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Let’s rally behind local innovators

The biggest complaint coming from young and eager innovators in Zimbabwe is that often their ideas are stolen.

The biggest complaint coming from young and eager innovators in Zimbabwe is that often their ideas are stolen.

innovators’ hub with John Mokwetsi

A story is told of how one innovator sat in a meeting at one of the giant telecommunication companies in Zimbabwe in which he pitched his idea for live soccer updates using the SMS bulk system or a football application supported by the company.

The young innovator confided recently at a breakfast meeting held by the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology and Courier Services: “At first they looked enthusiastic about it. For a minute I thought this was my moment and I was told that they would come back to me. They never did but went on to launch a similar initiative just a month after I met them. It never really worked because the original idea needed the initiator and that was me.”

The technology world as far as the United States’ celebrated Silicon Valley, a leading hub and startup ecosystem for high-tech innovation and development, is littered with stories that tend to follow a similar pattern.

Take for example Daou and Boyce, democratic political consultants who in 2004 presented to Ariana Huffington and Ken Lerer a plan for a political website, FourteenSixty.com. According to the 2010 complaint, the four had a handshake deal for Daou and Boyce to help build out the site, but as you may have guessed, Huffington and Lerer ran with the idea without them.

And then the most prominent of them all is the story of The Winklevoss twins who famously battled with entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook as they reportedly received a $65 million settlement for their role in creating the social network.

The question that arises is how are we as a country and at individual level are we protecting our ideas?

Perhaps most importantly, how are we helping develop ideas into a final product.

Recently, Information, Communication and Technology and Courier Services minister Supa Mandiwanzira urged local mobile operators to embrace innovation and create bigger globally competitive mobile applications.

Addressing information, communication and technology (ICT) innovators in Harare, Mandiwanzira said major mobile operators had approached his office over the challenges they were facing, notably a decrease in revenue due to the emergence of communication applications such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype.

Mandiwanzira said that this was a wake-up call and the country has to invest in its own innovators, so as to create different applications to boost revenue flows.

“What we need to do is to embrace innovation, but let us begin to do something in this country that can rival, if not better, what is coming through Viber or Skype,” said Mandiwanzira.

He said that the idea was welcomed by operators and they had already crafted plans to raise money to support innovators.

This might after all be the awareness that we want as a country to be able to grow. The idea of seeding money into ventures that contribute to the economy of the country and create jobs, is what an economy like ours needs.

Countries like Kenya have seen their gross domestic product grow because of friendly policies that have grown various sectors, including the ICT industry. The ground has been laid for ideas to bloom.

The idea of this column therefore is to amplify the voice of the innovator at colleges and other spheres of life so that as Zimbabweans, we learn to accommodate the ideas we have that sit in laptops and on drawing boards.

The column will be tracking great locally-produced innovations and profiling the minds behind them. We will also be talking to Zimbabweans in the diaspora who have ideas to flag and are doing amazing things.

l Do you innovators deserve a day in the sun? E-mail: [email protected] or [email protected] can follow me on Twitter @johnmokwetsi and Facebook John Mokwetsi.