What you need to know:
- What is hidden in Nairobi is its own unique and organically grown ecosystem that is starting to bear fruit.
- Kenya is a wonderful example of local entrepreneurs using technology and innovation to solve challenges in education, transport, energy, financial inclusion, healthcare and agriculture.
With 54 countries that make up the African continent, it is hard to say that there is a singular “African” narrative, although the landmass is often framed as one.
In reality, Africa is rich in diversity with over 3,000 distinct ethnic groups and more than 2,000 languages spoken.
This diversity is reflected in traditions, art, music, food and resources. Thus, the continent is comprised of a collection of stories and rich tapestry of cultural expression.
While Africa’s colonial and post-colonial history is coloured by stories of exploitation, extraction, political instability and corruption, at the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT, we firmly believe that there is a generation of innovators from across the Continent who are actively reclaiming the narratives of their countries and owning their role in solving some of Africa’s most complex challenges.
Kenya, is a wonderful example of local entrepreneurs using technology and innovation to solve challenges in education, transport, energy, financial inclusion, healthcare and agriculture.
Every year, the Legatum Center takes our Student Fellows on an educational tour of an entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in a global growth market.
The purpose is to allow students to develop a deep understanding of how different stakeholders are working to see entrepreneurship and innovation thrive within a local setting. This year, in collaboration with Nairobi-based Qhala, we took our student fellows to Kenya’s Silicon Savannah in Nairobi.
Despite having faced economic instability in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic with a 5% GDP decline in 2023, our fellows were amazed by the dedication and efforts of local innovators. Kenya no longer waits for external forces to aid in the development and prosperity of its people. The entrepreneurs that we met are choosing to be a part of the solution.
With innovative solutions put forward by companies like MPesa, allowing for the agile movement of funds for SMEs, all the way to new tech entrepreneurs like Fingo, which provides a digital banking solution for youth, the entrepreneurship and innovation landscape in Nairobi is rapidly evolving.
Kenya’s Silicon Savannah is not Silicon Valley’s replica, nor do we believe it was ever intended to be. What is hidden in Nairobi is its own unique and organically grown ecosystem that is starting to bear fruit. It is not a perfect ecosystem.
However, what the Legatum Center community took away with us was a sense of deep commitment by all of the stakeholders we met, with a willingness to collaborate for the good of Kenya.
Our fellows left Nairobi feeling welcomed, inspired and hopeful for a better tomorrow. Embedded within entrepreneurship is always an element of hope, but Kenyan entrepreneurs mix that hope with resilience and grit. In 2023, the New York Times published an article titled The World Is Becoming More African. This is not just about demographics.
If Kenya taught us anything it is that this new generation of venture builders will not only be exporting new innovations to the rest of the world over the upcoming years, but they will be transforming the way Africa is seen by the world.
At the Legatum Center, we believe that Africa is a place of abundance, dynamism, opportunity, resilience, and creativity, mixed with deep reserves of kindness and big smiles.
The people of Kenya and those who are dedicated to building the entrepreneurship and innovation space that we met with during our time in Nairobi, only served to re-affirm our beliefs. We are excited to see what is yet to come for Kenya’s venture builders!
- This is a joint report by Dinah Sheriff, the Executive Director of the MIT Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, and Donovan Bec, a Communications Specialist at Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship.