An initiative by the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) has been crowned among winners of an Africa-wide ICT challenge backed by the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). ZICTA’s ICT Innovation Programme finished third in the ATU Africa Innovation Challenge 2021 after Tunisia’s Startup Tunisia and Tanzania’s Coding Clubs, Mentorship and Incubation initiative by Apps and Girls.
ZICTA’s ICT innovation programme which has successfully commercialized 30+ Start-ups, created 100+ jobs and worked with 15+ local partners took home USD 2,500 even as Tunisia’s winning entry and Tanzania’s 1st runner up took home USD 10,000 and USD 5,OOO respectively.
In a virtual ceremony graced by Zambian Minister of Technology and Science, Hon. Felix C. MUTATI, ATU Secretary General Mr. John OMO while announcing the winners, affirmed the Union’s commitment to inspiring the creation of an ecosystem in Africa that supports the development of homegrown solutions to local challenges. “It remains our desire to enable a systemic perspective on innovation in the continent and I encourage all ICT stakeholders to be open-minded to the idea of collaboration,” he said, further thanking all the partners of the Challenge, specifically Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd (Title sponsors), Intel Corporation, GSM Association, and AfriLabs for their collaboration and investment in innovation and skills promotion among the African youth.
Winning entry “Startup Tunisia” was lauded for its approach to supporting innovators. The initiative offers grants and provides technical guidance to startup innovators, and, in just 2 years, has supported 550 startups as well as startup support organizations through providing a supportive policy environment, investments and capacity building. Apart from the USD 10,000 top prize, they claim the title, “2021 ATU Best Ecosystem Practice Enabling Youth ICT Innovation in Africa”.
Second place “Apps and Girls” on the other hand has empowered over 34,686 girls with problem-solving and coding skills, improved their academic performance in ICT and other STEM-related subjects and led to 69 businesses being set-up.
This year’s edition of the Challenge identified institutions from Africa that create an enabling environment for youth to develop ICT innovations. Among the institutions sort to take part in the competition included policy-making bodies, incubators, universities and non-profits. This is in recognition of the critical role that such organisations play and the importance of investing in fertile soil from which innovators can grow from.
Applicants had to explain how they supported innovations and were additionally required to highlight two beneficiaries that have profited from the practice.
Speaking during the ceremony, Huawei’s President of Carrier Business Group, Huawei Southern Africa Region, Mr. Samuel Chen, called for “further investment in connectivity, power and mobile money infrastructure that innovators can use to develop their innovations and through which citizens can access them” whilst highlighting Huawei’s commitment to supporting local innovation and skills as being key to the company’s success: … “for over 23 years we have supported local innovation in Africa by building infrastructure all the way from 2G to 5G, providing innovative software such as mobile money and AI, and we will continue to build local talent and build platforms and products to enable African innovators to develop solutions to African challenges” he said.
The event Chief Guest commended the participants for their practices that respond to the African context and challenges and acknowledged that indeed innovation is what distinguishes and sustains competitive societies. While applauding the initiative by ATU and ITU, he went ahead to encourage African Governments to be open to sharing of resources and good practices. “I congratulate all participants and thank ATU and ITU for this initiative that is indeed a practical way of benchmarking with other peer countries on good practices for supporting ICT related innovations and entrepreneurship in Africa,” he said.
In addition to the financial prize that will benefit them, all the top ten winners of the Challenge will have their practices recognized by ITU and ATU and amplified worldwide as an ICT “Ecosystem Stakeholders Best Practice”, subsequently providing attention that can help them scale-up their practice or be replicated across Africa to foster youth innovation. Additionally, they will attend a boot camp organized by ITU which together with training from innovator-support champion, AfriLabs, during the AfriLabs Hubs learning week, will help them enhance their impact.
The event further recognized seven additional best practices by ecosystem stakeholders across Africa. Those awarded were, After-School STEM Clubs for Girls and Coding Boot Camps for Women (by the Visiola Foundation, Nigeria), Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Technology Development (by Zetech University, Kenya), COVID-19 Project for Zimbabwe (by African Surveyors Connect, Zimbabwe), Innovation and Techno-preneurship Acceleration (by St Joseph’s University of Tanzania), ICT in education (by Adamawa Code Kids, Cameroon), and Woman DNS Academy (by Internet Society, Benin Chapter).