make the most of the huge market that exists outside of Africa. Inventive Africa have mentioned on many occasions that Africa needs to export more, and small but successful businesses like Coretta’s can buck the trend of over reliance on imports.
If you know of any innovations in Africa, an innovation that is changing lives, or you also want to be a guest blogger, get in contact with us on Twitter @inventiveAfrica or via email. Please she the blog with your network on Twitter and Facebook. Also, don’t forget to check out and like out Facebook page!
For more interesting blogs about African Innovation, check out our homepage.