Why We Must Keep Innovating

Alistair Gould

Photo by Eirik Solheim from Unsplash

2020 dragged on like a bad movie, but collectively, the last 20 years have flown by. Africa’s population stood at about 810 million in the year 2000 accounting for 14.1% of the global tally. We are currently at about 1.34 billion on the continent and make up 18.2% of world population. In that time, Africa’s urban population has more than doubled from 285mn to 587mn. But aside from sheer numbers, technology has played a key role in the development of our continent.

It’s hard to believe that the first iPhone was released in 2007. It feels as if they’ve “always” been around. This was the same year Kenyan telco, Safaricom, launched its mobile money service, M-Pesa. Both of these inventions paved the way for rapid growth in their respective sectors.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

In the year 2000 (after we survived the end of the world that Y2K was to bring), there was no Facebook, no WhatsApp, no Twitter, no Uber, no AirBnB, no Skype, no Zoom, no YouTube, no autonomous vehicles (definitely no Tesla), no e-cigarettes, no Spotify, no Bitcoin, no RobinHood :-) There wasn’t even GMail or Google Maps! Lucky Gen-Z! Funny fact that would be hard to believe for most — Netflix was founded before the year 2000 — Google it.

In the last 20 years, we’ve also seen the demise of some companies and old technology with the emergence of new and better solutions. We saw the end of the floppy disk and the CD. The result of the end of the CD also saw the end of the Discman that had replaced the Walkman but was replaced by the iPod. The introduction of the camera phone in the year 2000 dealt a heavy blow to the old camera industry (remember the Motorola Razr?). For the gamers, the PlayStation 2 was released in 2000 and followed by Microsoft’s first Xbox in 2001 (and we said goodbye to Sega)!

Back around 2000, we still, for the most part, sent letters around via post, though adoption and spread of the cell phone and email rapidly changed that. Many industries have seen massive shifts in this period thanks to advancements in technology and the rise of a younger generation.

Fast Forward to the Present

We no longer send letters by post (for the most part) and we now walk around with mobile devices in our hands whose processing power could put spacecraft on the moon in 1969! In 2000, sub-Saharan Africa as a whole had fewer fixed telephone lines than Manhattan alone. But the continent quickly adopted mobile telephony and skipped this phase. Today, close to 500mn people in sub-Saharan Africa are subscribed to mobile services (and this is projected to reach 614mn unique subscribers by 2025 while SIM connections will cross 1bn in the same year according to the GSMA). With advances in mobile money, there are parts of the continent where physical payment cards (debit or credit) just won’t take hold.

The financial services industry has had to innovate in light of the foregoing. The disruption caused by fintech has resulted in older institutions adapting (but some just aren’t doing it fast enough). We are seeing more developments around mobile money as well as the emergence of neo-banking services. The fact remains that there is still a large portion of Africa’s population that is underbanked or underserved by financial service providers. The entry of startups in fintech will make for interesting viewing over the next few decades. The rise of tech entrepreneurship on the continent has meant that Africans are taking control of creating solutions to specific problems faced here and these can then be adopted in other geographies as the world becomes more and more similar.

Will Today's Tech Matter in the Next 20 Years?

Africa’s “tech generation” will shape the future of more than just this continent. We are excited to see tech developing at an accelerating pace as old barriers start to fade away. Africa has become a contender in the global technology industry. And as we embrace entrepreneurship more and more, we start to see the world through a different lens.

The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people…

Peter Thiel, Zero To One

As a fintech startup, we certainly are thinking about what shape the continent and the world will take in 20 years (and beyond). There is a world of opportunity right here on our continent. More than that, we have the biggest opportunity to make a difference in many people’s lives. As we embark on building Tulix, we’re constantly thinking about today, but at the same time putting our minds 20 years ahead to try and imagine what an ideal Africa looks like in 2040.

It is important to look into the past to fully appreciate the present, and imagine what amazing possibilities lie ahead. Many of the inventions of these past two decades at some point seemed inconceivable and yet now they’re ubiquitous and it is hard to imagine a world without them. It is the role of innovators to reshape our thinking and create an even better future for us all.

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