Partnerships: the way to go in executing timbuktoo to scale

May 7, 2024

High-level panel discussion at the retreat.

Photo @Oluwagbemisola Fagbemi /UNDP


timbuktoo is the best thing that has happened to Africa and African Governments, and all stakeholders must support it!” These were the enthusiastic words of Professor Banabas Nawangwe, Vice Chancellor of Makerere University in Uganda, during a two-day strategy retreat with key stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem.


The timbuktoo strategy retreat held in Cape Town, South Africa, from 29-30 April 2024, concluded with unanimous agreement on the need to scale up partnerships to boost timbuktoo - the world’s largest initiative to support the innovation ecosystem for African startups.

From academia, government ministers, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN system – to private sector, startups, creatives, and UNDP’s African Influencers for Development (AI4Dev) – participants developed pathways for leaping forward on executing timbuktoo. This will involve expanding the number of University Innovation Pods (Unipods) so far established in 13 countries across Africa; building 10 thematic centres of excellence: fintech (Lagos), edtech (Dakar), creativestech (Capetown), minetech (Lusaka), manutech (Addis Abeba), agritech (Accra), healthtech (Kigali), smartcities (Casablanca), tradetech (Cairo); and Greentech (Nairobi); as well as mobilizing for the catalytic fund to de-risk early stage risk capital for Africa’s startups.  

timbuktoo is for every African youth and we are already creating pipelines which are benefiting young innovators through the timbuktoo Unipods across Africa,” noted Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Immediate Past Vice President of Nigeria, and Guardian of the newly – founded timbuktoo Africa Innovation Foundation. “We are seeking the right partners to come on board and unlock resources for more young innovators”, he added.

timbuktoo is a multi-stakeholder platform to support Africa’s innovation ecosystem. With a pan-African approach to supporting startups, it is poised to deepen partnerships between governments, universities, corporate institutions, development partners, and commercial investors.

timbuktoo is a trailblazer and only organizations like UNDP can put this forward because we tried to do this in the current ecosystem and couldn’t succeed at the scale needed. I am glad that UNDP has brought together all key players to get execution going”, noted Olivia Byanyima, Investment and Finance Expert.

The retreat participants fleshed out the investment philosophy and agreed on strategies to raise capital for the initiative and its execution phase playbook, to advance sustainable development across Africa. 

UNDP is in the business of development impact and timbuktoo fits within its innovation offer. We are fully committed to building the right partnerships with all actors including governments and the private sector to accelerate development through innovation in Africa”, stated Haoliang Xu, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNDP Associate Administrator.

UNDP is supporting the timbuktoo initiative to practically translate its deep belief that innovation can bring solutions to major and complex development issues facing Africa and the world today.  

There are many ordinary young Africans doing extraordinary things with little support in Africa. timbuktoo is born to bridge the gap between talents and opportunities” said Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa. 

Participants in a group photo. Seating: from left is Natalie Jabangwe, Ad Interim Executive Secretary of timbuktoo Africa Innovation Foundation and a member of the African Influencers for Development Super Group and on her left is Professor Barnabas Nawangwe, Vice Chancellor of Makerere University in Uganda. In the middle (6th from left) is Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa and on her right is Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Immediate Past Vice President of Nigeria and Guardian of the timbuktoo Africa Innovation Foundation.

Photo @Oluwagbemisola Fagbemi /UNDP

A section of participants in strategic discussion.

A strategic discussion session.


For media enquiry, please contact:

Ms. Praise Nutakor, Partnerships and Communications Specialist at UNDP