AFRICANGLOBE – Africa is abuzz with innovative ideas, fueled by the spread of the Internet and mobile phones. The continent leapfrogged the rest of the world with mobile money and is leading the pack in other fields like microfinance and alternative energy. East Africa is right there at the top of Africa’s regions to watch.
With a 150 million-strong population, a rapidly growing economy, and a vibrant, diversified workforce, you can’t help but feel East Africans are on the verge of a major take-off. What many consider challenges and setbacks have become opportunities for innovative (and often young) entrepreneurs to create solutions.
These four startups are leveraging technology to make a significant (and scalable) social impact. They are changing the social fabric as we know it and have the potential to become the next M-Pesa. So in no particular order, here are four of East Africa’s most innovative startups.
Getting around on a motorbike, known as boda bodas in East Africa, is arguably the most common and fastest mode of transport in African cities and towns — and also the most dangerous. By connecting users with vetted riders, SafeBoda is quickly becoming the Uber of motorcycles in Kampala, Uganda. SafeBoda has managed to bridge the gap between people looking for safe, trusted transport and drivers looking for work.
SafeBoda drivers receive extensive training from the police and Red Cross, after which, they are required to wear a helmet and limit passengers to one, instead of packing people on.
The SafeBoda app, available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play, allows users to book a reliable and safe boda boda from their smartphone.
Passengers are advised to wear a helmet, an important safety development considering the majority of motorbike fatalities result from head injuries.
SafeBoda has the potential to scale to other countries in East Africa and beyond — the sooner it expands, the better for thousands of boda boda drivers and passengers.
“Kiptoo is now 3 months old. Your child should now be able to hold his head up while lying on the stomach. Kindly respond yes/no when Kiptoo does this,” reads a text from Totohealth to a parent.
This is one of the SMS messages sent to over 5,000 parents in Kenya registered with Totohealth. The startup helps mothers detect growth abnormalities in children under five years old. Totohealth has also roped in 500 community health volunteers, each covering 80 households.
In regions where health services are out of reach for marginalized communities, timely postnatal care information can mean the difference between life and death. Totohealth’s pilot project in Embakasi, a division of Nairobi, cut infant mortality from 31% to 18%. In practical terms, that’s 13 lives saved per 100 infants.
As a testament to the importance of Totohealth’s mission, the startup claimed the overall prize at the 2015 Connected East Africa Innovation Awards and scooped the Healthcare Delivery category award. Now, Totohealth is seeking US$300,000 to expand the service to Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.
ZoomTanzania is the go-to website for people searching for jobs, selling and buying cars, scouting new property, browsing restaurants, or perusing events and business listings. With over 3 million monthly page views, ZoomTanzania also offers digital marketing, advertising, website development, and search engine optimization.
The platform has grown organically from 2009 and is now the most-visited English website in Tanzania (and third in the country). Its impressive performance attracted investment from Swiss multinational media company Ringier, which acquired a majority stake in the classifieds platform in 2014.
With hundreds of small businesses listed on ZoomTanzania, the online platform is creating a critical (and affordable) connection between buyers and sellers, and in the process, transforming how small businesses access markets. The ultimate winners on the platform are Tanzanian consumers, who are getting the best deals by comparing what competing businesses offer, and job-seekers, who are finding new opportunities through ZoomTanzania.
Years before Mark Zuckerberg spearheaded Internet.org to promote affordable access to the Internet, HeHe was already bringing connectivity to mobile phones through text messages.
HeHe was born out of the limited access to information in Rwanda. Clarice Iribagiza, together with three friends, founded Hehe (which means “where” in Kinyarwanda) in 2010. The company was one the first startups to create a two-way SMS feedback solution — something governments and companies value. Their work caught the attention of Rwandatel executives, who saw the potential of the interactive text system and partnered with the platform to engage their subscribers.
Months later, the startup inked a deal with the Nike Foundation to provide an SMS platform for the Girl Hub program, which aims to “unleash girls’ potential” worldwide. Within a month, girls from all over Rwanda sent 10,000 text messages through the HeHe platform with their feedback on the initiative.
Rwandatel later lost its license, but HeHe persevered: In 2012, Iribagiza won the entrepreneurial reality show Inspire Africa and walked away with US$50,000, which she invested in the company. The startup has since pivoted to providing technological solutions to pressing problems and inspiring other Rwandan youths to pursue ICT as a viable career path.
By: Ken Macharia