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How this Entrepreneur Left the US and Returned to Rwanda for the Business Opportunities: The Story of ARED Founder Henri Nyakarundi

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How this Entrepreneur Returned to Rwanda for the Business Opportunities: The Story of ARED Founder Henri Nyakarundi

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Henri Nyakarundi was born in Rwanda, grew up in Burundi, and moved to the United States at nineteen to study computer science. After spending over a decade in Atlanta and founding several businesses in the States, Henri went back to Rwanda on vacation and felt the pull to come back home. Following several years of researching and working on his idea, Henri moved to Rwanda. He founded ARED, a company that provides green solutions to expand digital access and electricity connectivity in Africa and now operates in four countries. 

Empower Africa’s Editor Shira Petrack sat down with Henri to hear his story. 

What made you decide to leave the United States for Rwanda? 

I was getting tired of living in the States, and I knew that there is a certain quality of life that you can only get in Africa. As an entrepreneur, I believe that there are more business opportunities in Africa, because there is so much to be done here. I saw that Africa was changing, and I wanted to come back and be a part of it. 

How did you come up with the idea for ARED? 

Once I decided to return to Rwanda, I spent a year researching the market and deciding what sector I wanted to enter.

Initially, the idea of ARED was to develop a product that can provide phone charging solutions using renewable solar energy. Once I got started, I quickly realized that business in Africa is different than business in the States. In the United States, you can build a sustainable business by providing one or two services because the purchasing power there is much higher, so you can have higher margins. 

I wanted to cater to low-income people. I realized that to build a sustainable business catering to the base, I would have to make a multi-service model that would create several revenue streams from those multiple services to compensate for the low margin.

As a result, we shifted our project from a charging kiosk to a smart kiosk. We had a vision for a one-stop shop that would allow people to charge their phones while also giving them access to off-line digital storage capacity, some Android apps, games, and surveys by connecting to the kiosk server through Wi-Fi. 

The technology took us five years to develop, and we are the first company in Africa to have built this technology.  

What problem are you solving? 

There are two issues with digital access in Africa. First, the cost of the internet in Africa is very expensive. Seventy percent of the population is still not connected. And most people are at the low end of the spectrum and have extremely basic smartphones with very low internal memory and processing power. And then, of course, you have the energy problem – a lot of people don’t have the electricity to charge their phones at home. You cannot talk about access to digital connectivity without talking about the lack of energy access in those communities. 

How does the technology work? 

It’s called Edge Technology, but I don’t want to be too technical. To put it simply – the internet is just a highway between a bunch of servers where various applications and websites are hosted. The internet transfers the applications and websites from the servers to the end-user. If you bring those servers closer to the user, you can minimize or eliminate the cost of internet access. That’s really what the idea is. Our servers don’t replace the internet, but they do provide some basic functions and digital applications. By bringing part of the internet closer to the user, we can allow more people to participate in the digital revolution.

What is your business model?

Initially, we tried to control the whole value chain, but we quickly realized it would be impossible for us to be profitable under that model. Instead, we decided to focus and specialize on one aspect of the value chain and find partners or customers that can implement our technology and deal with the rest of the value chain. We now work according to a B2B model, where we sell our technology to businesses and NGOs that handle the technology’s implementation in the field. We focus on technology development and knowledge transfer to the clients. 

We had already pivoted when Covid happened, but Covid strengthened the fact that we made the right decision. Because if we had kept the old model, Covid would have killed our business

You now operate in four different countries. What were some challenges you encountered in expanding your business outside Rwanda? 

The challenges are genuine. You’re dealing with different cultures and different markets. You’re dealing with different levels of economic development and different tax regimes. We tried to manufacture in Africa. We found out that it’s not only more expensive to manufacture in Africa, but it’s also more expensive to ship from Rwanda to a neighboring country than it is to ship from Asia to Africa. 

There is also the challenge of margins. You’re dealing with low incomes, and therefore with low margins, in all those markets. So it’s essential to minimize your footprint.

Another thing learned is that focusing on the technology itself is not enough. You need to build a very innovative business model, and that business model needs to be adapted to every new country. That adds another layer of challenges. 

And then you need to find money. Investors still don’t see the value in African technology companies unless it’s FinTech. FinTech now is booming, but every other aspect of the tech industry, like health, connectivity, and smart city technology, are not getting enough investment. 

