U.S. Department of State, Pact host innovation contest for young entrepreneurs in West Africa

June 18, 2021
AfrIdea participants and U.S. Embassy staff from Mali gather at Impact Hub Bamako for their first meet and greet in-person.

From June 18-20, the U.S. Department of State and Pact are co-hosting a 72-hour nonstop idea-a-thon for 120 young entrepreneurs in West Africa to grow their innovative solutions to challenges due to Covid-19. The event is part of AfrIdea, an ongoing program that unlocks the protentional of West African entrepreneurs, social activists and developers financed by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by Pact, an international nonprofit. Through a contest, training, idea-a-thon and follow-on funding, AfrIdea is activating a network of young entrepreneurs and innovators from Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Togo to solve local challenges.

In a virtual discussion earlier this year with alumni of the Young African Leaders Initiative, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “The best way to prepare communities for massive challenges like the pandemic is building resilience, expanding opportunity, strengthening local voices of rising leaders before the crisis strikes, and by ensuring that innovations in technology and other vital tools meet the needs of these same communities, not just the well-off and well-connected.”

AfrIdea brings to light the untapped knowledge, skill, passion and innovation in the people and communities of West Africa. Yet young entrepreneurs, social activists and developers may languish while countries face pressing economic, health and educational challenges, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. AfrIdea seeks to change that.

At the end of the event, 12 groups (three from each country) will present their solution to a panel of judges to evaluate the prototypes. Afterwards, 40 participants will be invited to apply for seed funding up to $10,000 per country and six months of mentorship to support the pilot or proof-of-concept stage, to help further accelerator their business.

“These past months I’ve seen so many wonderful ideas and been encouraged by the passion and motivation of hundreds of innovators,” says Taylor Cruz Mwila, Senior Innovation Officer and manager of the project for Pact. “AfrIdea represents progress in the development sector, as we increasingly see a push for locally-driven innovations.”

In addition to supporting rising West African innovators, AfrIdea is helping women break gender barriers in this traditionally male-dominated space by equipping them with creative problem-solving tools to develop concrete and viable ideas combatting some of the most pressing issues. Through targeted outreach and increased representation of female mentors, guest speakers and facilitators, the project promotes women’s leadership in peace and security.


Media contact: Rebecca Band Jain, Communications Officer, Pact, @email