Africa’s Quest for a Green Future

We are halfway through COP21 and the call for urgent action to accelerate the adaptation and build resilient communities in Africa has been wide-spread.  The struggle to get commitment to keep global warming levels within the 2 degree threshold and financing the transition to clean energy continue into the second week. The climate change challenge is incredibly large in scope and requires reinforcing additional areas if the continent can leapfrog carbon dependency development. Below are some of the other factors that we see playing a major role in the climate revolution for Africa:

  1. Playing the long game: Beyond financing, another key aspect for Africa is the ability and willingness to meaningfully integrate climate concerns and information into long-term development goals. This is particularly difficult given the urgency of some of the continent’s development problems such as energy and sustainable food production.
  2. Creative Innovation: There is a lot of emphasis on the potential and impact of high tech global solutions such as solar and wind. But there also needs to be space for homegrown innovation that comes from local community initiatives. Projects such as the Gre-Cycling initiative that turns plastic into fuel, used local insights and knowledge, to develop a sustainable energy solution that addressed their communities’ needs.
  3. Connecting the dots: It is now becoming increasingly clear that the climate change issue is connected to just about every other sustainable development concern from the food we eat, the houses we live in, the things we buy to the air we breathe. By making these connections, climate change can be moved into the mainstream development agenda allowing for better resource allocation and planning.

We need to stop thinking in generalizations and bring process back into thinking. These words by an environmental activist capture how the journey to sustainability needs to be. There isn’t one sweeping policy or development project that will save Africa, rather a myriad of ideas that integrate collaboration and commitment at all levels.

*Pic c/o

IMPACT Music Conference

We partnered with the African Music Development Program to produce the first IMPACT Music Conference focusing on the conversion of tech and music in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over two days, the conference presented discussions on a wide variety of topics around music and tech including content creation online, digital distribution, new revenue models in music, current & future state of the music industry and the role technology will play in shaping these.

Speakers & Presenters included: Virgine Berger (DBTH/France), M.Anifest (Rap Superstar/Ghana), Teju Ajani (Youtube Content, SSA), Nic Burger (Kleek Music, SA), Josquin Farge (Soundsgood, France), Emeline Wraith (Remote-Goat, UK), Rotime Fawole (Spinlet/Africa), Yoel Kenan (, Phiona Okumu (AfripopMag) & so much more.

Changing your mindset – achieving breakthroughs for innovation

I recently participated in the British Council European Innovation lab supported by Latimer. The lab bought together 18 graduates from six cities in Europe to innovate around all things creative, learning and tech. The teams underwent an intensive process of ideation, data interpretation, iteration and co-creation. While all these are important elements for successful innovation, I believe that a change in mindsets is the most crucial one. While this may sound simple enough, we are all preconditioned with our own professional and personal biases. In a Forbes article about how leaders can enable innovation, there was a description of the personality type that innovation requires “…they are passionate explorers in pursuit of endless possibilities.   These explorers are courageous enough to take that leap of faith and follow it through all the way to the end.” This is a spot on description of the team I was involved in from Paris. Working with them required not only trusting their ideas but having a willingness to open up to things that appeared impossible and difficult to grasp.  The result was a fearless game-changing solution that embraces the latest virtual reality technology that could drastically increase access to learning and cultural interaction around the globe.

Beyond Cheap: Innovating for the Base of the Pyramid

Nestlé recently announced its plans to reduce and scale back its operations¹ in Sub-Saharan Africa citing that the middle class in the region is not growing according to expectations. In a follow-up to the news Quartz Africa² stated that Nestlé might have forgotten to mention that its business focus did not pay enough attention to the potential that lies at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP).

While there has been a lot of talk around Africa rising in recent years³ – the vast majority of consumers are low-income households who as with any other consumer group have aspirations, beliefs and needs.  C.K. Prahalad wrote about the need for companies and organizations to stop thinking of the poor as victims but as entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers⁴. To sufficiently uncover the potential that lies at the BOP, there needs to be adequate resource allocation for research and innovation which is often costly and time consuming but can result in positive benefits. This was the case with the famous Danimal project by Danone in South Africa⁵ that took two years to deploy. It highlighted the opportunities that are available at the BOP when a deep level of understanding and strategic approach in product development is undertaken. The company’s focus resulted in the successful rollout of the Danimal product that included some of the following principles of product innovation for the BOP:

Consideration of current infrastructure and accessibility: In the Danimal case – most of the suppliers and consumers had issues around electricity supply. Product innovation had to take into consideration the product’s shelf life outside the cold room.

