Strengthening the African EdTech ecosystem - the value of innovation through collaboration

Written by:
Tsepo Ngwenyama
Published on:
May 23, 2023

Injini recently launched its edition of the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship Program at an event held in Cape Town, South Africa. The top 12 EdTech fellows who were selected out of hundreds of applications were announced at the event, which was attended by members of the wider EdTech ecosystem, government officials, and investors. The calibre of entrepreneurs and quality of solutions was impressive, and the selection process was rigorous, involving four different stages, including an in-person pitch day.

As someone who has been involved in the South African tech sector for several years, working in incubators, accelerators and at one of the world's largest public tech companies, I have seen my fair share of innovative technology startups. However, the work done so far by these EdTech fellows to improve educational outcomes in South Africa is incredibly inspiring.

There is no denying that the EdTech sector in South Africa, and by extension, Sub-Saharan Africa, is rapidly growing. One of the essential lessons I have learned is that innovating at speed and scale is a daunting challenge. This was affirmed during the recent onboarding process for the new cohort of the Mastercard Foundation EdTech Fellowship Program. However, this challenge can be addressed with something very powerful: collaboration.

Despite having different solutions and approaches, we are all solving one wicked problem - a struggling education system. While it is typical for businesses in any industry to view their peers as competitors, the founders of the cohort are eager to collaborate to achieve better educational outcomes and improve overall business sustainability.

According to the World Economic Forum, collaboration is the fastest and most productive path to solving problems. Additionally, to stay ahead of the curve, balancing competitiveness with collaboration will be key to success in a complex, fast-changing world. By leveraging our diverse strengths, expertise, and networks, we can support each other and ensure that every EdTech company grows and thrives.

In this short time since the official launch and onboarding, several opportunities for collaboration have been identified, not only for the startups but also for Injini as an organisation accelerating EdTech ventures across Sub-Saharan Africa. These opportunities include:

  • Improving teacher and school engagement: Many Fellows have noted that they struggle to get their products in front of teachers and other key players within the school environment. Through this program, we aim to increase stakeholder engagement and government partnerships through ongoing communication and collaboration with teachers, school leaders, and the various organisations that they work with.
  • Better learner engagement outside of the EdTech applications and platforms: A trending topic among the fellows is that many of their end-users - the learners - spend much of their time on social platforms like TikTok. Over the next few months, together with the various teams, we will explore how to better engage learners where they are and how to leverage platforms such as TikTok for edutainment purposes.
  • Reducing connectivity as a barrier to accessing quality education: Although South Africa has one of the most sophisticated and advanced telecommunications sectors on the continent, Internet data is incredibly expensive and inaccessible to the majority of learners and schools. Through partnerships, we hope to find innovative and sustainable approaches to addressing connectivity challenges, which will ultimately improve access to learning.

The urgency and need for innovation through collaboration will only grow in the coming years, and we are excited and encouraged by this cohort of EdTech Fellows' desire to take a more collaborative approach to improve learner outcomes across South Africa. There is a lot to be learned and improved upon, and this fellowship, along with our partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, offers us the opportunity to rediscover what works best in African EdTech.

In conclusion, it is important to ask ourselves a couple of questions: What problem are we trying to solve? If we cannot solve it alone, who has the piece of the puzzle we need? And, critically, how do we assemble these partners in the right mutually advantageous model to deliver a solution?

Creating opportunities to engage and collaborate across the wider ecosystem will not only improve our understanding of the landscape but also help us increase the quality, access, and relevance of education throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.