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High stakes for Africa: sustainable and inclusive cities of tomorrow

By 2050, the urban population of Africa is expected to double, reaching 1.2 billion inhabitants. Yet half of its urban areas have yet to be built. On 6 March 2020 at the Hacking de l’Hôtel de Ville, a panel of experts in this field shared their vision of the African continent’s sustainable and inclusive cities of tomorrow.

Entrepreneurs at the heart of the new African sustainability model

Several entrepreneurs contributed to the discussion by presenting their career paths and solutions. Alexandre Coster, founder and CEO of the Baobab + group, highlighted the importance of knowledge-sharing between African and French entrepreneurs to meet their common challenges of energy transition and climate change. These synergies should enable the African continent to avoid reproducing European models, and to build new models of sustainability together. That’s the objective of the French African Foundation, which he co-founded. Each year, thirty or so young ambassadors are selected from a pool of more than 2,000 applicants to develop relationships between Africa and France. 

Rethinking innovation

Many French entrepreneurs hope to develop international business by targeting the American market. But Alexandre Coster believes the demographic explosion of Africa offers opportunities to design an inclusive future for African metropolises, and encourages entrepreneurs to develop their initiatives in Africa. He emphasizes the need to rethink innovation through the prism of climate change. Yes, we should innovate – but differently, by offering products and services that are useful, sustainable and locally produced.

Alexandre and Baobab+ are betting on innovative ventures with a social impact: the company’s digital solutions provide access to energy by distributing solar kits to rural African populations on a pay-as-you-go basis. Their payment management system lets each user pay for several weeks of electricity in advance, or pay on a daily basis, according to their needs. The kit also collects rural financial histories and data used to gain access to bank loans. The Baobab + technology thereby accelerates financial inclusion of poor rural populations. Since 2018, the company has been providing education tablets powered by solar energy, to fight against illiteracy and school dropout in the most isolated areas.

Prioritize local action

One of the biggest challenges of the African continent remains its health care system. Today, less than 2 % of the African population benefits from health insurance. Even though it doesn’t guarantee access to the best treatment, the number one solution adopted by the population at large is the transfer of money from the diaspora to the African continent. That’s why the founder of Susu Cares, originally from Benin, facilitates access to the health care system by offering a full-fledged patient care solution covering preventive care, chronic illness, regular checkups, medicine and hospitalization. The company’s business model was designed with local markets in mind, developing offers aligned with the global African diaspora. Like Susu Cares, many other initiatives are being launched in different African countries. Digital Africa offers support in structuring the entrepreneurial fabric by mapping these initiatives continent-wide. The platform also lets entrepreneurs communicate via its own social network and connects them to investment funds and business angels.

Reconsider how the African continent can meet the challenges of climate change

Europeans still tend to limit Africa to the northern part of the continent, though the entrepreneurial fabric is already well structured in the East and the West. Alexandre N’Guessan, founder of XtechCloud, points out the numerous initiatives across the African continent, particularly in countries paving the way in terms of fundraising such as Egypt and Nigeria. His company, based in Ivory Coast and Paris, provides digital services and solutions that help companies manage and steer supply chain logistics (fleet management, ERP, connected objects, notifications). Using a single platform, clients can develop an intelligent logistics approach with a dashboard overview from purchasing to delivery. This new approach to supply chain logistics guarantees financial, social and environmental savings while making it possible for clients to optimize delivery and limit their impact on climate change.

Alexandre N’Guessan calls on African entrepreneurs to join incubation programs and other sources of support they qualify for in France, as well as those being developed on the African continent. He invites them to apply for innovation competitions and awards, such as the Innovation Grand Prix which includes a specific category for African entrepreneurs. 

The high stakes of sweeping urbanization on the African continent are global, and call into question the economic development models of the rest of the world. Maintaining strong relationships between Africa and France is one of the keys to rethinking our sustainability models, so African cities can adopt a new paradigm. As our experts testified, there’s a strong desire to involve entrepreneurs and leverage innovation to build a sober, sustainable society together based on local products and services.

 

The round table “High stakes for Africa: sustainable and inclusive cities of tomorrow” featured Karim Sy, President of Digital Africa, a digital platform connecting African entrepreneurs with local and international innovation ecosystems ; Alexandre Coster, Co-President of the French African Foundation that helps young European and African ambassadors to build bridges between Africa and France, and Founder/CEO of Baobab +; Alexandre N’Guessan, CEO of Xtechcloud and Solenn Marquette, COO of Susu Cares.