Nairobi has never been shy to investment or multi-national activity. Despite it taking a hit in its prominence in the eighties, nineties and early ‘noughties’,   there seems to be a candid air of rejuvenation traversing the precincts of this enterprising city.

The ‘Green City Under The Sun’ serves as regional and functional headquarters for major international and research agencies such as UNEP, ICRAF, ICRISAT,  and BioVersity as well local research institutes of global prominence such as KEMRI. Nairobi also serves as a major commercial centre and a hub for Sub-Saharan Africa. This has led to increased presence by major multi-nationals in various industries to utilise Nairobi as a launch pad to Sub-Saharan Africa.

The common view of Sub-Saharan Africa is one of mismanagement and dilapidated infrastructure. Naturally, when the political tide and environment becomes conducive to investment, most of the focus has been in huge infrastructure projects. The opportunities in the growing middle-classes and increasingly connected populations in Sub-Saharan Africa seem to have eluded many.

However, ‘the pieces of the puzzle’ seem to be piecing up together and the jigsaw is almost being solved. With limited resources innovation is rife within the region; people find unique and creative ways to solve problems in Sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately most of these ‘hacks’ and innovations go unnoticed as there is no incentive to commercialise and scale these ideas to greater heights.

Recently two incubation and innovation centres setup shop alongside each other in Nairobi. I believe the healthy competition amongst them will lead to greater things happening. Both the iHub and NaiLab have been bee hives of activity. In fact , this month, there are significant events taking place at these centres every weekend. These include Random Hacks of Kindness, BarCamp Nairobi and #140conf Nairobi.

Such a high concentration of brains and vision will definitely lead up to something big and meaningful. Despite the relative low accessibility of seed risk capital in the region, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. Recently the Kenya ICT Board announced grants for software and content creators.

There is a subliminal feeling of a ‘Silcion Valley’ being created in Nairobi. However, I’d like to argue otherwise. The Silicon Valley cannot be recreated elsewhere; it emerged due to specific circumstances and solved certain problems. What can be done however is to learn from the process and create a high growth zone based on problems that need to be solved for the region and the rest of the world.

Innovation is all about bringing the future a step closer to the present and not rebuilding the past to fit into the future.  Such innovative stances are what brought Singapore to world dominance of bio-tech and pharmaceuticals, Korea to electronics, Israel to agriculture and computing and China to telecommunications and lean production.


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