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Gems of Innovation coming out of Africa: MIT Sloan’s Africa Investment Forum

Spotlighting remarkable game changers, the 4th annual MIT: Africa Innovate Conference filled the MIT Media Lab with a surge of empowerment. This sense of empowerment surged through attendees, panelists, and current students alike. Trailblazing as

Spotlighting remarkable game changers, the 4th annual MIT: Africa Innovate Conference filled the MIT Media Lab with a surge of empowerment. This sense of empowerment surged through attendees, panelists, and current students alike. Trailblazing as a huge contender for global innovation, the continent of Africa is thriving with creativity and visionaries working on many exciting initiatives. The focus of MIT’s yearly conference attracting hundreds of dynamic attendees is to showcase the latest ideas and innovations in entrepreneurship, finance, healthcare, energy and education. Hosted by the MIT Africa Business Club, based in the Sloan School of Business, the conference stands out as a unique event that’s solution-oriented versus solely dissecting the problems that plague Africa.

The Vision Talks, where engaging panelists discussed ways to revolutionize a number of industries from education to healthcare, forced attendees to seek answers outside-of-the-box. Panelist, Ladi Delano, Co-Founder of DFL investments, spoke about the “True African Dream.” He mentioned that true African growth stories are not about a focus on GDP but rather a focus on youth employment. Ladi said he believes jobs should be created in the labor-intensive sectors in Nigeria such as “retail, hospitality, & agricultural sectors.” He also notes that activists in many countries throughout Africa are making a change in unique ways using social media.

Building support for the backbone of Africa, the panel, “The Continent’s Secret Weapon: Women in Africa,” featured a number of powerful female influencers like Saran Jones, founder of FACE Africa, Agatha Amata, CEO of Inside-Out Media Ltd., and Marianne Nyangi, Head of Women Banking, Chase Bank Kenya Ltd. The panel addressed female leadership and explored emerging opportunities as well as challenges women in Africa face. Other provocative panels included, “Venture Incubator,” “Technology Disrupting Africa,” and “Investment in Africa.” Many of these panels highlighted the thriving technology startups spawning out of certain regions of Africa. The keynote speakers at the conference were also powerhouses, raising crucial issues that are often not touched upon. Folorunso Alakija, philanthropist, and entrepreneur, who happens to be reported as Africa’s richest woman, spoke about business relations in Africa. She pointed out that the international community looking to invest in Africa should not treat enterprising on the continent as doing “business as usual.” International investors need to be aware of cultural nuances and be resilient to learn effective approaches for dealing with possible cultural roadblocks.

Receiving a standing ovation, Hakeem Belo-Osagie, the closing keynote speaker, who is Chairman of Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Ltd ( a mobile telephone operator which operates in Nigeria under the ‘Etisalat’ brand) blew the audience away with his poignant message. During his candid, yet humorous address, Hakeem captivated the audience with his true to life anecdotes about his time at Harvard Business School and internship with Boston Consulting Group. He mentioned that his grueling internship experience at BCG gave him realization early on that doing a job you love is very important for your spirit. He also noted the importance of utilizing your network when looking for professional opportunities and how leveraging family and friends as contacts will build avenues for career prospects. Not being afraid of failure and having tenacity are two traits that Hakeem says are crucial for personal development and growth. Additional words of wisdom included Hakeem’s perspective on work/ life balance and learning to work well with teams to get your long term goals met.

Fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, the MIT: Africa Innovate Conference gave entrepreneurs a platform to compete through its Business Plan competition. The winner, Disease Diagnostics Group, received $3,000 in cash prizes and is now eligible for up to $200,000 in venture capital funding from the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance. Overall the conference inspired and moved many attendees with provocative thought and action. After leaving Africa Innovate, people who experienced the event said they had a deeper understanding of the complex solutions and approaches for revolution.

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