AFRI CONVERSE 2023 #4 Rise of Innovation in Africa: Unleashing Entrepreneurial Solutions for Sustainable Development

December 1, 2023
Event Details

18 December 2023

4:30 pm - 6:00 pm (JST) / 10:30 am - 12:00 (EAT)


The African economies, rich in resources and with a youthful population, present promising opportunities for growth and development. However, some countries still grapple with significant levels of poverty and inequality, hindered by inadequate economic foundations and social infrastructure. In comparison to the global average, most African countries continue to exhibit lower human development indicators, with a few exceptions like Mauritius, Seychelles, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco.

In response to this situation, the private sector assumes a critical role in addressing socio-economic challenges in Africa. Notably, startup companies have experienced rapid growth in recent years, introducing innovations to tackle regional challenges and providing solutions in areas such as education, agriculture, healthcare, energy, and finance. For instance, WASSHA Co., Ltd. collaborates with small-scale retail stores, referred to as kiosks, in East Africa. They offer solar-powered LED lanterns for daily rental, contributing to the alleviation of energy poverty for over 600 million people in Africa living without access to electricity.[1] 

Startups also play an active role in the financial sector, especially in non-urban areas where there is a lack of branches and facilities for traditional banking services. The prevalence of mobile communications in Africa presents opportunities for inclusive finance through digital means. Fintech startups have been particularly active in recent years, enhancing digital financial literacy and services through mobile payment platforms and banking apps, even in off-corridor border locations. Notably, in 2021, 5 out of 7 emerging tech Unicorns were in the digital FinTech sector.[2] 

As highlighted earlier, African startups contribute significantly to solving socio-economic issues, with investments reaching a record $5.4 billion in 2022, marking a 20% increase from 2021 (Africa Business Partners 2022). Additionally, Japanese investment in African startups is on the rise, reflecting a growing interest among Japanese companies and investors in Africa's expanding markets. Several Japanese venture capital and investment funds have dedicated resources to African startups, fostering investments in the African technology sector. Academic institutions and the private sector are also actively supporting startups entering Africa. For instance, the University of Tokyo operates an incubation facility for startups, aiming to apply research and educational outcomes practically and support startups entering Africa. 

Japanese investment in African startups has three significant implications. Firstly, it fuels inclusive economic growth in Africa by leveraging the continent's rapid population growth and economic potential, especially under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). This creates new business opportunities, aligning with the SDGs' commitment to inclusivity. Secondly, it fosters technological innovation, with African startups addressing unique challenges through inventive models, such as the digitization of Village Savings and Loans Associations in borderlands. Investing in these startups amplifies the impact on small and micro-businesses, contributing to the SDGs. Lastly, international cooperation is enhanced through knowledge and capital transfers, enabling Japanese businesses to access African markets, promote local development, and strengthen ties with Africa.

In this context, in November 2021, the Japanese government formulated the "Strategy for Promoting Business in Africa" and adopted a policy to increase investment in African startups. It is anticipated that Japanese companies will collaborate with African startups to create new business opportunities and contribute to Africa's economic development and the resolution of social issues. The session will discuss the future perspective of development on the continent with a focus on investment in startups. High-level panel members will identify potential opportunities for the future of innovation and startup investment by businesses in Africa.

Event Details: 

Date:  Monday 18th December 2023

Time: 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm (JST) / 10:30 am - 12:00 pm (EAT)


  • In-person participation at HASEKO-KUMA HALL at the University of Tokyo 
  •  Online: ZOOM

Participation: Free

Language: English/French/Japanese (Simultaneous interpretation service available)

Co-organizer: JICA, UNDP, The University of Tokyo



  • 10:30~10:33       Introduction
  • 10:33~10:38       Opening Remarks
  • 10:38~10:43       Introductory Remarks
  • 10:43~11:57       Panel Discussion & Q&A Session
  • 11:57~12:00       Reflection and Closing by the moderator


  • Toshiyuki Nakamura, Special Advisor to JICA President
  • Shuichi Nishino, Director, Africa Division I, African Affairs Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan
  • Atsuko Itsuki, Deputy Director, JICA Economic Development Department/Private Sector Development Group
  • Cinzia Tecce, Private Sector Development Specialist, UNDP Malawi Country Office
  • Takao Someya, Professor, Executive Director and Vice President, the University of Tokyo
  • Satoshi Akita, President and CEO, WASSHA Inc.


  • Chika Kondoh, TICAD Partnership Specialist, UNDP Tokyo Office ( 
  • Mai Tomori, TICAD/Africa Department, JICA (  ) Tel: 03-5226-8260