Where Africa and Technology Collide!

7 Rules Explain Innovation in Africa

Ethan Zuckerman has produced yet another amazing thought piece. This time, he’s talking about innovation in Africa and how that is brought about by resource constraints. Go read the whole post here. In the meantime, here are his 7 rules explaining how developing world innovation proceeds:

  1. Innovation (often) comes from constraint (If you’ve got very few resources, you’re forced to be very creative in using and reusing them.)
  2. Don’t fight culture (If people cook by stirring their stews, they’re not going to use a solar oven, no matter what you do to market it. Make them a better stove instead.)
  3. Embrace market mechanisms (Giving stuff away rarely works as well as selling it.)
  4. Innovate on existing platforms (We’ve got bicycles and mobile phones in Africa, plus lots of metal to weld. Innovate using that stuff, rather than bringing in completely new tech.)
  5. Problems are not always obvious from afar (You really have to live for a while in a society where no one has currency larger than a $1 bill to understand the importance of money via mobile phones.)
  6. What you have matters more than what you lack (If you’ve got a bicycle, consider what you can build based on that, rather than worrying about not having a car, a truck, a metal shop.)
  7. Infrastructure can beget infrastructure (By building mobile phone infrastructure, we may be building power infrastructure for Africa.)



  1. I so have to agree. I have been down the road of trying to introduce new-tech. It doesn’t work. Now I look for ways to do things in a traditional way, but easier, or more economically. I find that this is acceptable whereas new-tech isn’t!

  2. Zuckerman once again presents us with overly simplistic ideas about development (oops! I mean) “innovation”. Quaint, cute, but obvious. Still, gotta love him, his heart is in the right place.

    I wholeheartedly agree with his diss against solar ovens. I’ve been complaining about those things for over 15 years! And that useless NGO is still in Nairobi, in Kilimani no less!

  3. “What you have matters more than what you lack” – well done – hit the nail on the head.

    Stop complaining about what we don’t have and build on what we do have….

  4. You must agree with me that the internet – especially the new “internet 2.0” – is the most important innovation resource available today.

    The contraints are therefore fewer now than they were 5 or 10 years back – maybe reliable connectivity and education on intellectual property management are the new contraints that need to be fixed in Africa.

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