But I love challenges. I mean, that’s really what drives me.

Do you have plans to expand beyond Africa to other developing economies? 

We are in talks with a company that reached out to us to license our technology for the Philippines, but to be honest with you – that’s not really my focus. My focus is Africa and solving the problems here on the continent. 

What is your vision for yourself and for Africa for the next 20 years? 

I think Africa’s biggest opportunities will be in the tech sector, but agribusiness also has huge potential and is massively underrated. Over the next twenty years, global warming will add a new layer of challenges in the food sector and the water sector, and finding technology to adapt to those challenges will be the next biggest opportunity. 

Over the next five to ten years, I would like to finalize the ARED journey and sell the company. My next journey will be in the agribusiness sector. We still import so much food from outside the continent. I’m not in agribusiness now, but when I look at the data I know that’s the sector I want to enter next. 

I don’t want to develop a new product again like I did with ARED. It just takes too long and is too complex. My next company will be adapting existing technology for the African Market. There’s so much technology out there that’s solving most of the problems that we encounter, but a lot of it is too expensive or intricate to implement in Africa. I would focus on adapting those existing technologies so that they could be incorporated into the African ecosystem. Technology solutions in Africa need to be affordable, and they need to be very easy to fix locally because of the poor infrastructure. 

How do you explain just the state of the agriculture sector in Africa today? Why do you think that there aren’t more international partnerships?

There are a lot of reasons. Often, big corporations or international organizations think they know better, so they don’t necessarily look for partners beyond the government. Government bodies are not necessarily the best partners to implement something. They’re a good partner as an entry point, but they’re not a good partner for implementation. Government officials don’t understand the day-to-day business aspect. So that’s the first gap – international companies and organizations are not looking for partners in the local private sector.  

The second reason is that most of the existing solutions are very expensive, so they’re not adapted to Africa’s market. When you talk about a solution, you need to recover your investment. And in Africa, you need low-cost, low-tech solutions that are robust and adapted to the market.

Unfortunately, so many agtech solutions that could solve many problems in Africa are very high-tech and very expensive. And a lot of the components that make those technologies expensive are irrelevant to the African market. I mean, do you really need, in Africa, your technology to be controlled from the cloud and all? No, you don’t. 

There is also a problem of listening. For example, Google spent hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars on a project to increase last mile connectivity in Africa, and after a decade, it failed. I can guarantee you that if they had started with a different approach – had they taken time to understand the ecosystem and look for local partners and worked on their product development with those local partners – things would have been different. 

Another example is in irrigation – irrigation systems are still extremely uncommon in Africa. I was looking at solutions that many African countries are looking at, and most of the solutions are designed for big farmers. But big farmers make up less than 10% of the farming industry in the region, and most farmers who need irrigation are small-holder farmers. And there are quite a few examples like that.

So, there’s a disconnect between the offering, the need, and what is available to implement the solution. A lot of international organizations think they know best. When those things change, you’ll see a much better ecosystem in Africa. 

How should international companies who want to enter the African market look for local partners? 

There are thousands and thousands of innovators in every kind of sector now in Africa. With digital tools such as LinkedIn, it’s not that hard to find somebody in a specific space that has proven themselves to a certain degree. The only thing the international company will still have to do is a little due diligence like they need to do before choosing any business partner. There are a lot of innovators on the ground. All they need is some access to funding or some access to expertise to improve on the technology. Finding the right partner is not that hard. It’s just a matter of will and of thinking that it’s important. 

What are some of the biggest misperceptions around doing business in Africa?

First, as I said, there is a big misperception that it is always better to deal with the government. Big organizations like to deal with governments, but if they really want to solve a problem – they will need to deal with the private sector. 

This is not to say that the government is always a bad starting point – we’re talking about 50 plus countries in Africa, so every government is different, and some governments are better than others. Unfortunately, many organizations focus on winning contracts or obtaining grants rather than solving problems. If organizations really want to solve problems, they should find somebody who’s solving part of that problem already, and plug into that ecosystem to support them in scaling up. 

Companies also do not need to go full force right away. Instead, they should start with a pilot project, conduct initial market tests, and then, when they reach a certain scale, they can go to the government for support. But we need to reverse the process. 

