Tech innovators changing Africa's business landscape
The Social Enterprise Open Camp in Italy mixed tech stars and newcomers, including two Ugandan firms that are changing how Africa does business
With its young and increasingly tech-savvy workforce, African entrepreneurs are swiftly adapting technology in their businesses to become innovative drivers of social and environmental change.
Two leading impact engineers from Uganda, Enock Julius Naika and Boris Nahabwe, are working to change the business landscape on the continent.
In October, they both attended the Social Enterprise Open Camp (SEOC) in Italy, with the support of the International Trade Centre’s NTF V #FastTrackTech project.
The four-day event brought together close to 300 people, creating a unique space for peer-to-peer exchanges and meetings with key stakeholders in a mix of workshops, debates, keynote speeches, round-table meetings, and clinics.
SEOC coordinator Elisabet Nyquist of the Fondazione Opes-Lcef early stage impact fund, says the event was a chance for peer-to-peer learning where famous social entrepreneurs mixed with students, businesses, investors and academics of varying backgrounds.
“I am working to create lasting change in Africa, and this Social Enterprise Camp was really key,” said Nahabwe.
Lasting change in Africa
His company Tubayo is an online travel marketplace where users book trips, experiences and homes for short stays around Africa. The platform accepts payment in local currencies and allows local residents to profit from a growing inter-African tourist industry.
“The presentations and interactions helped open up our minds, to look at innovations with a sense of purpose. It was really interesting interacting with global players operating on a larger scale,” said Nahabwe.
“We came away from the event asking ourselves how are we going to innovate further so we can reach more people and better our communities. It is a conversation we are now having in-house,” Nahabwe said. “We are having a team retreat to focus on how can we innovate to make the world a better place.”
Naika’s company Famunera is a digital marketplace that operates both from a website and from low-data text messaging. The system applies blockchain technology so food exporters can digitally trace and document their products, while sourcing genuine farm inputs and boosting export market linkages. This creates reliable employment opportunities for smallholder farmers.
Famunera was chosen as a case study for the event.
“That was a highlight for us,” Naika said. “Italy was our first step into the European market and a chance to share our story and the value we can add to the health of food consumers.”
Famunera’s focus is food safety and security in a time of volatile climate change. Naika believes how he is using blockchain technology will be attractive to the European market and benefit African farmers, creating a win-win situation.
The social enterprise event focuses on immersing participants in the world of social digital entrepreneurship and knowledge exchange rather than investment. But Naika said the relationships and networks created there also matter.
“African innovators like me in the food and agriculture space, with the right platforms and funding, we can reach our full potential to contribute positively towards solving the questions of food safety and security to feed an ever-growing human population,” Naika said.
He noted his company had managed to aggregate a number of potential enquiries of different food products, especially fruit and vegetables from the event. “We are following up to actualize them,” he said.
For fast-growing businesses like Tubayo, the event helps lay a path to reach more Africans. In 2020, about 20 people were earning from the platform. It now has more than 1,800 users as hosts, most of them women.
“I am building this so more Africans can monetize their skills, talents and homes, and to make it easier for both local and foreign tourists to discover Africa, and easily book unique local experiences and accommodations,” Nahabwe said.
Nyquist is optimistic about the evolution of social entrepreneurs in Africa.
“I see solutions adapted to the African scene and a large young workforce that are into tech for good, so I am very positive,” she said.
“Participants left with new inspirations and motivations; they got to know people that impart energy, knowledge, and create links that go on long after the event,” Nyquist added.
About the project
The Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF) (July 2021 – June 2025) is based on a partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands and the International Trade Centre. The programme supports MSMEs in the digital technologies and agribusiness sectors. Its ambition is two-fold: to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable transformation of food systems, partially through digital solutions, and to drive the internationalization of tech start-ups and export of IT&BPO companies in selected Sub-Saharan African countries.