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Dolfin’s response to Covid-19

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Postcard from Ghana

Stephanie Boateng, Trainee Solicitor at Dolfin, reports from West Africa’s innovation hub, where she previously lived and worked.

19 February 2020 / Macro & Markets

In the past, Ghana has probably been best known for its valuable natural resources, including gold, diamonds and industrial minerals. But these days a new resource is starting to become more evident: the wealth of local tech talent.

In recent years, numerous promising start-ups have emerged all across the country. Some are focused on the all-important agriculture sector, such as Agrocenta, which connects smallholder farmers to markets and finance; and Farmerline, which offers voice-enabled and text-based weather forecast and market prices. Others are helping to develop newer sectors, such as online marketing specialists like Kudobuzz and OMG Digital and e-payments firm ExpressPay. Snoocode helps to get around the fact that many people in Ghana lack a formal address, while Asoriba is an online management service for churches.

Some of the biggest international technology giants have recognised the potential of the country. In June 2018, Google announced that it was going to set up an artificial intelligence (AI) research centre in the capital, Accra. The centre duly opened its doors in April last year, acting as a hub for AI researchers and engineers investigating the potential of machine learning. It is part of a network of similar research centres in major cities around the world, including New York, Paris, Tokyo and Zurich.

Hothousing talent

Ghana’s local tech scene is being boosted by support from local institutions such as the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology, iSpace and ImpactHub Accra – just three of some two dozen tech hubs now operating around the country, according to a recent survey by mobile telecoms industry trade body the GSMA. This is not just a story about Accra, though. There are hubs in other parts of the country too, such as Kumasi Hive in the country’s second city Kumasi, and the Ho Node Hub in the Volta region, close to the border with Togo. Local education institutions like the University of Ghana, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Ashesi University also play an important role in fostering talent.

Technology clearly has a big role to play in achieving the government’s goals.

The growth of the technology sector fits in well with the government’s wider “Ghana beyond Aid” agenda, which aims to improve the country’s economic productivity by taking steps such as developing its technological capacity, expanding its manufacturing base and modernising its agriculture sector. Technology clearly has a big role to play in all these areas. To achieve the goals the government has set out, much of the drive will need to come from the private sector and it will need a combination of domestic and international investment coupled with the development of local talent.

The Ghanaian government also launched a $10m initiative known as the National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan in June 2017, with the aim of providing support for start-ups and small businesses. Among other things, it runs an incubation and acceleration programme offering subsidised workspace and other services for entrepreneurs and young companies, and provides grants to start-ups. In July last year it ran a 30-day training scheme for 12,000 people as part of the business support programme, with the instruction taking place at incubation hubs in all 16 regions of the country.

Beyond the borders

The prospects for emerging tech businesses are also being helped by the wider economic environment. Ghana’s economy has been among the fastest-growing of any in Africa in recent years. In December, the IMF gave a positive review of the country’s prospects, saying that GDP was expected to grow by around 7 per cent in 2019 and the “outlook remains favourable”. It expects growth to average around 5 per cent in the coming years, with the non-oil sector performing better than the oil sector between now and 2022.

Ghana may become better known as a centre of innovation and a hub for enterprise.

While the country still has some way to go to improve the conditions for businesses, it is doing better than most of its peers. The Ghana Investment Promotion Centre notes that Ghana was ranked as the best place for doing business in West Africa in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report 2019. The World Economic Forum has also ranked Ghana as the most competitive economy in the West African region in its Global Competitiveness Index.

In the future, the country may become even better known as a centre of innovation and a hub for enterprise, perhaps even eclipsing its reputation as a provider of natural resources.

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