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Making an impact through an innovation ecosystem to enhance Improved lives in Africa


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Making an impact through an innovation ecosystem to enhance Improved lives in Africa

Simon Ndoria, Programme Officer at Grand Challenges Africa (GC Africa), presents the Grand Challenges Innovation Network, a virtual network that launched today for African innovators and innovation support partners.

Innovations at the African Academy of Sciences presents the virtual network,Grand Challenges Innovation Network (GCAiN), which launched today. This is an initiative designed to encourage and facilitate co-created solutions to narrow the funding and knowledge gaps in health and development. Ultimately, it should serve the needs of the innovation ecosystem in Africa by being the go-to network for African innovators and innovation support partners.

Grand Challenges Africa is implemented through the AESA Platform. AESA (The Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa) is a funding, agenda-setting, programme management initiative of  the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in partnership with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) and with the support of Wellcome, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID).

 GCAiN is a virtual network bringing innovators and potential innovation partners (funders, governments, policy makers, industry, incubators and experts) together in a secluded, safe, and confidential space to share ideas, exchange information and plan for innovations success. Through GCAiN, Africa based innovators in health and development can showcase their scalable innovations and ventures. On the other side, innovation partners will have access to a rich pipeline of innovators for investment and to support. Together, the two groups will work cooperatively to establish, utilize and sustain an innovation ecosystem that enhances the development of technologies, products and processes that benefit society.

GCAiN has been developed by the African Academy of Sciences’ Grand Challenges Africa programme (GC Africa). GC Africa seeks to promote Africa-led scientific innovations to help countries better achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by awarding Innovation Seed and Transition to Scale grants to the continent’s most impressive innovators.

Late 2018, Grand Challenges Africa undertook a survey to over 490 Africa based innovators who benefitted from Innovation Seed and Transition to scale grants by the Grand Challenges Family over the last 10 years. The objective of the survey was among others, to identify problems facing them in their quest to deliver cutting edge solutions to Africa’s most daunting health and development problems. The survey coupled with progressive dialogue with innovators, brought to light four major problems both at the venture and ecosystem level. These include: limited entrepreneurial capacity development, inadequate funding, lack of the essential industry/market connections and unfavorable regulatory policies.

In the words of one of the surveyed innovators, “We are interested in scale up funds. Opportunities for entrepreneurs to rub shoulders with those who can help us to scale, and also provide access to the kind of sophisticated markets required to help the company grow.”

GC Africa went forth to address these challenges with the understanding that the solution lies with the innovators and the ecosystem players. By enabling them to find one another and facilitating dialogue, solutions will be co-created; as well novel insights on enabling growth of innovation in Africa will be realized. A virtual network was established, based on the need for effectiveness, ease of access, and cost effectiveness.

The ultimate goal of the GCAiN virtual network is to narrow the funding and knowledge gaps that are prominent in the African innovation ecosystem, whilst facilitating more intra-Africa interactions and collaborations amongst experiences scientists/innovators. Gcain is accessible through web application (gcain. Africa) and mobile (android and IOS).

Users need to create a user profile to start engaging with other users in the network. Once a user has created their profile, they are able to undertake refined search for other users and innovation projects across all categories, interest areas and geographical locations.  They can request to follow or chat other users they discover. Registered users can also create and manage private or public groups for topical discussions on STI based areas of interest.

Innovators have an added capability to create the profiles of their innovation projects and publish them to be viewed by the network. In the project profiles innovators can load videos, photos and social media links to provide a clear picture of what their innovations are engaged in and their needs. GCAiN will feature the most popular projects prominently.

GCAiN will provide the users with news and informative materials in the innovation circuit. This will also include funding opportunities by the African Academy of sciences, as well as other funders in the Academy’s networks. Users are invited to share articles that they have written for publication in this section, they can also post their brief opinions to all users through the personal wall.

As providers of the platform GC Africa is keen to continuously communicate with the users through the network to understand their need and progressively iterate the platform to meet the ever-evolving demands of the ecosystem. An imminent addition on future iterations will be the learning component, based on feedback received at the testing stage.

We envision GCAIN being the go-to network for African innovators and innovation support partners in health and development with tangible value proposition which will entail being.

Biggest Health and Development Innovation Network in Africa: Gcain will be a one stop, with a rich pipeline of health and development focused innovators in Africa. Investors, governments and other parties interested in meeting innovators, will find the largest pool of scalable innovations and investable ventures all in one place. For the innovators, GCAiN will be the go-to place for visibility and support that is so needed to take their innovations to the next level.

Richest in resources: GCAiN will be the single richest resource repository where knowledge generated by Grand Challenges Africa and the AAS in the course of delivering research and innovation support will be shared. Knowledge from a rich network of GCA partners will be shared through the platform, as well as having subject matter experts ranging from research to finance being at the disposal of the innovators. 

Valuable tool for GC Africa: To Grand Challenges Africa and the AAS, GCAiN will offer a strong and self-updating database of innovators for potential funding. In addition, a growing database of partners who can be engaged for relevant collaborations.

A Sustainable network: GCAiN will grow to be a sustainable innovation able to fund its operations and future iterations. This will be achieved through monetization of key offering and data through premium subscriptions, as well as facilitating investments.

GCAiN is part of the public good provided by the AAS and partners. Innovators and innovation partners are invited to fully engage and make use of this platform in order to realize a widened pipeline of impactful innovations.