[Event Report] AFRI-CONVERSE 2023 #04 Empowering Africa: AFRI CONVERSE Sparks Entrepreneurial Solutions for Africa's Future


At the AFRI CONVERSE event held in December 2023, under the theme "Emergence of African Innovation: Entrepreneurial Solutions for Sustainable Development," the importance of African leadership and commitment to entrepreneurship development were emphasized.

Photo: The University of Tokyo

Africa, marked by rich resources and a burgeoning youth population, stands at a crossroads of challenges and opportunities. Despite persistent issues of poverty and inequality, startup companies have emerged as catalysts for change, addressing socio-economic challenges through innovation in education, agriculture, healthcare, energy, and finance.

Japanese investment in African startups is on the rise, fueling inclusive economic growth, fostering technological innovation, and enhancing international cooperation. With the Japanese government's strategic commitment to increase investment in African startups, a collaborative synergy between Japanese companies and African entrepreneurs is poised to create new business opportunities and contribute significantly to Africa's economic development and social progress.

The AFRI CONVERSE, a dialogue series on the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) held in Tokyo in December 2023, brought together key stakeholders to explore the theme of "Rise of Innovation in Africa: Unleashing Entrepreneurial Solutions for Sustainable Development."

The opening remarks set the stage for discussions, with Mr. Toshiyuki Nakamura, Special Advisor to JICA President, emphasizing the need for transformative economic structures in Africa. Nakamura highlighted the continent's growth potential, marked by a population exceeding 1.3 billion and investments reaching $450 billion in 2022. The challenge, however, lies in generating employment to absorb the expanding population.

Furthermore, Nakamura praised the achievements of African startups, which garnered an impressive $5.4 billion in investments. He envisioned a collaborative partnership, emphasizing the importance of harnessing Africa's vitality and Japan's technological prowess to collectively address common societal challenges.

Mr. Shuichi Nishino, Director of Africa Division I at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, delved into Africa's vast potential, emphasizing its demographic dividend and business opportunities in consumption, production, climate change solutions. He acknowledged the challenges of rising global competition and political tensions, highlighting the significance of Africa's leadership. Nishino encouraged collaborative efforts through global platforms like TICAD, aiming to foster innovations and to think together, co-create and scale up innovative solutions for challenges in Africa and in the international community with Africa by bringing together diverse stakeholders.

Panel Discussion (Photo: The University of Tokyo)

The panel discussion, moderated by Ms. Yuka Tomizawa, CEO Office of READYFOR, Inc., delved into the challenges and opportunities of addressing societal challenges through business in Africa and facilitated discussions by the panel speakers.

Ms. Cinzia Tecce, Private Sector Development Specialist at UNDP Malawi Country Office, stressed the importance of catalyzing access to finance for the social entrepreneurs which could be performed by development agencies like UNDP backed up by the due diligence and the need for a comprehensive approach to support their successful journey including product marketing, mentorship, and networking.

Ms. Atsuko Itsuki, Deputy Director at JICA Economic Development Department, highlighted its support for the establishment and growth of startup ecosystems in Africa. “The incubation and acceleration programs at NINJA contribute to the development of business expertise and knowledge, also mentorship services provide entrepreneurs with the opportunity to network globally to foster innovation,” said Itsuki.

Dr. Takao Someya, Professor, Executive Director and Vice President of the University of Tokyo shared the institution's commitment to entrepreneurship education and supporting startups, with the goal of creating a one trillion-yen venture. He presented WASSHA Co., Ltd. , a startup born out of the University of Tokyo, as a shining example contributing to the improvement of income in unelectrified areas in Africa. During the panel discussion, he encouraged young population to capitalize its creative minds and energies to 'co-create' solutions with various partners with exerting the 'power of involvement' and not to hesitate to jump into the continent.

Mr. Satoshi Akita, CEO of WASSHA Co., Ltd., provided a practical perspective, stressing the importance of businesses that simultaneously address income growth, access to electricity, and reinvestment for business expansion. Akita showcased WASSHA's successful collaboration with rural retail stores and the positive impact on local communities. He called for partners to collaborate in a holistic manner to amplify the impact of their intervention in Africa, emphasizing needed partners are those who could work together to provide services to address the muti-layered social challenges rather than to merely sell products.

Ms. Marieme Josephine, Executive Officer at KOBARAX CO., Ltd, and Co-founder & Representative Director of NISEN CO-LABS, shared their vision for groundbreaking solutions and facilitating partnerships between Senegalese and Japanese stakeholders. She emphasized the successful launch of her business had attributed to the identification of a trusted Japanese partner and encouraged young entrepreneurs to expand network with Africa and familiarize themselves with the local contexts and opportunities to polish entrepreneurial endeavors in the continent.

The panel discussions at AFRI CONVERSE 2023 #4 underscored the importance of collaboration and co-creation between Japanese and African entrepreneurs, encouraged young population to feel and seize vibrant opportunities in Africa by physically diving into the continent and expanding connections with its people and to show unique strength as youth to reach out to various stakeholders and actively involve them. Partners presented reconfirmed their willingness to continue to work together in fostering innovation through supporting growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa.

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