Expert in digital strategy, communications and new technologies, Thierry Barbaut, a member of the experts' committee, sheds light on innovation and the African Tech.
Today, Africa is the first region in the world, where there is great dynamism in the areas of innovation. What is it due to you?
Innovation is driven by two main factors: the development of communication that is exacerbated by the fact that Africa is the "mobile first continent" with more than one billion active SIM cards. Communities, businesses, states are now connected to each other and to the rest of the world. Second, the ability of entrepreneurs to find culturally and locally appropriate solutions to their needs. The answer to these needs is logically innovation by finding or diverting existing solutions that are not always technological. An innovation by definition must be a new process that is simple, practical and scalable. When entrepreneurs connect, innovate and share this causes this revolution that ultimately touches the essential needs: health, education, agriculture, social and of course energy.
For some time now, there has been a proliferation of several competitions and prizes organized for African startups to "promote innovation"; what is your view of this trend?
I am mixed because it is ultimately difficult for an entrepreneur to decipher this ecosystem as it is sprawling. We must distinguish between a "communication operation" with a competition that will receive 1,000 projects and make it a winner and a competition like the EDF Pulse Africa Awards, where successful candidates will be followed, coached, funded and accompanied. Training, support and follow-up are fundamental for the success of a project whatever the theme. With the Microproject Agency, for which I am digital manager, we support around a hundred projects a year, and all are supported, even the non-laureates. We will evaluate the projects on the spot in order to collect and capitalize on the good practices to then help and advise the new carriers of projects. Support in France and locally is one of the keys to the success of the program, which means that we have not had more than 4% failure on projects for 35 years!
So calls for projects, competitions and especially financing are needed. But with instructors, donors, guides passionate about the themes, regions and cultures of the projects supported. A competition must also know, as does the EDF Pulse Africa prize, evoke previous editions and highlight the actors and their projects. It is necessary that the spirit "competition" allows the actors to challenge themselves but without becoming too exclusive.
You have agreed to be part of the team of experts gathered for this second edition of the EDF Pulse Africa Awards; What motivated you?
I am passionate for 20 years by Africa and digital and I finally see these passions in synergy. Africa is connected, but it is also digital and innovative, and with the EDF Pulse Africa prize, which adds the theme of energy to this growth, it is an open path to the development of communities through the projects supported. What's more motivating for an enthusiast like me!
Think of the beneficiaries who will be counted by thousands on these projects supported. Without energy, no digital, no water, no agriculture no health no education. Digital technology and energy are for me the two pillars of the development of Africa and to participate in it with the EDF Pulse Africa prize is an honor.
Major French and international companies should model on the EDF Pulse Africa contest by developing similar calls. Personally it is also fascinating to educate and discover the ambitions of projects and the profiles of those who deposit them. Courses of young Africans who are undoubtedly the power of the continent for years to come. The next Bil Gates, Larry Page or Elon Musk is among them and it's also up to us to give them a chance.