Emeka Okafor is a leader in the African maker and entrepreneurship space. For over two decades, he has connected innovators with the resources they need to access local, regional, and global markets. He has taken on a new challenge as Ecosystem Accelerator Lead working with the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation at the Office of the President in Sierra Leone.
The ecosystem strengthening is made possible by a grant from the UNICEF Innovation Fund in New York as part of the ongoing partnership between DSTI and UNICEF in Sierra Leone. The Innovation Fund invests in problem solvers, increases open source intellectual property and grows solutions that can bring results for children.
Okafor is a venture strategist and entrepreneur from Nigeria by way of New York. He is co-founder of the TED Fellows Program and the lead curator of TED Global in Africa. He has advised governments and world leaders on innovation and entrepreneurship systems and policy for Africa, including President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and the U.S. State Department.
Okafor works with DSTI’s team to plan, promote, manage, and support the development of a collaborative and enabling ecosystem for the growth of entrepreneurial activity.
In the most recent Global Entrepreneurship Index released in 2019, Sierra Leone ranked 131 of 137 countries, scoring just 12% on product innovation, startup skills, technology absorption, human capital and other indicators used to measure the health of the entrepreneurship ecosystem-a network of self-regulating attitudes, resources, actors and infrastructure in any given country. Understanding the importance of innovation and enterprise to value creation and economic development, H.E. President Julius Maada Bio launched DSTI with a mandate to transform one of Africa’s least developing countries into a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship.
“We hope that this work will impact those who are most disadvantaged; young people and children as much as it would be of advantage to those who are more privileged. If you look at it as the components that make up the human body, nothing works if everything isn’t working well,” said Okafor.
“If you want to make improvements for those who are more vulnerable, like children, improve the ecosystem to allow incomes to rise, allow for the creation of wealth, which ultimately leads to greater revenues for the government that they’re able to reinvest into key public needs.”
Okafor and DSTI’s ecosystems team will work to strengthen Sierra Leone’s ecosystem across industry, manufacturing, agro-processing, tourism, and technology. The objective is to focus on reducing inefficiencies while bringing together different stakeholders and components that work together. So far, the team has engaged with government agencies, SME organizations, and entrepreneurs to listen and learn. The output of these engagements will be used to build a framework that will form the backbone of the ecosystem map.
“Once this is done, the next phase is local, regional, and global resource mobilization,” said Okafor.
“When you bring the right kind of people together and the right kind of people could be just as much a market woman who is exceptional at selling palm oil in a rural district, as it could be someone who’s coding in Freetown. I don’t make that distinction. For me, it’s about finding producers and creators to knit together productive networks. And when you have government backing as you do here to create the policies and regulations to remove impediments, then acceleration can and does happen quickly.”
The mapped ecosystem will be a dynamic tool that will increase and facilitate the connection of producers to resources and give policymakers the data they need to improve service delivery. Furthermore, it will place local entrepreneurs and investors in a better position to identify opportunities in Sierra Leone.