Another problem of working exclusively with government bodies is that many government officials will put their friends and family into their projects, even if they do not have any experience. This is not always the case, but corruption is real in Africa, at least in some countries. So the government really might not be the best partner in the beginning. 

If it’s a good government, it might be the best partner to scale up, but if you’re dealing with a highly corrupt government, I wouldn’t deal with them at all. I’d just deal with the private sector.

You know, governments worldwide are not great at business. They’re good at certain things, but government is just not the way if you want to solve a problem quickly and efficiently. International companies and organizations need to realize that they will not succeed in Africa without working with local partners and local innovators. It’s just not going to work.

I really believe that solving Africa’s problems is not that complex. The problem is the will. There are so many innovators with fantastic technology that can solve many problems, and all they need is funding and support. It’s just that simple.

Foreign investors and international organizations also need to stop having a biased view of African entrepreneurs. There’s excellent entrepreneurship here, and we need to be treated like any entrepreneur from anywhere else. 

I’ve done business in the States – it’s highly risky! But investors like to focus on the opportunity and growth potential when it comes to American startups and on the risk when it comes to African startups. There’s an inherent risk in startups everywhere, and there is also a risk in Africa. 

But international investors use risk to devalue our companies and our capacity to solve problems, and I take issue with that. 

I’ve spoken with dozens and dozens of investors, and I had one investor ask me how he could be sure that I would not spend the investment on something else. Is he asking the same question when he invests in startups in his own country? 

What do you think could be done on a regional level to support startups and develop the private sector? 

Most of the big African banks do not have investment funds. How can you build an ecosystem like that? And there are no grant programs in Africa that I know of that are 100% financed by African government. All the grant programs that governments in Africa support are subsidized by European or American credits. And when you have a partial grant, then the decision of how to allocate the funds will be made in London or Europe or America.

I think our African leaders could do much more. They could tell the big organizations that if they want to work in Africa, they need to work with a local startup to implement their solution. Supporting African innovators should be central to the government’s economic development strategy.

I was in Ethiopia not long ago, before Covid, and I saw how China is dominating that economy. It’s crazy. And they bring their own solutions and their own technology. Until we own our technology, we’re going to keep being customers of the rest of the world. No country has been able to develop without developing its own technology. It’s just not possible. 

Are there any parting thoughts you would like to share?  

I’m positive. I wouldn’t be back home if I wasn’t positive. But I also didn’t say it was going to be easy. I like challenges. That’s what keeps me going every day. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be exciting. It’s hard. It’s definitely hard. 

I’m extremely optimistic. Things are changing. It’s just not changing fast enough. But a lot of things are moving on the right track. More governments across Africa are focusing more on partnerships among Africans and not just building partnerships with the US or the European Union. I see a lot more conversation within and between countries in Africa.

On the infrastructure side, Rwanda has done a tremendous job. If not for RwandAir, I wouldn’t be able to travel to West Africa. That’s a game changer. On the visa side, I can travel now to most of the African countries without a visa. That’s amazing. Oh my God, it saved me a lot of time and energy.

In most African countries now, you can register a business online. In terms of connectivity, I can connect with pretty much anybody, anywhere in Africa, without having to go to them and without knowing someone who knows someone. That’s also a game-changer. 

Fundamentally, things here will accelerate when our mindset changes, and we realize that we need to look inward and not outward for our development.

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Building an E-Commerce Platform for Africa: The Story of Send Me Founder Emmanuel Lahai

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Building an E-Commerce Platform for Africa: The Story of Send Me Founder Emmanuel Lahai

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Emmanuel Lahai is a 21 year old entrepreneur from Sierra Leone. After a year of studying civil engineering in Sierra Leone, Lahai won a scholarship to continue his degree in China where he founded Send Me, a business to help Sierra Leoneans buy Chinese-made products online. Now, Send Me is shifting its focus towards facilitating e-commerce within Africa, with the long term goal of connecting small businesses throughout the continent with consumers from all over the world. 

Empower Africa’s Editor Shira Petrack sat down with Emmanuel to hear about his entrepreneurship journey and insights. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

What inspired you to start your own business? 

While studying in China, I knew that things were tough with my family back home. I knew that I wanted to start my own company to raise income and to help reduce unemployment in Sierra Leone. I saw all these cheap products available online in China that people in Sierra Leone would want to buy, but the logistics were very difficult. I thought that in my own small way, I could solve the problem. 

How did you know what do do? 

