Digital Innovation & Africa


Tuesday, April 11, 2017, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


Media Lab Silverman Skyline Room E14-648, 75 Amherst Street, Cambridge, MA 02142

A new kind of African citizenry is consolidating itself right now, and it has a lot to do with the Internet. With each new mobile phone, with each new wireless connection, with each new social media interaction, the continent continues to embrace the most disruptive digital technologies. The growing accessibility of digital solutions, many of them homegrown, provides new models and opportunities for self-organized communities, political activism, and economic growth. It also raises new questions: who is providing the access: governments, local telcos, or American conglomerates?

As mobile money innovator M-Pesa turns ten this year, hot on its heels are an impressive number of “Made in Africa” solutions that claim to revolutionize the education, agriculture, health or energy industries. Digital technologies in Africa are all about being frugal, agile, and collaborative. It’s about starting from scratch, doing more with less, and growing faster. But are they really helping to solve Africa’s global challenges and, in return, do they provide a new model for development?

In 2011, MIT Sloan Associate Professor Tavneet Suri wrote that “technological progress or productivity improvements are the only way to have long-run sustained increases in income.” Still, many observers are disappointed in the pace of change, as many underserved African populations fail to see the new jobs and tangible results that are coming out of this new wave of tech.

This roundtable at MIT will explore and interrogate the socio-economic, cultural and geopolitical consequences of Africa’s leapfrog into new technologies.