Hosted by Strathmore University, @ilabAfrica this year hosted the MIT Open Mic Africa Summit, is an annual summit that celebrates the goals championed by the Legatum center in MIT alongside the Mastercard Foundation.
The peak of the summit is the award of the Zambezi prize, an annual prize for two hundred thousand dollars in in cash prizes and a chance to attend an entrepreneurial boot camp hosted in MIT. The prize is awarded to an entrepreneurial venture that incorporates financial inclusion through both financial technology but also creates social change. Megan Mitchell, who appeared on behalf of the Legatum center emphasised that the end product of the venture had to be impactful on the society. Over 500 applications were received for the Zambezi prize and in narrowing down the applicants, certain criteria, as explained by Ashley Onyango, the program manager for the Mastercard Foundation had to be met. This included the combination of problem solving with economic growth in Africa, providing accessible, affordable financial inclusion to the unemployed and underemployed, and assisting in lifting people out of poverty. The boot camp, a part of the prize, is instrumental in shaping the leadership and entrepreneurial skills of the prize winner as well as enable them to create a network to better scale their venture.
This year’s event was marked with vison talks, short pitches and of course, the promotion of the ten finalists in the running for the Zambezi prize and its award, at the conclusion of the event.
The vision talks focused on entrepreneurs that discussed not only their successes, but also their losses and the lessons that stemmed from them. Rachel Balshan, the Deputy CEO of MFS Africa, detailed her experience in building the company and learning how to make decisions that better shaped the future of MFS Africa and led them more clearly to their goals.
In addition, up and coming entrepreneurs were given a chance to pitch their ideas for ninety seconds, enabling them to get a platform and potential connections to drive their entrepreneurial ventures.
The finalists of the prize included agricultural ventures that targeted smallholders and enabled them to access services such as investment capital, access to small loans and micro finance, real time agricultural education, access to household goods for women and the opportunity to infuse waste collection with a redeemable point system.
The winner of the prize was WALA, a venture set up to bring digital banking to underbanked consumers in Africa using a combination of cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence.
In all, the summit exemplified the overarching goals of the prize and spurred discussion about how to create innovative, financially inclusive technology that will spur the growth of smallholders in Africa.