Where do women fit in this age of Disruptive Innovations?

The Leo Africa Institute on July 7th 2017 held its annual Economic Forum at the Serena Hotel, in Kampala. The fourth of its kind, this forum brought together decision makers, innovators, entrepreneurs, students and interested citizens. Discussions at this year’s forum were centered around the theme; “Accessing the impact of disruptive innovations on Growth and Development in Africa”. Reference was made to the institution’s work and the 2016 economic forum where discussion was around the need to create more employment opportunities for the ever-growing African population. This year’s forum was to explore the extent to which new technologies and innovations are driving change in East Africa and Africa as a whole. 

In his opening remarks Mr. Awel Uwihanganye, the founder and senior director of the Leo Africa Institute, pointed out that Africa has 50% of the global population and yet majority of this population lives in poverty. He encouraged that we should consider the benefits of our competitive advantage if we put this population to good use. With 1.2 Billion of the World’s population living in Africa and 60% of these being under 25 years of age, one can take a good guess at the huge positive impact these figures can have on the continent’s economy. 

The Economic Forum has been held annually in Kampala since 2014 as a gathering of thought leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs and social actors to explore the ideas that are transforming industry and to highlight vital economic trends shaping the socio-economic landscape in Africa and the world.The Forum provides a platform for young, emerging and established players in the business sector to network and foster collaborations and partnerships. 

The program for this year’s forum included; three panel discussions with one of them being a parallel session, a live Facebook session and a statement made by a representative from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The topics discussed at the panel sessions included; From Ideas to the Market Place: Trends, Opportunities and the Future of Innovation; Identity & Innovation in a Fast Changing World: How Global Culture is Influencing Leadership; Nurturing the Next Generation of Innovators: The role of Science Education; and Financing for Innovations: Conditioning Private Sector to Invest in Ideas and Venture Incubation. Some of the major issues raised at these sessions included; 

– Innovation hubs are an opportunity for the country to stop looking at government for solutions but to young innovators to provide solutions especially considering that these hubs also play the role of mentoring young
minds in leadership and problem solving. They need to be invested in more.
– The more governments are educated on disruptive technologies and the need for innovation hubs, the more space will be made available to harness positive change and mitigate policy.
– Leadership plays a crucial role in creating an environment for developing solutions that reach all regardless of social challenges. There was emphasis that good leadership is the only way to solve issues of inclusion.
– Disruptions come when critical numbers of people are using technology. Depending on how you understand innovation and disruption, innovation is about execution of an idea. We have that in Africa and we need to tap into it.
– Our identity as Ugandans is not expressed in our laws in terms of catering to Ugandans who do not speak the
English language. We need to know who we are, and contribute to what works for us.
– Technology allows us to be border-less and is the disrupter of our age. If we do not understand who we are and what problems we face then the technologies we create are meaningless.
– Our identity as Ugandans, as Africans is a political and economic matter and any solutions in these facets of society are dependent on how we identify as Africans or Ugandans.
– Uganda’s education system is one of the major culprits baring our advancement in the innovation sector. We must not focus on what we have failed to do in the education sector but rather what we can do to better it while encouraging young innovators. 

These discussions were very rich and truly brought out very relevant issues affecting the innovation sector. However, throughout these discussions, the role of women in innovation was not brought out clearly if not at all. In fact, gender as an issue, should have come out more in all panel discussions, especially because such a sector is male dominated and yet if women were catered for, it would be a multi-billion sector in less than the estimated time. If women were given incentives for example special finance/ loan packages, innovation hubs that scout for and mentor young female innovators all costs covered etc. we would definitely see a huge impact on the continent’s economic growth. 

Women make up the majority population in the world. In Uganda, the sex ratio is roughly one female to one male, with women being a bit of the majority population. While we talk about encouraging innovation for our young population, let us appreciate that women are a marginalized population and are a minority in the innovation sector due to various societal hindrances that are majorly a result of our society being patriarchal in design. That being said, platforms like the Leo Africa Economic forum are much appreciated and can be a huge achievement for Africa if the ideas and recommendations generated are taken up seriously. Much as this platform is meant to generate discussion and ultimately find solutions that will address issues of economic growth, bankable innovations and youth unemployment, the real underlying issues baring advancement of the innovation sector such as existing gender inequalities in the sector should not be left out of these discussion, however uncomfortable. 

Article by:
H. Susan Atim
Program Assistant Information Sharing and Networking

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