AfriLabs: Tech, innovation should be for public good – Osinbajo

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Vice President Yemi Osinbajo says technology and innovation should not just be for profit making but for the public good and solving societal problems.

Osinbajo made this submission in his remarks at AfriLabs 10th Anniversary Dinner on Wednesday in Abuja.

AfriLabs is a pan-African network organisation of over 320 innovation centers across 51 African countries.

He said there was a need for positive action, proactive and intentional policies by governments in Africa to create the environment for startups and technology-based enterprises to thrive.

Osinbajo said that in Nigeria, considerable progress had been made in supporting innovation by the enactment of the Nigerian Start-Up Act.

He said the act was an effort of stakeholders in the private sector, Federal Government agencies, state governments, and the national assembly to institute legislative protection for founders and investors in start-ups.

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“This is following the example of similar legislation enacted in Tunisia and South Africa.

“But as I had indicated earlier, our effort as governments across Africa have barely scratched the surface of the tremendous potentials available.

“Most innovators and startups are still unable to access cheap capital locally; many complain that the processes for obtaining financial support ought to be easier and more transparent.

“There is also still a need to train more, and develop more useful digital skills on scale,’’ he said.

According to him, Africa is still at a point in its odyssey of technology and innovation in which the big challenge is how to create the institutional architecture to safeguard and consolidate the progress already made.

The vice president suggested that first, governments in Africa must ensure that access to support programmes are transparent and merit-based and we must work harder on providing cheap, patient capital, with a few for innovation.

“For its own part, the ecosystem must work with government to determine the parameters of access to these programmes.”

He said that, secondly, tech and innovation cannot and should not just be for profit but for the public good.

“Tech holds the power to create gigantic commercial ventures with huge returns but the fullness of the transformative and revolutionary potential of the ecosystem will be achieved when we address issues of the public good.

“ This means bringing our capacity for innovation upon our big developmental challenges such as social security, financial inclusion and access to healthcare.

“And while we pursue this and begin to experience the power of tech to transform lives, we must also concern ourselves with issues of ethics and oversight.’’

He said that as the debate around some of the major social media platforms indicated, those in the tech ecosystem must be alive not only to the prospect of profits but to the social and public implications of their work.

According to him, technology and innovation impose responsibilities on innovators– in this case, it is the responsibility to design algorithms guided by the common good.

“Third is the huge opportunity opened up by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

“The objective of the AfCFTA is to make Africa the largest single, seamless trading bloc in the world.

“The opportunities for tech and innovation to build synergies across borders and create African tech giants are obvious.

“But even now our fintech and e-commerce companies can extend their reach, as they will be able to partner with other regional and international fintechs to facilitate payments and make digital cross border remittances.

“The bright and prosperous future for Africa beckons; you all are the great titans that will take us there; we are all extremely proud of you and the work you do,’’ he said.

Osinbajo said it was exciting to have gathered under the same roof, some of the most brilliant minds in Africa – innovators, entrepreneurs, soon-to-be owners of billion-dollar enterprises, creators of groundbreaking technologies in medicine, education and agriculture from 320 hubs across 51 nations.

He commended the Ministries of Industry, Trade and Investment, and Communications and Digital Economy, Make it Africa, Afrilabs as well the Office of the Vice President for their efforts in planning the event.

Earlier in her address of welcome, Hajia Maryam Katagum, Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, said Nigeria was delighted to host innovators and innovation ecosystem builders.

She said that the presence of the vice president at the event underscored the importance the Federal Government attached to innovation.

In his remarks, Mr Tomi Davies, President, African Business Angel Network, harped on the need for funding, capacity building and right policies to support innovation in Africa.

The highlight of the event was the presentation of award to 12 outstanding hubs. (NAN)

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