I didn’t study business in university, but I have some innate capacity for business. I have also read a lot of business books and blogs. I was very inspired by Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad Poor Dad, and Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, and I also follow blogs and business news.  

How does Send Me work? 

We use social media to communicate with our customers. Very few people here use Instagram or Snapchat, some people use Facebook, and most people use WhatsApp, so we primarily advertise the products in WhatsApp groups. Customers can also send us a picture of a product that they’re looking for, or they can describe it to us and we will send them a sample picture of a product we can deliver.

At first it was difficult to find customers, so I learned how to advertise through WhatsApp. I realized, for example, that pictures are more effective than either videos or long text messages, because it only takes customers 1-2 seconds to look at a picture. Most of our employees go through a one week training course to learn to market on WhatsApp according to the best practices that we have identified. Since most groups are personal groups and not principally for advertisement, we need to be very strategic in terms of the timing, quantity, and content of our advertisements so that we don’t get removed from the groups. 

Some products are locally sourced, but we mostly work with third-party shipping companies in China to ship products to Africa. Once the product arrives, we deliver it to the end customer. In the long term, we would like to move away from China and rely primarily on African suppliers. 

What gave you the idea for Send Me? 

Like I said, at first the goal was just to create a source of income and reduce unemployment in my community. Once I started, I quickly realized that in order to become truly sustainable I would need a bigger goal. I looked at big corporations like Apple, Google, and Amazon, and I noticed that they all have a big goal, so I decided to increase our scope, enlarge our vision, and focus on helping small businesses by establishing a proper logistics system for Africa. 

Right now, very few African consumers are buying products that were made in other African countries because it’s very difficult to move products from one country in Africa to another, and very few international consumers purchase African made products. Our goal is to create a sustainable logistics infrastructure that will allow small businesses to enter international markets in the US, China, and Europe. 

How has Covid affected your business? 

Most of our suppliers were in China, so we were mainly affected in February when China was completely closed. Factories were not operating and airplanes were not flying, so we had to completely change our supply chain. Even now that China has opened again, we are still struggling to receive our international shipments on time. Flights can be delayed or cancelled at any time and countries can suddenly go into lockdown, so we still cannot rely on our international suppliers. 

As a result, we shifted our strategy from sourcing from China alone to sourcing from local African suppliers. We looked at countries near-by, like Guinea and Togo, and tried to get products from there. We also began marketing and selling products that were locally made in Sierra Leone.

We have also stopped taking pre-orders. Before Covid, customers could place an order with us and we would accept the order before looking for that product in China. Now, we are trying to source most of our products locally, and we only accept orders for international products once the product has already arrived in the country. Once we have the funding, we would like to build and stock a local storehouse with a large supply of products to sell to customers in Sierra Leone and other nearby countries. We would also like to continue to build our African supply chain and work with local businesses to reach more customers. 

What do you think of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement? 

I think the African Continental Free Trade Agreement is a very important stepping stone towards creating a more integrated African market. In fact, the AfCFTA, along with Covid, was an important factor in our decision to expand our strategy and work on building an African e-commerce platform. The AfCFTA will make it easier to move products between African countries in terms of the regulation, but we still need the logistical infrastructure to support the trading, and that’s where we want to come in. If the infrastructure is not there, then the AfCFTA will be useless. 

It is very hard to move products between African countries. In fact, it is often easier to send products from Ghana to Europe or the United States than to send the product from Ghana to Sierra Leone. And some services, such as one-day shipping, are currently just not possible in Africa. Our long term goal is to create the infrastructure and provide cheap logistical support for small African businesses to export their products to the international market, and to create a proper e-commerce platform in Africa. 

What are some of the challenges of developing an African e-commerce platform? 

Many homes in Africa don’t have specific addresses, which makes it challenging to deliver to the end consumer. Another challenge is the relative lack of shipping companies and the low frequency of international flights coming in, especially to countries like Sierra Leone. 

Production capacity is also much smaller in Africa. A small Chinese company can produce 100 or 1000 bags a day, but a similar African company might only be able to produce maybe ten bags a day, and then it needs to sell those bags before producing another ten.

But just because a problem is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be solved. The more difficult the problem, the greater the reward. That’s what entrepreneurs are for – for solving problems. I believe that solving the problems with shipping can help reduce difficulties in other areas. Bringing African customers more affordable products at faster rates can help other businesses and services providers on the African continent. This is what will help Africa move forward. 

