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Youth Perspective: Open Innovation for Africa’s Future Agenda

Vuyolwethu Dubese

17 Apr 2018

The concept of open innovation to drive Africa’s Future Agenda is a tool that not only invites the strengthening of intra-African and global knowledge trade , but also provides the opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders in the private, NGO and public sectors to empower Africa’s success.

Vuyolwethu Dubese, Startup Partnership Lead, Africa at Thomson Reuters Lab, shares how the concept of open innovation can help drive Africa’s future agenda and empower its successes. 


At this time, it’s most exciting to be young (by age and mind), African, and part of an organization at the forefront of the knowledge economy by leveraging the power of data and technology to empower economies and communities. We’re also at a time where Africa’s emerging market has the opportunity to craft its own Fourth Industrial revolution perception through not only commodity prices, but through the diversification away from these resources and the movement into sectors which will leverage the opportunity to use open innovation as a tool to shape Africa’s Future Agenda.

Open Innovation is a term coined and promoted by Henry Chesbrough, professor and executive director at the Center for Open Innovation at Berkeley . The professor described it as “ … a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology. The boundaries between a firm and its environment have become more permeable; innovations can easily transfer inward and outward. The central idea behind open innovation is that in a world of widely distributed knowledge, companies cannot afford to rely entirely on their own research, but should instead buy or license processes or inventions (e.g. patents) from other companies.”

The holistic idea of open innovation relates to creating profit and community from technology, convergence of perceptions and an efficient way to operate and find solutions. It is NOT just crowdsourcing and one dimensional transactions; it’s fostering accelerated creative and business value for all stakeholders involved.

The Global Innovation Index is created and published by INSEAD, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and Cornell University, and it covers 127 economies around the world and uses 81 indicators across a range of themes. Although no African countries emerged in the Top 10 of the list, Kenya (80) and Tanzania (96) represented the sub-Saharan African region as innovation players to be on the lookout for. Products and innovations like MPesaJumiaUshahidi  and Obami are incredible examples of the type of innovation that can and has come out of the continent.

My argument stems from the idea that if open innovation had been applied, proving the concept and taking these products to market would have been accelerated.

Is it about time that Africa heightened the advocacy and importance of open innovation. And with that, Africa shouldn’t have open innovation in just one sector, but it should push collaborative open innovation – the interconnectedness needed to scale a Future Africa Agenda .

One of the most fascinating cases for me is the idea of a Sandbox, which is a cloud based capability that provides access to samples of organisations content and tools and where there’s tangible value for all stakeholders part of the transactions. I believe we’re ready for a sandbox, not only because Africa data is costly, but also because finding credible sources of data has proven to be incredibly difficult.

Organisations like Fintech Sandbox, which has shown the value of a sandbox for startup partnerships in Boston; CodeSandbox Live, which is providing value for real collaboration between developers; and Any API, which has over 500 open APIs, have benefitted many entities. These entities show us what is possible with the world of open innovation in both emerging and developed markets.

With the many 2020, 2030 and future plans that Africa has for itself, the concept of open innovation to drive Africa’s Future Agenda is a tool that not only invites the strengthening of intra-African and global knowledge trade , but also provides the opportunity to collaborate with stakeholders in the private, NGO and public sectors to empower Africa’s success.

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