Tech For Good: 6 Socially Conscious African Startups To Watch In 2020
Sep 65 min read
IT Marketing Strategist at Ideamotive. Travel addict and remote work advocate.
Africa is a fast-developing continent composed of both wealthy nations and extremely poor ones. As in every place in the world, people look for solutions for their problems by leveraging modern technologies and funding startups. And those from Africa are incomparable with the rest of the world.
Africa is often seen as a land of challenges, including a lack of basic healthcare, illiteracy, poor education, and conflicts. It is true, but not all of it – the continent is composed of 54 countries and the land is rich in natural resources. What’s more, the continent sees an astonishing growth of4,1% in 2018 and 2019, despite economic turmoil in the rest of the world.
Considering the challenges seen in Africa, a local startup and IT business scene differ significantly from software development for startups seen in the US or Europe. There are at least three main drivers of difference:
The market is not occupied– fin-tech startups in developed countries challenge the banking and insurance systems by providing services in a more convenient or innovative way. In Africa, fin-tech startups challenge the lack of traditional infrastructure by providing services for people who have access to none.
The market is opened for new technologies– when there are no established providers of services, new opportunities and solutions thrive.
M-pesa is a mobile payment and financial services provider, that allows users to pay using SMS system. Its popularity is dwarfing solutions designed by Apple and Google –about 45-50% of Kenya’s GDP flows through the system. Payments are accepted by street sellers and taxi drivers and service providers launch various additional services based on m-pesa – m-swahri mobile banking or m-kopa, financial support for solar power development. What’s more, access to the effective mobile payment system is a great way to stimulate furthermobile app development.
African states are not as effective as western ones in providing services– thus, African startups tend to provide services, that may be seen redundant or obsolete by the western worlds like providing fresh water or designing a fire alarm. In fact – startups in Africa tend to be more socially conscious due to more real-life problems to solve.
A joke about adding WIFI and battery power to Maslow’s pyramid is common and accurate not only in western countries – but it is sometimes hard to deliver the internet to more remote locations, not to mention heat, rain, and unstable electricity supply. That’s what Kenyan’s startup BRCK is tackling by providing hardened modems able to provide Internet for up to 100 connected devices. SinceUN resolution from 2016, reliable access to the internet is seen as a human right, fundamental for the realization of other rights, like the freedom to speech, right to development or freedom to assembly. Thus, enabling local businesses in remote locations to establish wi-fi is, in fact, fighting for fundamental rights
Babymigo is an online community of expecting and young mothers. The tool enables them to connect with other mothers and over a hundred experts, including pediatricians, nurses, midwives, and nutritionists. Currently, there are about 90 thousand registered users on their website and the app has been downloaded more than 30 thousand times. Users mostly come from Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa.
As the aftermath, a group of South African students designed a device to detect a fire outbreak. Considering the fact that most of cooking in slums is done on the open fire, smoke detectors make no point. Instead, Lumkani (“Be careful” in Swahili) detect heat increase. When the fire is detected, the device notifies everybody in 60-meter radius via SMS messages and audio alarms, enabling residents to respond. What’s more, most of the slum community aren’t mapped, so providing information about the fire to the larger group makes the emergency service’s work easier.
Electricity is taken for granted in developed countries and most advanced economies shift from fossil fuels to green energy to ensure sustainable growth. In developing countries, the case is not that obvious. In South Africa, torn by the legacy of the apartheid,15,8% people were living without access to the electricity. In 1990, in the last days of apartheid, 40,7% of citizens had no access to electricity.
With increasing electrification, thepressure on the grid rises, causing blackouts, mostly due to aging infrastructure and lack of investments in new power sources. Building decentralized and the green power-oriented system is one of the solutions to that problem.
Sun Exchange uses blockchain technology to gather global investments in solar power in South Africa. Due to the borderless nature of blockchain, anyone may put their money in the system and get returns from monetized sunshine (protip – they have plenty of that in Africa). The company is currentlybacked by over 17,000 registered members from 162 countries.
On the other hand, Africa has plenty of sunshine. By combining hydrophilic materials and solar power, Majik Water managed to collect 10 liters of water from the air in 24 hours. As the average humanneed to drink at least 2 liters a day, the amount is considerable.
Currently, the company is working on devices producing more than 100 liters a day off the grid, to support entire communities.
As mentioned above, many communities in Africa face challenges in getting access to electricity. Thus, cooking is not that easy and is usually done with open fire, that may result in burning entire neighbourhoods to the ground.
Wonderbag tackles the challenge by providing a heat-retention-based, non-electric cooker – a bag, basically. The device isstocked in 52 countries and is being used by 1.3 million people. Apart from reducing the time to cook food in the home, the product is powering female entrepreneurship in Africa, with more than 10,000 women starting their own business of selling Wonderbag-cooked products.
Summary – Extraordinary Solutions to Extraordinary Challenges
Business is basically about solving people’s problems. The startup is a specific kind of business, based on challenging the status quo and operating in a risky environment, redefining the business model or looking for new ways to operate and rethink the paradigms of software development for startups.
By tackling the challenges like lack of the Internet, water or electricity supply, African startups redefine the way we think about the role of startups in society.
Michał is a digital marketing veteran with a growth hacking mindset and 10+ years of experience. His goal is building high-quality technological content, with particular emphasis on React and Ruby on Rails. Traveler, climber, remote work advocate.