Mark Zuckerberg in Nigeria: Impact and the Need to Put Innovation at the Centre of Sustainable Development

Image: Wikimedia Creative Commons 2.5

As Nigeria’s economy goes into recession, it is so evident that the business of government and politicking has never helped the country move forward; rather we are continuously moving backwards. We are a country that does not invest in the technology and innovation hence we don’t invest in the future and so the future becomes very bleak. This also evident from the recent Global Innovation Index which ranks the innovation performance of 128 countries and economies around the world, based on 82 indicators. In the report  African countries like Mauritius, South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi made the list of top innovative countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mauritius takes the top spot among all economies in the region (53), followed by South Africa (54), Kenya (80th), Rwanda (83), Mozambique (84), Botswana (90), Namibia (93), and Malawi (98) and Nigeria(114) with all our human and material resources. Just imagine that. It is quite unfortunate!

Image: Wikimedia Creative Commons 2.5
Image: Wikimedia Creative Commons 2.5

I think one of the things that will revive the economy will be genuine investment in young Nigerians who are driving technology and innovation across the non-oil sectors. These are the people that are building innovative businesses in the Yaba area of Lagos and across many cities in Nigeria, with the pioneering efforts and support of the technology hubs like the Co-Creation Hub and the Tony Elumelu Foundation. They are the ones that have attracted global recognition and the attention of Mark Zuckerberg.

Mr. Zuckerberg, at 32, is the CEO and co-Founder of Facebook. His estimated net worth according to Wikipedia is US$53.7 billion, making him the 5th richest person in the world and that Facebook is being used by almost 2 billion people globally shows you how important a personality Mark is and the significance in his unannounced visit to Nigeria.

Zuckerberg, in his interaction with the tech community in Lagos, said that the energy he sees in the young Nigerians leaves him with no doubt that this is where the future will be built in Africa. On why he is visiting, He said “am visiting to meet these young entrepreneurs and engineers in Lagos who are building stuffs and to learn about what they are building and how to support tech development and entrepreneurship across Africa.” This is a big encouragement and inspiration to many young tech entrepreneurs in Nigeria.

One of the obvious benefits of his visit is that this has given the international media a positive news to write about Nigeria and also an opportunity to beam light into the startup ecosystem in Nigeria, hence the global recognition that comes with it.

Another impact of Mark’s August visit is that it will open more opportunities for foreign investments into the Nigerian technology and startup ecosystem. It is also important to mention that his visit will certainly reinforce his belief in Nigeria and Africa at large with several investments his company has made in Nigeria; one of such is the US$24 Million investment made by the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation in Andela, a startup co-founded by a Nigerian. It’s worthy to note that many other startup companies  like, Paga, IrokoTV, Jobberman, Wakanow, Afrinolly, Wecyclers, etc., have also put Nigeria on the global news chart and have attracted foreign investments. They have also provided many direct and indirect employment opportunities to many Nigerians. This is where the opportunity to grow the economy is.

Others have also argued that Mark’s visit will definitely lead to brain drain in the Nigeria startup ecosystem, which is quite inevitable. Perhaps his visit will spur the government to understand the need to invest in technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship across Agriculture, Energy, Manufacturing, Financial Services, Infrastructure Development, Education, Health, Solid Minerals and then deepening ICTs and Emerging technologies. This is the opportunity that Facebook as a company has seen. Of course about 18 million Nigerians use Facebook.

Nigeria needs to turn her huge potentials around mobile and mobile computing to drive great innovation in FinTech, ecommerce and social commerce. Experts have already said that in 2016, Financial Technology will grow exponentially in emerging markets including Nigeria. The application of mobile in Agriculture, Health, Education, mcommerce is largely untapped.

There are great opportunities for innovations around renewable, alternative energy or green energy sources. We have abundance of natural materials often looked at as challenges, that can be converted into renewable energy. We need to start building and supporting companies that will explore these alternative sources of energy production and power Nigeria.

When it comes to issues like this and Nigeria, there are so much to talk and argue about but I would like to conclude by saying the situation right now calls for greater and urgent need for the government, the private sector, the academics, and the entrepreneurs to come together and collaborate and that’s why forums like the Nigeria Innovation Summit which will hold in November in Lagos becomes key to discuss these issues and the way forward with global support. This is the right time to direct our focus and invest in Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Written by
Ndukaku Kenneth Omeruo
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