Go Local: Embracing Global Tech Entrepreneurs

Africa innovation labs

Today, the sources of media and technology innovation for emerging markets are moving away from the traditional centers of Silicon Valley, New York and Seattle.

Using powerful and flexible open tools, innovative centers are spreading across the globe to places like Dakar, Accra, Lagos, Bangkok, Dubai and Lahore. This new class of innovators is creating products and services made for their local markets that respond to the particular culture and interests of their local audience. The trend of “go local” in digital products and services is a growing, and it’s an important one for media companies to understand for their future.

In his seminal book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steve Johnson pointed to the engine of “crowd-based, decentralized environments” in driving new products and services. This is because their “openness creates powerful opportunities for good ideas to flourish.”

Young men and women around the world are creating innovative new products that are made in their own image and for their local markets. Social networks such as 2Go (Nigeria), or communication suites like Swaara (India) or WhatsApp (Dubai) are defining the next generation of technology for US international media (USIM) markets.

Africa innovation hubs map L

Once the province of geographic anchors that had a unique combination of power, money and education (e.g. Silicon Valley, NYC), this openness is spreading across the globe powered by open source technology, cloud-based services and increasingly improved technical education for new classes of engineers and entrepreneurs. (It is important to note that the improvement of technical education is in no small part powered by new collaborations between established and emerging market universities, as well as technology companies investing in employees.) Entrepreneurs in emerging markets have the same advantages today with access to low-cost computing and software resources as their Western counterparts.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that emerging market entrepreneurs and innovators face a number of barriers not faced by Western counterparts, such as poor electricity, high data costs and low digital literacy rates among audiences. But these barriers present an opportunity for organizations like the Broadcasting Board of Governors to add value.

As a media organization, we at BBG have a vast audience of over 200 million weekly and a world-class distribution system that includes a global broadcast and digital infrastructure. We also have access to a large network of both thinkers and doers in the digital space around the world.

These assets form the basis for an exchange of value. Rather than just an opportunity to take new thinking and energy and apply it to our mission, the heart of any partnership is that all are advantaged. As a global media organization, we have the ability to accommodate many partners, giving them the support of enterprise-quality technical infrastructure, mass audiences and ability to access the vibrant channels of radio and television. In turn, through these partnerships we can become more agile, relevant and have clearer insight into ever-changing markets.

The Co-Creation Hub in Lagos

The Co-Creation Hub in Lagos

USIM’s future and competitiveness depends on our capacity to innovate. We need to move flexibly and fast—increasingly, that means we need to be plugged in to new innovation centers around the world.

In the coming months and weeks ODDI will look at ways we can be connected to this new class of innovators. Perhaps we will become consortium members or angel funders or just good partners with the next generation of entrepreneurs. At a minimum ODDI and USIM needs an inside understanding of how markets, audiences and technology are evolving together. This could take the form of building a close relationship with an innovation center to get first look at the technology, collaborating with developers on open source technology, or partnering with young companies to enhance our presence in key markets.

ODDI needs to continue to evolve and go beyond the four walls of its inside-the-beltway HQ. Increasingly, we need to go where tech meets markets and be that much more aware of how we take the smart thinking of these hives of innovation and turn them into expanding our ability to meet audiences where they are going to be.

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Rob Bole is the Director of Innovation for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow him on Twitter: @rbole.

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