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Summary of the Final Conference Parallel Sessions (June 30th)

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Parallel session: Cleantech challenge: discuss global challenge & innovative ways forward 

 

The objective of this parallel session was for the panellists (startups, corporates and organisations active in the cleantech/renewable energy space) to share their perspectives and discuss what their respective organisations are doing to address the cleantech/renewable energy global challenge. Moreover, the panellists also had the opportunity to discuss what is needed to support the growth of sustainable, ‘clean technology’ companies in both Africa and Europe.  

 

This session was moderated by Nekesa Were, the Director of Strategy at AfriLabs.  

 

Below is a summary on the key points that each speaker stated during this parallel session: 

 

  • Martin Garatt, the Founder and Chief Executive of Cambridge Cleantech (UK organisation that connects innovators, corporates, academics, SMEs and investors interested in cleantech innovations): 

  • At Cambridge Cleantech, they facilitate brokerage between corporates and investors interested in investing in cleantech companies. For instance, they work with deutche telecom in this area. They cover a range of domains in the cleantech sector, for instance – renewable energy, low carbon and environmental (waste management and environmental treatment). 

  • Pr. Jean-Philippe Lecointe, the Secretary of the board of the MEDEE Cluster (Motors and Electrical Devices for Energy Efficiency organisation based in France that brings together companies and academics around collaborative Research & Development & Innovation): 

  • At the MEDEE cluster, they focus more on research based collaborative projects in the electrical engineering and energy efficiency area. They have a strategy document that focuses on collaborating with African partners. For instance, they are working on collaborative research projects in multiple countries in Africa. 

  • Thomas, Pav, the Chief Operation Officer at Solarly (Belgian startup active in Cameroon): 

  • The objective of Solarly is to provide easy access to electricity to rural households in Africa. Solarly’s affordable solar home system power box provides electricity to households in order for them to have light, watch tv, charge devices and have an outlet to plug in direct current (DC) equipments.  

  • Solarly is a Belgian company that has been able to scale to Cameroon. The key challenge they have faced in scaling to Cameroon is corruption, bureaucracy and finding the right workforce on the ground. Though they have faced these challenges, they are interested in scaling to DRC and Nigeria.  

  • At E4Impact which is a Kenyan tech hub, they support companies developing solutions in the biogas and solar industries. They have programs catered to the needs of these companies in order to support them to grow. 

  • In regards to collaboration with Europe, E4Impact is funded by the Italian Agency for Development Co-operation and was launched in Kenya in order to support Kenyan businesses to grow their business, scale their impact and access market linkages to international markets.  

This session ended with a discussion on how tech companies and organisations can effectively engage government entities in order to curb bureaucracy, corruption and delays. Below is a summary on the suggestions put forward by the panellists and other participants in this session: 

 

  • In order to effectively engage the government in the cleantech sector, it is important to engage the relevant ministries by clearly articulating the local challenge that is being addressed, why it justifies government intervention and the role they can play. Then on a more practical level, talk about the opportunities and job creation that can result from tech solutions addressing this challenge. 

  • A concrete example would be the climate crisis and the impact it is having in the livelihood and quality of life of citizens. The facts are that job opportunities can be created in clean growth sectors as cleantech is one of the top 3 funded sectors by investors. 

  • Tech hubs and enablers can also offer to support the government in coming up with policies that can enable ecological impact and sustainable energy transition. They can also form partnerships with the relevant ministries to implement national enterprise programs that support these companies to thrive in the local ecosystem. 

  • Moreover, it is important to publicly give the government entity praise for all they are doing to support this particular sector – i.e., the renewable sector.  

  • In contrast, startups do not always have to rely strictly on the government, they can also focus on working with a strong private sector partner in order to thrive in the local ecosystem.  

Parallel session: Foodwaste challenge: discuss global challenge & innovative ways forward 

 

This session focused on the global challenge of foodwaste and innovative ways forward to addressing it. Panellists were representatives of tech hubs, which had affiliated start-ups participating in the AEIP Foodwaste Challenge, such as Froydis Archer from TechBridge Invest and Favour Nma Ozichukuw from iSpace Foundation. Moreover, representatives from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), Rockstart and LEAP4FNSSA participated. The session was moderated by Samir Abdelkrim, the founder of Emerging Valley.  

 

As a first question, the panellists discussed the importance of tackling foodwaste and presented their respective initiatives. Rockstart for instance focuses on specific sectors to improve inefficiencies along the whole value chain. By providing capital, access to a wide-reaching network and coaching they aim to in particularly support start-ups having a high social and economic impact. In this regard, fostering sustainable agriculture can for instance also contribute to the combat against climate change. 

