The Kenya National Innovation Agency (KeNIA) announced its bold 10-year Masterplan earlier this week. But, that was barely the gist of the conversation KeNIA introduced since its inaugural Kenya Innovation Week (KIW) 2021. The launch of the Kenya Innovation Week 2021 report was less about them putting together a Masterplan (beginning March 2022 to be launched this November).
While the Masterplan itself is ambitious, it is the opportunities other bodies have to plug into it that will make it sparkle. The Masterplan’s intent is to guide the merging of innovation efforts with solid priorities over a decade with the goal to make the most out of other existing Masterplans. It does not exist in isolation. It is plugged into Vision 2030, the SDGs, and the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063.
Again, you might think of this was the highlight of the launch; the biggest declaration to come out of the KIW and its report. The genius of what KIW is building is the thing every industry needs more than the capacity to make a difference in society or even make money.
It is building an ecosystem.
‘Ecosystem’ was first used by the British ecologist Arthur Tansley in 1935 to describe the relationship between organisms and their environment. Basically, you cannot talk about animals and plants without talking about where they live and function. It was co-opted by business strategist James F. Moore, who used it “to describe the interconnected business world in a Harvard Business Review article.” Moore brilliantly suggested that companies were never members of a single industry. What they are, is part of a business ecosystem. The word now fittingly applies to “include communities that use shared, scalable resources to pursue challenging objectives and shared interests.”
Here, kaufmann.org states, “The key to building a thriving ecosystem is to connect a community across all its social boundaries: bottom-up, top-down, and outside-in. Ecosystem builders must seek opportunities for different groups in the community to come together, learn each others’ stories, and work together.” Innately, building an ecosystem takes time, but conversely, we cannot afford to the time we do have.
Kaufmann sees the innovation that lives inside an ecosystem builder. They “lead in a different way than we often imagine a traditional CEO … might act. Effective ecosystem builders don’t lead by decree. Instead, they lead from behind by convening; empowering others; being thoughtful listeners and connectors; and mentoring and inspiring (and sometimes coaxing) others to help each other and engage. Because they are visible in the community, ecosystem builders can have an outsized impact on culture by modeling values. It is through our own behaviours that we show others how to behave. We need to model the future we wish to see.”
KeNIA CEO, Dr Tonny Omwansa, in his introduction to the KIW 2021 report reflects this back to the community. “We set it up (KIW) as a flagship innovation forum for the country. We strongly believe that gathering on an annual basis to assess and celebrate our progress as we build momentum for the subsequent year is one way to sustain interest, enthusiasm, and support on matters of innovation and societal transformation. The inaugural KIW held between 6 and 10 December 2021, laid the foundation, that will grow into an international high-impact forum for years to come.”
He added, “KeNIA’s vision is to be a key enabler of socio-economic development through innovation and, the mission is to develop and manage a dynamic national innovation system that facilitates the commercialisation of ideas. As part of the efforts to build synergies and collaborations in the ecosystem, KeNIA will run an annual “Kenya Innovation Week.”
Picture this. In How To Build An Ecosystem Strategy, Greg Satell writes about IBM’s inflection point; how they had missed the minicomputer revolution. Now, says Satell, IBM finds itself at yet another inflection point. Only now the difference is interdependence. IBM is “building a collaborative network to develop quantum computing.” Why? For the same reason no one can build an ecosystem alone. It is simply too complex.
A report by Accenture Strategy discovered the very same thing following “a survey of 1,252 business leaders from diverse industries across the world to better understand the degree to which companies are capturing ecosystem opportunities.” The survey found companies are pursuing new business models to navigate, or even lead, disruption.
Again, this needs a heavy dosage of consensus. Executives can only achieve their targets and disrupt industries if they looked at three things:
- The ecosystem strategy: Participating in an ecosystem allows for innovation, increases revenue growth, access to new markets and customers.
- The ecosystem business model: New business models thrive in a strong ecosystem because it clearly identifies customers, markets, channels, and revenue models.
- The ecosystem operating model: Executives struggle with ceding control over to the ecosystem, something that has to happen for an ecosystem to be successful. It requires a shift in mindset.
The 2018 study believes in the next three to five years, ecosystems will be responsible for creating new competitive advantages.
McKinsey’s Building A Tech-Services Ecosystem To Deliver Products – Not Applications, advocates and urges CIOs to summon up this ecosystem magic. Keeping in mind the role, or rather, the rise and rise of technology during the pandemic prompting some CIOs to rethink providers they engage with and how. The interconnectivity of the tech space is in actuality, a web drawing in all aspects of tech together, allowing the entire industry to benefit.
“According to our experience with dozens of companies, businesses can increase strategic flexibility and lower costs by combining elements of the tech ecosystem—an integrated network of providers—and enriching them with existing proprietary features and functionality,” reports McKinsey. They also identify parallel benefits to Accenture’s where organisations can innovate, access new technologies and scarce capabilities at scale, reduce time to market for their products, services, and solutions, increase flexibility, down to increased stability and security.
An ecosystem that works for start-ups and entrepreneurs consists of the public and private sectors, academia, and civil society working in tandem, each pulling their own weight. In the real world, these would be coopetition, collaborations, and partnerships. Kadri Humal Nayal, Honorary Consul of Estonia in Kenya, a country whose ecosystem places them almost at the top of digital sophistication indicated that it is good to be at the start of innovation. “Kenyans are innovative with a lot of connection. We need partnerships to work together.”
Hell-bent on strengthening the ecosystem as fast as possible by looking to make it as complex as it can, the body will not be measuring incremental changes. Instead, they will make quantum changes. It is why KeNIA encourages other hubs to also connect the dots of which there is quite a substantial number. They are offering it up to everyone to play a role under the KIW umbrella. The key is focusing on industry pain points, attracting investors, building businesses. They are not seen as events. Instead, these add up to ecosystem building blocks. An example – if East Africa thrives, Kenya thrives.
The key objectives will be to promote growth as clusters, each carrying its own strength and weight. There isn’t a coordinated way of doing it so far. Investors can’t measure the impact of their money. However, with integrated structure and accurate monitoring, nothing will be done in isolation.
The Masterplan (2023-2033) is a legacy document creating a blueprint on how innovation can accelerate the development of the country. It also requires diversity in brainpower. Dr Shikoh Gitau aptly connects the Masterplan to the ecosystem. “We need to measure how we are doing as an ecosystem. What cannot be measured cannot be counted. Measuring ourselves needs to be consistent; done on an annual basis.”