Industry Players Identify Barriers to Innovation in Malawi
Malawi’s emerging innovation sector has great potential to contribute towards the growth of Malawi’s digital economy. To fully capitalize on this potential and promote inclusive innovation, UNCDF convened key players in this sector to identify and analyze possible opportunities for collaboration and brainstorm on the common challenges faced and how to resolve them.
To contribute to the engagement, UNCDF invited a panel of experts working in the tech sector; mHub Innovation Hub, Public Private Partnership Commission implementing the Digital Malawi Project, Ntha Foundation and BongoHive Innovation Hub from Zambia, who all shared best practices and insights relating to spurring innovation.
“We cannot underestimate the value of having such conversations with like-minded professionals and creating spaces where public and private sector can have these discussions on priority issues,” said Iris Kissiti, Digital Finance Coordinator in Malawi.
The rich discussion revealed several key messages and learnings:
- The challenges experienced in Malawi, such as inadequate infrastructure and poor digital and financial literacy, are not unique to Malawi. Many acknowledge that for digital products and services to be inclusive, literacy must be addressed to enable better usage of the products and services.
- The gender gap in the tech sector exists, where fewer women than men are involved in providing or managing digital or fintech solutions for the market. However, Ms. Nthanda Manduwi of the Ntha Foundation, emphasised that there are adequate opportunities to spark participation and usage for women, but women themselves are not empowered or don't feel confident that this is their space to work or be in. This is an area that needs a lot of work for change.
- Malawi’s regulators and policymakers have developed and implemented many good policies and regulations that govern the digital finance market, but there is a lack of policies regarding fintechs because they often do not fit into a regulatory remit of the Registrar of Financial Institutions. Areas such as crowdfunding, fintech credit, and open banking, among others could benefit from new policies to be developed in order for growth and expansion in this area.
- Stakeholders suggested that a Sandbox approach to new innovations in the market could help spur development of new products and services.
- Technical skills within the innovation community need to be improved in order to deepen the technical strength in the sector. Participants identified the need for programmes that build a pipeline of innovators starting at primary school level, which will ensure a strong skills base for a robust digital economy.
- Participants proposed that development of a National Digital Innovation Strategy is vital. Such a strategy will help to address and strategically position funding towards digital innovations, build favourable policies and regulations to protect digital entrepreneurs and propel growth.
EU and OACPS are actively supporting the work of inclusive innovation in Malawi. To begin, the Inclusive Digital Economies Scorecard (IDES) tool will be implemented by government partners, who along with regulators. The tool will be used to track the progress and development of the inclusive digital economy for Malawi. Areas that are challenges in Malawi’s innovation sector, such as status of ICT usage and ownership, status of the digital payments ecosystem and the status connectivity are all tracked by the IDES tool and can be critical in determining priorities and the relevant parties responsible for advancing the work.
This engagement revealed many opportunities that stakeholders in the market, including UNCDF, could address through collaboration and partnership in order to build a more inclusive and resilient digital economy in Malawi.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).