Marcello Schermer: why the future is being built in Africa

Africa is fixing its own problems - and the products it is creating have the potential to achieve global scale.

Warning: Liveblogging. Subject to error, inaccuracy and cries against grammar and syntax. Post will be polished up in the few days after the event.

Marcello Schermer is in charge of international expansion at Yoco. He spoke during the afternoon session of NEXT19 on 20th September 2019.

Africa is often characterised as the continent of poverty and need - or the continent of animal and wildlife. Charities sell that need, saying that for €10 you can save the life of an African child, putting a price on that life.

He believes differently. The future is being built in Africa.

He was inspired by the StartupBus that travelled across Africa, and that led to him getting involved with an incubator and then a fintech startup.

This is a continent with young people and fast-growing economies, often at 10 or 12% a year. 21 of the 30 fastest growing cities in the world are in Africa. By 2030 the five biggest cities in the continent will be the size of Germany.

There’s an idea that countries move on a continuum from undeveloped to developed. That’s not how it works. Countries leapfrog some steps - and often invent other destinations. The “developed world” is less relevant than it once was. The “emerging world” already has the majority of the population. Soon it will have the bigger economy, too.

Africa has the potential to solve problems for the “developing” world that the “developed” world doesn't even realise is a problem.

African problem solvers

Zipline

This company uses drones to send medical supplies between hospitals in Ghana and Rwanda. This skips the whole issue of building our road infrastructure and the logistics to go with it.

Positivo BGH

It manufactures laptops in Rwanda, for use there.

SafeBoda

A motorbikes-on-demand startup in Kenya and Uganda. They’re very popular - as well as fast and affordable. They brought their drivers in to the financial ecosystems, and started offering them bank accounts, petrol discounts - and insurance. it takes an industry that existed in the dark, and lifted it into the formal sector.

The scale opportunity

In many cases these problems are found all over Africa - or elsewhere in the developing world. There’s huge opportunity for scale there. We are moving into a world where we — Europeans and Americans — will be in the minority, and creating cities and products that look nothing like those in Hamburg or London.

We never had a monopoly on innovation - and that’s more clear than ever.

Nobody is sitting there waiting for somebody to come and fix their problems. Stop trying to make Africa like us. Start learning the lessons we can learn from there.