Opening Remarks by Deputy Assistant Secretary Duckenfield at DEMO AFRICA, Lagos, Nigeria (September 25, 2014)

DEMOAfrica-Lagos-September252014dHello everyone, and thank you having me here at this exciting and third annual DEMO AFRICA event. Before I get into my remarks, I want to introduce a special message from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is a strong supporter of entrepreneurship initiatives globally and especially here on the continent.

Today kicks off two days full of opportunities to connect with an extraordinary group of entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, and inventors.

From the perspective of the U.S. Department of State, one of the founders of the LIONS AFRICA partnership hosting this event, we see this event as a premier platform for the most innovative companies from across the continent to launch their products and announce to Africa and the world what they have developed.

The LIONS AFRICA partnership is aimed at strengthening and deepening the ecosystem for innovative entrepreneurs across Africa. Along with amazing partners like DEMO Africa, Microsoft, Nokia, VC for Africa, and Venture Hive, just to name a few, we believe in the shared vision that entrepreneurship, particularly technology and innovation start-ups, is a powerful tool for development and for Africa’s economic rise.

By supporting, inspiring and challenging African innovators and entrepreneurs through various LIONS AFRICA initiatives, including DEMO Africa, we are cultivating an innovation ecosystem that enables growth and facilitates new investments.

The U.S. Department of State is engaged in partnerships like LIONS AFRICA and countless other programs around the world to promote what we believe is one of America’s greatest strengths – entrepreneurship and innovation.

In the U.S., we have an ecosystem in place – from universities to our legal framework to policies – that allows talent and great business ideas to be recognized and to flourish. So the LIONS AFRICA partnership aims not only to enable the entrepreneurs themselves, but to help strengthen the ecosystem that will allow these entrepreneurs to take risks and implement life-changing technologies.

By promoting entrepreneurship, especially among students and young professionals – in other words, the next generation of innovators and inventors – and harnessing their energy and creativity, we are contributing to a culture of innovation and collaboration that creates opportunity and economic prosperity.

A great number of African countries are demonstrating real promise toward a market-led economic system, which will pave the way for inward investment opportunities and economic growth. Both the research and evidence support the case for Africa’s emergence into the global economic landscape.

The ecosystem is particularly ready for high tech start-ups.

And today, real startups are being created in Africa. They are developing real-world solutions worthy of real investment and global attention. This is the rise of the African economy that provides an opportunity for key players to forge partnerships for mutual economic benefits.

So given all of this, NOW is the time for African tech entrepreneurs to flourish and they’re doing so through platforms like DEMO AFRICA.

To that end, the LIONS AFRICA partnership promotes a value chain, which we refer to as the 4Cs of engagement, capacity, connectivity, credibility, and capital.

And buoyed by the traction of this partnership, we’re bringing on new partners and joining forces on initiatives that really propel the next generation of technology and community leaders to the fore.

Over the last year, the LIONS AFRICA partnership launched the afriCoderDojo initiative, with two pilot programs in Tanzania and Nigeria. AfriCoderDojo is an initiative aimed at introducing 21st century coding skills to Africa’s youth by teaching young Africans to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games, and more, while having fun and gaining important team-building and leadership skills. The partnership is based on the global CoderDojo movement and relies on a volunteer network of implementers and mentors, like many of you in this room.

We also partnered with the US African Development Foundation (USADF) to support entrepreneurs from the Young African Leaders Initiative, or YALI, to attend this year’s DEMO Africa. YALI is President Obama’s signature initiative to invest in the next generation of Africa’s leaders.

The LIONS AFRICA partnership and DEMO AFRICA were also featured in the White House press release around YALI, highlighting the partnership’s role as a supporter of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, held at our State Department offices in Washington, D.C. this past August.  I can tell you firsthand how exciting it was to see the remarkable energy at the Summit, and how partnerships and engagement with the private sector were critical elements of driving Africa’s future.

With great partners like Venture Hive, based out of Miami, the 40 DEMO finalists at this year’s DEMO AFRICA have been receiving intensive virtual mentoring regarding their business plans and pitch over the last couple of months and here in Lagos over the over two days through the LIONS AFRICA Boom Camp. And Microsoft, which is leading the way with initiatives like “Microsoft for Africa” which focuses on building skills, providing access and leading in innovation. LIONS AFRICA also inspired the launch of the African Technology Foundation, based in Silicon Valley, California, which works cross-continentally to globalize African technologies. And LIONS partners with VC for Africa, the largest online community of entrepreneurs and investors dedicated to building game changing companies on the continent. In fact, VC for Africa hosted an African angel investors meet-up yesterday, and the fact that there are now networks of African angel investors really says something about the direction that Africa is headed in.

As you can see, the LIONS AFRICA partnership is doing amazing things to elevate tech and innovation entrepreneurship on the continent. But we need the help of every one of you in here today.  Whether you are an investor, represent government, the private sector, a non-profit, or you are an entrepreneur, this partnership wants to work with you to leverage your influence and resources – financial and human – to help create real opportunities for today’s African entrepreneurs and those of the future.

Over the next two days, I encourage you to not be a passive audience member but to really engage and see how you or your organization can contribute to building and strengthening platforms like DEMO AFRICA and the LIONS AFRICA partnership, that are changing the way the world views Africa’s emergence as a technology and innovation driver.