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AI and open innovation: How to turbocharge sustainability in East Africa

Christopher Saul

By Christopher Saul, Territory Sales Lead for East Africa at Red Hat

East Africa is in the active process of defining its relationship with artificial intelligence (AI). Earlier this year, Kenya’s government announced it would collaborate with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH to launch a project to develop a national AI strategy, with the aim of harnessing the power of the technology for sustainable development and social inclusion. Meanwhile, Rwanda is positioning itself as a key continental player in AI governance and accessibility as the country plans to host a high-level AI summit in cooperation with the World Economic Forum (WEF) later this year.

Organisations that seek to leverage AI to unlock new business value or social impact must consider the right platforms and tools they’re using to do so. But, more than that, any development initiative needs to contribute to the greater regional ecosystem and help democratise the technology. By doing so, they can build pathways towards new sustainability and socioeconomic opportunities.

The sustainability machine

The majority of discussions surrounding AI today focus on areas of consumer and business technologies. Indeed, the use of powerful algorithms to generate insights offers a lot of potential in terms of new products and services, increasing business efficiency, or unlocking new markets. But within that exists the potential for AI to be a force for social good in East Africa and the rest of the world. Case in point, according to the UN Secretary-General, Antònio Guterres, AI has the potential to accelerate efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and amplify the work of governments and civil society.

Of course, all this is predicated on the region’s continued digital transformation. Research by PwC suggests that while using AI for environmental applications could boost global GDP by up to $5.2 trillion, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa stand to gain the least economic benefit due to the regions’ current digital readiness, levels of tech adoption, and current policy trends. Any AI-enabled technology for any application depends on the tools businesses and public institutions use to develop and deploy it, as well as their willingness to collaborate. Through collaboration, you achieve greater digital transformation, and this is where an open approach to innovation starts to make the most sense.

Open source as a bedrock

Open innovation involves tapping into external resources and knowledge pools to create and deploy better solutions. The ecosystems that result from this give enterprises not just the ability to look beyond immediate challenges or business problems, but also contribute to inclusivity and the effectiveness of their solutions. Open ecosystems can enable professionals and enterprises in East Africa to tap into and contribute to projects and systems that benefit themselves, small businesses, startups, and non-profit entities that further sustainability causes and development.

The power of open collaboration extends to AI/ML adoption and creates a shared vision for the responsible and ethical deployment of enabled technologies. Add to that the use of open source software (OSS) as the foundation for those technologies, which itself is a driver of infrastructure such as cloud and edge computing platforms.

Using OSS-based platforms, an organisation’s IT team can create a standardised foundation for creating new AI/ML models and run the applications that result from them. The platforms also allow teams and engineers to scale their configurations based on both the technical needs of the organisations, as well as those of the team and developers themselves.

East Africa is not alone in its AI ambitions so there is an incentive, both financially and socioeconomically, to collaborate on as many projects and systems as possible to fulfil a shared agenda. Open innovation can let organisations work with AI/ML technologies, democratising them in the process, while also letting them embrace sustainability. With that approach, those two objectives can be intertwined to the benefit of business, communities, and the world.  

Read: Cloud Adoption in East Africa: Insights from Red Hat on Challenges and Opportunities

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