African software has had some qualified global successes, but more often than not these home-grown innovations don’t “take” well in other territories, says Wesley Lynch, CEO of RealmDigital.
To overcome this, users need to think broadly. While African solutions are often preferred when dealing with African problems, software developers must also identify global applications for their solutions, if they are to have global success.
Decoding failure
M-PESA, the globally famous mobile payment solution, was launched in Kenya in 2007. Since then it has become one of the most famous and successful mobile money services to date. At last count, more than 17-million Kenyans were using it to “send money home”, as part of a growing and evolving range of transactions.
But the model has not taken hold nearly as well anywhere else. Even in neighbouring Tanzania it has faltered, and in South Africa a re-launch of the business became necessary when pricing, distribution and other problems hampered rollout.
By contrast, Fundamo, the South African mobile banking, has had more predictable success in emerging markets, mainly in the East. But this, too, has not been unqualified. Fundamo’s solutions have had such success that they have been acquired by Visa.
It is the inability of some African technologies to acclimatise globally while others flourish that users need to decode and address.
Solution without a problem
The problem is an unjustified focus on transplanting successful solutions in other territories. Developers need to examine whether an African success story will find global application, or whether it is so far removed from first world problems that tweaking it for success would make it a totally different product.
Another mistake is to take the most ambitious solutions to other territories, only to see them fail in more competitive, technologically-advanced markets. Users should focus on the ones that find great traction anywhere, for example mobile games and entertainment, because of their universal appeal.
Perhaps the question shouldn’t be “how do users take a uniquely African solution onto a global stage?” but rather, “hat unique pressing problems exist for which developers can find solutions with wider application?”
Obviously, the application need not be the same. An African problem, for instance adherence to TB or AIDS treatment schedules, might only find European success if it is tweaked for lifestyle-related applications.
Will it fly?
Determining whether a solution addresses a universal problem – or at least a commonly encountered similar problem – requires critical examination of not just its domestic launch failures, but also its successes. Are developers taking the conditions that guaranteed its success for granted? Are they present or at minimum replicable in the target market?
Virtuous cycle
Only when African innovation finds global success more regularly will users begin to build on the gains of breakthrough innovations.
Foreign earnings will flow in, contributing to growth in the service industries, and developers will gain greater standing in global software communities, with exportable innovations and increased participation.
This in turn will stimulate more innovation, and a virtuous cycle of innovation-led growth will be set in motion. But users first have to know what they’re working towards.