Product development must also include added value and functionality not just form: For Danimal that meant including added nutritional value in the form of Vitamin A and Iron as well that the children in these communities often lacked.

Hybrid Solutions and collaboration:Deciding what to do for specific markets requires a mind-shift that can often be made easier by collaborating with experts in the field. Danone SA worked with the South African Medical Research council to maximize research on the benefits of probiotic cultures.

Unique distribution models: The traditional distribution method through retailers and supermarkets was not sufficient to reach consumers. Danone SA introduced the micro-distributer called the Danimamas who were recruited, trained and provided with initial assets to distribute the product.

While the above appears like a lot of effort for the introduction of one product in one country, the efforts paid off. From the first introduction in February 2005 sales more than doubled by the end of the year. There are most likely other reasons Nestlé has decided to scale back in Africa but for other organizations/companies looking to invest in Sub-Saharan Africa, let this not be a deterrent: the potential for profitable business is still there.


¹Nestlé Scales back In Africa:

²What Nestlé may have forgotten to mention:

³Africa Rising:

⁴C.K. Prahalad: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

⁵Danimal in South Africa: Management Innovation at the Bottom of the Pyramid – Richard Ivey School of Business

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*Blog first appeared on CMC Blog

Creating Value Through Social Innovation

The concept of companies adopting and supporting social innovation programs to contribute to the development of society is gaining momentum. At DAVOS 2015 – there was strong sentiment that social innovation from the private sector is important in tackling some of the biggest issues that societies face today. In the age of the concerned and connected consumer̽, companies are shifting from traditional Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, which have often been viewed as one-off PR tactics, to more involved programs for meaningful change.

As the business environment continues to rapidly evolve, value creation is moving from a more linear thinking (Michael Porter) to a more circular approach of co-creation and integration. This would mean that in order to actually have a sustainable impact, companies should move from attached activities of CSR towards integrating social innovation into the mainstream agenda of the business strategy. By doing this, it enables for a more reciprocal approach where companies are co-designing programs that are both good for the community and can maintain or even grow their bottom line. How this is achieved:

On the society end, they stand to benefit from access to resources (human and capital), breakthrough technology and sophisticated distribution networks that government and development organizations sometimes lack ultimately resulting in increased impact.

For companies, working towards socially positive initiatives is not all just an expense. Companies can add value to their business by engaging with communities, government and development organizations around social issues. Through these new partnerships they are able to access new perspectives and expertise that can allow them the opportunity to explore new markets, gather insights, innovate new products and more importantly develop brand image and perception by building trust through shared values.

Below are a couple examples of mutually beneficial corporate social innovation programs:

  1. 1.      5by20 Program (Coca-Cola)

Coca-Cola launched the 5by20 program in more than 40 countries around the world. They are working with a broad base of partners that include governments, NGOs, and civil society. The goal is a global commitment to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across the company’s value chain by 2020. Programs focus on empowering women across 6 segments of the company’s value chain and include lowering barriers faced by female entrepreneurs. Read more on the program here: #5by20

  1. 2.      Investing in improving Farmers lives (Unilever, Acumen & Clinton Foundation)

This program is a joint initiative by Acumen, Unilever and the Clinton Foundation.  The program is a three-year, $10-million investment that will nurture and scale agricultural enterprises, which will support smallholder farmers and their communities by linking them to Unilever’s global supply chains and distribution networks. Read more Enhanced Livelihoods Investment Initiative

̽ According to the publication of Fifteen For 15 by A.Good.Must.Grow – Consious Consumer Spending Index indicates that nearly 30% of Americans plan on increasing their responsible spending.

*article first appeared on creativity & marketing blogsite