Obama to push for greater innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa

During the planned 25-26 July 2015 sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi, Obama will not just be visiting the land of his father for the first time as President, but more importantly he will be bringing to Africa an important discourse on entrepreneurship and development.  While his grandmother Sarah Obama has promised to cook for him a feast of African foods, African youths are planning a different feast: of the genius of African innovation and entrepreneurship! Obama will in July join Uhuru Kenyatta (a youthful president by African standards) in networking with innovators, entrepreneurs, financial, and other important actors in the evolving story of how technology in the twenty-first century will be at the heart of replacing poverty with prosperity in the world.  African entrepreneurs will also have a chance to measure their progress against that of others from around the world - with over 1200 delegates expected to mingle with the powerful in business and politics in Nairobi. 

The President's Spark initiative has an ambitious target of raising over US$1 billion by 2017 in order to finance new businesses and social entrepreneurs - with most funding expected to benefit  women and those under 35. In the twilight of his second Presidential term, this is a worthy cause in a world where the major concern is how to create jobs for the rising numbers of young people - whose options are either joblessness with hopelessness and despair, or creativity that expands economic opportunities for all; especially in the developing world. It will be the hope of many that once in retirement, he will continue to engage deploy his charisma, skills, energy, and persuasive skills in the cause of development driven by technology, innovation, and entrepreneurs; and committed to a more inclusive economic development and social order.

During Obama's t visit to Kenya in August 2006, he generated much excitement; but also made important observations on the nature of Africa's development.  In particular, he was critical of ethnic-based tribal politics which in his eyes "stifles innovation and fractures the fabric of the society" because "instead of opening businesses and engaging in commerce, people come to rely on patronage and payback as a means of advancing".  For Obama, this politics "is rooted in the bankrupt idea that the goal of politics or business is to funnel as much of the pie as possible to one's family, tribe, or circle with little regard for the public good"  It is this public good that takes entrepreneurs to the market, using innovations coming from the best minds in a country irrespective of their language, colour, religion, or social class.  In that instance, Obama was selling the American dream to the descendants of his fatherland. 

Back home after the Nairobi 2006 trip, Obama went on to successfully campaign for Presidency - and ushered in a global mood of optimism on the potential of humans to rise above biological differences and focus on abilities. At his inauguration on 20 January 2009, he reminded his own citizens that in spite of the difficult period they had endured during the 2008 Food, Fuel, and Financial crisis, it was time to "pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work for remaking America" .  In the seven years of his presidency, he oversaw the formulation and implementation of innovative solutions to the multiple crises facing American industries in banking, health, motor, energy, and others.  His administration has come to be defined by a single-minded focus on technology-driven renewable energy development strategy - and American industries have as result registered impressive recovery and citizens are feeling more hopeful than they did in 2008.

Obama's campaign slogan was "Yes We Can" and he went to to show that with an understanding of technology and societal problems, innovative solutions are possible.  In 2015, this spirit of "Yes We Can" needs to make major inroads into our community of innovators and entrepreneurs to produce solutions and products that tackle the daily problems denying Africans an opportunity to live fulfilled lives.

With this anticipated Obama visit,  innovators and entrepreneurs stand challenged!