Do you have any advice to give to young people who are thinking about starting a business? 

The advice I would give is find a problem to solve and look at the bigger picture. You can easily get a job, work at a firm, and spend thirty to forty years there, maybe even the rest of your life, and only impact the friends and family you have around you. But you can also push forward and actually build a company, build an organization, build a movement, and then impact thousands if not millions of people and solve problems. 

The amenities that we’re enjoying now, the internet that we’re enjoying, the smartphone that we’re using – it’s all because people pushed and continued pushing a step forward into innovation. So if we’re to drive humanity forward, if we’re to drive society forward, we need to think of how we will build a better life for our country mates, and a better life for our family and our children. 

I think more people should be starting companies. It’s not easy to start a company, especially in Africa – if you look at the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Rankings, most countries in Africa are way down the list. 

However, we need to solve these problems. So I would tell young people to think of the future generations and our friends around us, and put in the extra effort to solve these problems to make things better. And you should keep pushing because you’ll feel like giving up, you’ll be tired sometimes, you’ll feel like there is no way out, you’ll be blocked, but you should keep pushing. You should not give up. But you should also be smart and think and find solutions instead of just moving forward without any plan. 

Keep pushing, look at the bigger picture, and you will solve the problems. And I think that there is a necessity for problems to be solved, or else Africa won’t move forward and we will continue to be dependent upon funds. 

Do you have any plans in the short term to expand beyond Sierra Leone? 

Yes, we are planning on expanding to smaller economies first – we’re looking at Guinea and Liberia – before expanding to larger economies. We are a small company and we are still looking for funding, so we don’t feel ready yet to enter the larger economies where there is more competition. 

First, though, we need to build a website. So far we have been using only social media – Whatsapp, Facebook and sometimes Instagram. Now we are building a proper e-commerce platform. Our goal is to launch the website in Sierra Leone, then move to smaller countries around us, and then move to the larger economies. 

Would you like to share any final thoughts? 

Doing business in Africa is quite difficult. However, it is possible, and the rewards are immense. And to whoever is reading this, we are still looking for funding and for ways to expand. If you are interested in investing in Send Me, we would love to hear from you!

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The 5 Business Models of African Tech Hubs

The 5 Business Models of African Tech Hubs

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The 5 Business Models of African Tech Hubs

By: Leah Ngari

Entrepreneurs in Africa often struggle to find capital or source expertise required to develop their idea into a thriving business. Tech hubs seek to fix these issues by providing co-working spaces, accelerator programs, and mentorship opportunities. As a result, tech-based startups can get the funding, training, and connections they need to transition from concept to implementation. Currently, over 600 tech hubs currently operate across Africa, fostering flourishing communities and robust networks that allow entrepreneurs to realize their vision and propel their business to the next level. 

Why are Tech Hubs Important? 

Tech hubs can help African entrepreneurs overcome the specific challenges they face in establishing successful tech companies on the continent. Africa’s connectivity gap can frustrate many innovators who rely on a stable internet connection for their work. The shortage of seed-stage funding can make it difficult for new founders to make the investments necessary to get their company off the ground. Lastly, the digital skill gap on the continent can inhibit innovators from sourcing the expertise needed to build a winning team. 

The Five Different Business Models for Tech Hubs 

There are many different types of tech hubs on the continent. Some hubs, such as Nigeria’s CcHub, focus on the local startup ecosystem, contributing to the tech industry’s growth in their country of operation. Other hubs, like pan-African MEST, consist of a network of hubs that facilitate communication and collaboration across the continent. According to the International Trade Center‘s report Supporting Startups: Tech Hubs in Africa, these are the five business models for tech hubs on the continent.

1) The Grantee

Tech hubs that intentionally choose to work with public organizations, foundations, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments of large multinational companies fall into the “grantee” model. Grantee tech hubs generally offer their services free of charge. They may provide mentoring, business connections, specialized training, networking opportunities, media attention, access to markets and capital, and technical tools and resources.

2) The Networker 

Networker tech hubs strive to create an ecosystem that gives entrepreneurs access to the network they need to grow their company. These hubs generally give their entrepreneurs access to a physical co-working space that enables connections to develop organically. Successful networker hubs manage to build an ecosystem of freelance talent, peer entrepreneurs, companies, investors, and other business development services. 

