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African solutions for global problems

Africa, including South Africa has seen the development of software that has enjoyed international success, but not all local innovations take off in other countries. WESLEY LYNCH, CEO of Realmdigital believes that the reason for this is because we’re aiming too low.

The old adage stands true ‚”we need African solutions for African problems‚”. But that does not mean that we shouldn’t aim a little wider and develop global applications for our products.

M-PESA (the mobile payment solution from Kenya) is a good example of a home-grown African solution that, unfortunately, does not have global reach. Half of Kenya’s GDP runs through the platform, and it’s still growing. But all attempts at expansion (into countries such as Tanzania and South Africa) have failed to replicate their local success. A lot of thought has gone into exactly why this happened, with theories ranging from pricing to distribution issues, but the simple truth is that it was not needed outside the borders of Kenya, where there are more sophisticated retail and banking systems in place.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are companies like Fundamo (a South African mobile banking platform) that has enjoyed wider success in emerging markets, particularly the East.

Perhaps the difference between solutions that flounder and the ones that are successful has to do with a broader perspective. We cannot simply take a successful solution and expect it to work everywhere and anywhere else in the world. I can compare it to gardening – transplanting something that works in one climate does not guarantee that it will flourish anywhere else. Before moving your business across the border, first find out whether or not the solution has global potential. If what you are offering is too far removed from first world problems, merely tweaking it won’t be enough to be successful.

I’ve also seen companies take their most ambitious solutions into other territories, only to see them fail in more competitive, advanced markets. It’s better to focus on solutions that find great traction and universal appeal anywhere such as mobile games and entertainment.

Start by asking yourself, ‚”What unique, pressing problems do we have globally for which we can find solutions with a wider application?‚” Don’t just focus on local failures re-examine the successes. Are we taking the conditions that guaranteed its success for granted? Are they present or at minimum replicable in the target market? There is no reason why it can work elsewhere, if the market is receptive to it.

I look forward to seeing more African innovations find global success. Once we gain greater standing in global software communities, and once we start participating in global discussion, we will start stimulating more innovations and doors will start opening across the globe.

Rather than looking for solutions that fit problems, start by looking at the problems and work towards meeting the need.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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