As technological innovation and entrepreneurship have continued to rise in Africa, East Africa has had its contributory share to the African tech story; with innovations like Kenya’s M-Pesa that has redefined the mobile money narrative while Tanzania’s Off-Grid Electric is pushing African funding barriers with a recent $55 million raise.
On the social innovation front, there are several startups building great solutions that are impacting lives for the better across East Africa’s 6 countries. These startups are developing innovative solutions that move the social needle and help advance the ecosystem’s interests.
We take a look at the most interesting startups across the East African countries with the most interesting social innovation activity:
East Africa’s most populous nation has a well-documented corruption problem, one that has spawned the likes of Mzalendo, a civic startup that leverages technology to “keep an eye on the Kenyan parliament” by providing data and information on government activities to foster public participation. Of course, one cannot talk about social innovation in Kenya without talking about Ushahidi, the platform originally created for crisis reporting but is now used for things like election monitoring and disaster reports. Code For Kenya is another startup doing great work. With a slew of tech solutions designed to help the government be more responsive to Kenyans, Code For Kenya is decidedly making an impact.
With government spending (and borrowing) climbing over the past decade, Uganda’s debt servicing costs are expected to rise in the coming years and this could affect the ability of the government to fund infrastructure projects. It’s against this backdrop that platforms like M-Omulimisa have been born. M-Omulimisa allows Ugandans report service delivery gaps including impassable roads, bridges that have washed away, absentee school teachers, low quality building construction at schools, among other things. The platform was created by another civic organisation that is doing great work – Women Of Uganda Network, which has promoted and supported the innovative use of ICT among women as a tool to collectively share information and address local problems since 2000. With Uganda’s unemployment rate being the highest in Africa, innovation hub Outbox, is another entity doing great work by working with the government and other stakeholders to build capacity among Uganda’s youth.
Perhaps East Africa’s latest poster child for tech adoption, Rwanda’s civic space is still nascent but active. Tumenye is Rwanda’s first civic tech startup (founded in 2015) and it is responsible for Sobanukirwa, an access-to-information website that fosters open governance, transparency and accountability in Rwanda. Impact Hub Kigali is also doing great work supporting social entrepreneurs and startups by reinvesting 51% of its profits into social startups.
Although the Tanzanian government’s blogger license debacle was certainly not a good look, the government did set up Wananchi (citizens portal) for receiving complaints from citizens about the quality of public services. Too bad the government didn’t utilise it before requiring bloggers in the country to have a license. Code for Tanzania which “uses data to give citizens hyper-local and hyper-personal information to make better informed decisions about bread & butter issues”, is also doing good work in Tanzania.
As may be apparent now, social innovation and entrepreneurship is very much still in its infancy in East Africa, compared to other parts of the continent. That said, it is refreshing to know that there are people that are doing the work. With better collaboration, access to funding and an improved regulatory environment, East Africa’s innovators are ready for the challenge.