Nairobi, 15 March 2021—UN-Habitat and Connected Places Catapult recently organised the webinar “Urban innovation in Action” to promote urban innovation in Africa through a dialogue between the private sector, the public sector and the civil society.

The webinar was attended by over 200 people, including students, university lecturers/researchers, tech hub representatives, urbanists, economists and representants from local governments. The webinar helped them to learn more about the innovation ecosystem in African cities.

In her presentation Ms Nicola Yates, the CEO at Connected Places Catapult, gave a brief introduction of her organisation, which has been defined as the UK centre for excellence for Smart Cities and Mobility. Eduardo Moreno, Head of Knowledge and Innovation at UN Habitat, then shared some reflections on urban innovation in Africa, analysing how innovation is helping to transform cities in Africa and the main challenges, including the funding gap.

Connected Places Catapult shed light on the Urban Links Africa Programme, an initiative aimed at facilitating a sustainable collaboration between the United Kingdom, South Africa and Kenya. The Programme brings together cities and tech ecosystems through equitable partnerships and industry investment to address key challenges in African cities and improve citizens’ lives.

During the first roundtable moderated by the chairman of the event, Sir Michael Bear, city representatives from Johannesburg (South Africa) and Kisumu (Kenya), experts from Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship -  a tech hub, civil society organization Kenyan Alliance of Residents Association, and consulting company Hatch discussed the opportunities and challenges of urban innovation in Africa. The complementarity of the public and private actors was highlighted, as well as the need of a proactive entrepreneurial approach. The panelists identified that the political landscape, the economic/financial constraints as well as the need for a societal change are the main barriers which prevent innovation from amplifying and increasing its impact in the cities.

The second roundtable, moderated by Thomas Chiramba, senior Human Settlements Officer in UN-Habitat, discussed how donors can help in addressing the major challenges related to innovation in Africa: sustainability and scalability. Participants included the EU delegation to Kenya, the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the Botnar Foundation and the Tony Elumelu Foundation. The panelists recognised the need that innovation is meaningful for the communities. Donors can play a role in creating the space for people to focus on the social or environmental value of the project, as highlighted by the representative of the Kenyan office of the European Union. They are key partners to unlocking Africa’s potential, supporting young people (eg. Future Cities challenge funds from Botnar Foundation) or African entrepreneurs (Entrepreneurship programme from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, or Jobs & Cities programme from the AFD), to amplify innovation and maximize the social and environmental impact of projects. The need for innovative financing mechanisms for urban innovation were also identified by a panelist, to better support human and social development in the African cities.

The recording of the event is available here.