 

Further, the initiative LEAP4FNSSA was presented and the added value of cooperation within the field of foodwaste among different stakeholders elaborated on. Amongst others, it was stressed that the “food system” includes several actors and factors and that due to this diversity of stakeholders involved as well as the interlinkages, collaboration mechanisms and infrastructures are key for finding solutions to foodwaste. LEAP4FNSSA is such a “Coordination and Support Action” (CSA) whose main objective is to provide a tool for European and African institutions to engage in a Sustainable Partnership Platform for R&I on Food and Nutrition Security, and Sustainable Agriculture (FNSSA)”.  

 

The representative of the UN WFP explained that based on UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 and 12, they pursue a holistic and systematic approach addressing both having enough food and preventing starvation (short-term) as well as ensuring a responsible food production (long-term). Against this background, innovation for the UN WFP is essential externally, focusing more on the broader ecosystem and internally, for instance avoiding packaging waste within the work of UN WFP. Especially working together with the private sector, Tech-Hubs and startups is seen as very important. 

 

Further, the Tech-Hubs involved agreed that smart farming and technologies, such as blockchain, IoT, and drones are highly relevant when tackling foodwaste and loss. These technologies can have a disruptive impact and create new value, for instance in organic farming. Further, they stressed that startups working in the same fields often face similar problems and thus connecting startups amongst each other but also to other stakeholders fosters mutual learning and overcoming specific and common challenges. As tech hubs they fulfil this role of connecting startups within the ecosystem, offering and conducting a range of activities including capacity building, engaging with policy makers, providing access to funding and solving administrative issues and questions.   

 

In the end, the panellists agreed that bringing actors together is essential, yet requires for instance events, such as hackathons, and a deeper communication. This is key for fostering mutual understanding of a diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, needs and interests. Such a “polycentric” approach can lay the foundation for fruitful cooperation.  

 

Parallel session: Edtech challenge: discuss global challenges & innovative ways forward 

This session was moderated by Robert Sanders from the EBN innovation network and featured experts Anna Ekeledo from AfriLabs and Bosun Tijani from CChub, as well as two startups from Africa that participated in the AEIP thematic challenge on EdTech.  

 

Questions to the startups: 

  • Q: Introduction to work done so far 

Elisha Olukenny from Eduease: Edtech startup focused on visually impaired students to help make education more accessible through technology. Also looking at having more engaging, interactive content. Currently building their MVP platform.  

 

Emmanuel Mulindwa, COO of Butterframe from Uganda: Focus more on fundamental science: We are enabling students to access science laboratory apparatus and specimen virtually from anywhere so as to practice science experiments. Students can access lab equipment and practice from anywhere. 

  • Q: How do you expect to be scaling up and what difficulties do you foresee? 

From both start-ups’ perspective scaling up is possible. However, scaling up in the EdTech space is complicated. The way people in Africa view things differently than Europeans. The issue of scaling now depends on building partnerships.  Partnerships e.g., with Publication companies, initiatives like AfriLabs. Funding is difficult: Private sector only invests in sectors that has an established tradition and short-term payoffs. More funding for EdTech startups would be desirable. 

 

Discussing global challenges: Some of the gaps you had to bridge to make EdTech accessible: 

  • Access to technology.  Many Technologies are reliant on good internet connectivity. There is difficult access to devices such as laptops and mobile devices. Electricity and internet are often unstable.  

  • Just providing the materials is not enough. We need teachers (of which there are not enough) and caretakers (who are often stressed for time) to help explain the content and make the technology useable. Too many times materials are gathering dust in some backroom. 

  • Access is taking the bulk of the attention and funding. But still a hugely limiting factor and limits the extent to which we can expose the kids to personalized content. 

  • Edtech should be about more than just digitizing traditional content. How do you make it engaging? You need to be creative. How do you deliver engaging content that is both accessible and engaging? 

  • Shift to enquiry-based learning as opposed to instructive teaching (example of Agora schools in Netherlands). 

  • The difficult balance between quality (engaging, interactive material) and ease of access 

(Innovative) ways forward: 

  • Edtech has massive potential, but no great success stories in Africa yet. 

  • AfriLabs: We have changed how we design our programs: We use a framework called the six P's. The six aspects that are essential: People (the students), Product (has to be engaging), Pedagogy (what works?), Policy (ensuring that policy aids scaling up), Place (in context of pandemic: suddenly at home), Provision (who is paying for these to be deployed). 

  • Big questions on how do you fund it? Do you bring government in? Problem is that they are not scalable. How do you get it to the schools across the continent. Rethink funding and government funding. 

  • Encourage experimentation, focus on testing effectiveness e.g., through test labs and then implement that into effective pedagogy. 

  • Testing and building systems for blended finance. Private sector only invests in sectors that have an established tradition and short-term payoffs. -Means they don’t invest much in innovation ecosystems. 

  • Fund early stage EdTech interventions. 

  • Raise the capacity of policymakers and governments.