3) The Consultant

Most tech hubs interviewed for the report fell into this category. Tech hubs operating on the consultant model try to secure multiple revenue streams by offering their consulting services to public and private organizations. Consultant tech hubs aim to become profitable as quickly as possible while supporting entrepreneurs at little to no cost. These consulting services can be in the form of 

  • Providing digital solutions services
  • Granting access to data for government and development organizations
  • Giving training sessions on innovations 
  • Helping large corporations set up their startup accelerators 
  • Advising organizations, foundations, and multinational companies’ CSR programs on collaborating with entrepreneurs and startups to create jobs, foster inclusiveness, etc 

4) The Agent 

Agent tech hubs are usually acceleration-oriented. They focus on startups that are ready for funding by connecting them with investors. These hubs seek to generate revenue from exits, success fees, and fund management fees. Unfortunately, this model is challenging to develop in immature entrepreneurial ecosystems. As a result, the only surveyed hubs to generate revenue from exits were located in Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, which are all classified as mature ecosystems. 

5) The Builder

Unlike other incubators or VCs, the builder tech hubs’ main goal is to build startups from the ground up. Builder tech hubs function as startup studios that aim to generate revenue by creating multiple successful startups. They have the infrastructure necessary to support emerging startups by making available the technical tools, management, and multi-disciplinary team necessary to build a business. Instead of accepting applications from pre-existing companies or innovative entrepreneurs, these hubs supply business ideas and attract high-skilled, experienced people eager to implement them. 

Financial Viability 

According to the report, the consultant model and the builder model are the most financially viable, followed by the agent model, the grantee, and finally, the networker. 

The Future of Tech Hubs in Africa 

In recent years, tech hubs have become influential startup creators and tech community builders in Africa, contributing to the startup ecosystem’s growth on the continent. To keep playing this role, tech hubs must also thrive financially. The five business models listed above can help investors looking to fund the next big African accelerator choose a business model that can realize their vision while achieving financial sustainability.

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4 Healthcare Companies in Africa Leveraging Technology to Drive Innovative Solutions

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4 Healthcare Companies in Africa Leveraging Technology to Drive Innovative Solutions

By: Leah Ngari


Africans have been living steadily longer lives over the past 20 years. Despite this progress, however, the average life expectancy at birth in Sub-Saharan Africa is only around 61 years – by far the lowest in the world, and over 10 years lower than the world average of 72.6.

Healthcare in Africa
Data source: United Nations, DESA, Population Division, World Population Prospects 2019

The increase in longevity over the past two decades are due in large part to reductions in childhood mortality, increased access to medical treatment for AIDS/HIV, and improved nutrition. But as the continent continues to tackle last century’s epidemics, new health threats are emerging. As the population on the continent gets older, the prevalence of non-communicable disease, such as cancer and heart disease, will continue to increase, taxing the already greatly overburdened healthcare system.

Healthcare in Africa is strikingly underfunded compared to the global average. Sub-Saharan African (SSA) governments spend, on average, a quarter of the global average government health expenditures in terms of relative budget share. While some of the difference in spending is offset by private and public development assistance funds, current health expenditures per capita are less than 10% of the world average. According to the World Health Organization, Africa shoulders 24% of the world’s disease burden, but only 3% of the world’s health workers working with less than 1% of world health expenditures.

Everyone should have access to basic healthcare; yet this right remains unattainable by many Africans. With an estimated population of about 1 billion people that keeps growing, most public health systems in Africa are straining to keep up. And with so many urgent demands on the national budgets, countries find that increasing government spending on health is not always feasible.

However, it’s not all gloom on this continent. Despite the challenges faced, many have found creative and innovative ways to improve different aspects of healthcare in Africa. Governments are using data and technology to improve healthcare despite the financial constraints. And by focussing on delivering specific services in an optimal way, the private sector has stepped in to deliver results where they are needed most. The following companies and projects showcase the region’s exceptional ability to solve problems by inventing and adopting new systems and technologies.

Innovative Public Health Solutions from Around the Continent

1. LifeBank – Nigeria

Patients in Nigeria, like in every other country around the world, often need a blood transfusion to stay alive. Unfortunately, not all hospitals have enough blood for all the patients. Temie Giwa-Tubosun, the company’s founder, describes LifeBank as a “technology and logistics start-up.” The company uses technology to identify available blood, communicate the whereabouts and availability of the blood to the company’s clients, and then pick up and deliver the available blood based on the client’s request. Lifebank works with motorbike riders who store the blood in cooling devices while awaiting notifications on where to transport the blood. The company’s app also helps users sign up as blood donors, further optimizing the blood supply chain.

LifeBank has been quick to mobilize In the face of the coronavirus pandemic: the company has diverted resources to create a national register of hospitals with working and broken ventilators, respirators, and ICU beds to prepare the country for the treatment of future COVID-19 patients.

2. Zipline – Rwanda

This California-based company partnered up with the Rwandan government to kickstart the use of drones in the health sector. Rwanda’s very hilly terrain and lack of extensive road networks makes it hard to transport goods and provide services to areas far from the capital city, Kigali. Patients in such remote areas are vulnerable to succumb to an array of treatable illnesses just because they couldn’t get a blood transfusion or medical supplies on time.

Zipline solves this problem by using drones instead of traditional trucks to transport vital health products across the country. Since 2016, Zipline has transported blood and medical supplies to some of the most remote parts of Rwanda, sometimes cutting delivery time from over three hours to fifteen minutes.

In 2019, Zipline expanded to Ghana, delivering much-needed vaccines, blood, and other health products on demand. It continues to scale its operations, and has plans to expand further within and outside of Africa.

3. – South Africa

In 2019, around 22 million people, or one-third of the population, used smartphones in South Africa – and this number is steadily rising. Increased smartphone penetration makes it easier for the government to communicate efficiently with its citizens and relay critical public health information.

South Africa has the largest number of coronavirus cases in SSA to date, but the government reacted quickly and efficiently using the means at its disposal. A strict lockdown has proved effective in slowing the spread of the virus. And thanks to the rise in smartphone use, the South African government has been able to save lives by delivering urgent information concerning the Coronavirus to its citizens.

The South African government has partnered with, a local non-profit, to develop a Whatsapp bot that would reply to South Africans’ questions on the pandemic. The service answers questions on a variety of topics related to the pandemic including symptoms, available treatments, and debunking myths.

In late March, after 2.6 million South Africans successfully used the platform to receive accurate and potentially life-saving information about the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the technology. The WHO Health Alerts launched on March 20, and surpassed 10 million users in just three days.

4. diaTROPIX – Senegal

The diaTROPiX initiative was launched in 2018 as a collaboration between Institut Pasteur of Dakar, the French National Research Institute for Development (IRD), and the Mérieux Foundation with the purpose of producing fast diagnostic tests that would facilitate the control of tropical diseases in Senegal. The initiative grew out of a collaborative work on creating a field diagnostic test for the Zika virus.

Now, thanks to a grant from UK AID, diaTROPIX scientists are teaming up with UK-based diagnostic specialist Mologic to design and manufacture testing kits for the Coronavirus that will allow health officials to test individuals for the virus at home and receive the results in ten minutes, eliminating the need for laboratories or electricity. In a continent where laboratories are few and have limited capacity, and where access to electricity is still too often unreliable, these ten minute kits will be of immense help to the African population. Individuals will be able to test themselves at home and proceed to self-isolation if necessary, thereby flattening the curve.

Mologic is currently concluding an initial assessment of the diagnostic test prototypes before shipping them to its international partners, including diaTROPIX-affiliated Institut Pasteur of Dakar, for validation and manufacturing. If everything continues smoothly, diaTROPIX will begin manufacturing the testing kits – which will be sold at cost – as early as June.

The Mologic-diaTROPIX collaboration is expected to continue once the Coronavirus pandemic has subsided: the partnership is working on developing an early-detection Ebola test, which could help prevent the next Ebola outbreak on the continent.


Good health and well-being is among the UN’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that guide international efforts to achieving global peace and prosperity. Now, as the international community continues to battle COVID-19, the critical importance of a functional and resilient public health system is more apparent than ever.

On a continent where the ever increasing population with its demand for health services and products already strains the available financial resources, numerous creative healthcare solutions have helped the continent deal with personal and public health issues. Innovation and technology can help health officials and private companies collect and store critical patient and public health information, provide telehealth services, and more. Significant gaps continue to exist that must be filled to increase Africa’s healthcare capacity.

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