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Buzzing With Ideas
A new competition encourages young Africans in China to develop their entrepreneurial spirit by devising innovative and viablsolutions to the continent's problems
By Li Jing and Yu Nan | VOL.9 December ·2017-11-29

The winners of the China-Africa Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition

In Mauritius, the rainy season lasts about five months a year. However, in recent years, precipitation has decreased by around 8 percent, leading to a major problem of fresh water shortage. In Cameroon, the warm climate and pollution due to industrial development cause recurring health problems in the population, with high rates of colds, fevers, coughs, rhinitis and bronchitis. For many Cameroonians, these problems are made even worse by poor access to drugs and their high prices. In Botswana, although GDP per capita is almost $7,000, agricultural production can only supply about 10 percent of the country's needs.

Faced with such diverse problems, finding suitable and feasible solutions is no easy task. But a group of young African students in China rose to the chall­enge as part of the first China-Africa Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition. Inspired by their study experience in China, they devised a number of promising solutions to the continent's most pressing issues.

A new and interactive platform

Sponsored by Amanbo, a Sino-African cross-border e-commerce platform, the competition is an initiative of the Center for African Studies of Peking University, the China-Africa International Business School of Zhejiang Normal University, and the Shenzhen-based China-Africa Sustainable Development Center.

"Our curriculum for international students focuses on entrepreneurship, especially in our MBA program. In organizing this competition, our initial intention was to showcase promising projects, provide entrepreneurship training and try to implement these projects," said Duan Wenqi, Associate Dean at China-Africa International Business School, Zhejiang Normal University.

A total of 218 students from 22 African countries took part in the competition, representing 29 universities in 22 cities and 16 provinces in China. Their projects covered a wide range of topics from renewable energy to agriculture, as well as livestock, health, Internet, education, tourism and transport.

"There is no limit in terms of project topics. But they must aim to solve real problems in Africa. We will then try to realize the most promising projects," said Wang Xiaozhou, CEO of Belt and Road Guider Network Technology Co. Ltd., which is also the partner of the competition.

In addition, several training sessions were offered to participants throughout the competition, helping them to make their projects more professional and feasible.

"In August, we gave a series of training sessions related to project proposal drafting, product positioning, market analysis and operations management," Wang told ChinAfrica.

These courses also played the role of exchange platforms between African students and Chinese companies, allowing the most promising projects to stand out from the crowd.

Potentially effective solutions

Among the hundreds of projects that were presented, six reached the finals after having been judged against criteria such as market positioning, social effects, mode of operation, financing plan, etc.

Mauritian Laure Ponnusawmy, a PhD student in economic theory at Peking University, put forward an interesting solution to the shortage of fresh water hampering the development of agriculture in her country. Ponnusawmy and her team have developed two eco-products, an eco-bag and an eco-blanket, using biodegradable materials to reduce water runoff and evaporation.

"Fresh water scarcity is a very serious issue in my country, especially in the winter when the rainfall is only half of that in summer. I have done a lot of research to find a solution and I am very proud of this idea," she said.

But at the end of the day, the competition was won by three young Zambian boys, Malan Malumani, Zombe Mazimba and Peter Nawa. Their project, called Tusa Health Center, aims to improve medical conditions in their country. Based on what they learned in China, they proposed to create a chain of medical institutions throughout Zambia providing medical services such as diagnosis, treatment and preventive care.

And these were not the only good ideas that were raised during the competition. Two young girls from Cameroon suggested taking advantage of the medical property of eucalyptus - inexpensive and readily available - to facilitate Cameroonians' access to medicines. Francois Xavier Ngabonzim of Rwanda and Foulo Tsoeunyane of Lesotho, for their part, proposed to set up an early-education system specially adapted to African children.

In fact, the competition was not only about finding the best project, but also about providing young people with an opportunity to express their ideas. For Ponnusawmy, it was also a chance to get to know people from different countries and fields. "In addition, I was able to visit the facilities of Amanbo and present my project," she added.

"Many companies involved in African trade have paid attention to our competition and attended the finals in order to identify promising projects in which to invest. As an organizer, we are also committed to providing support to participants, whether through capital, legal information or helping them find a workplace," Wang told ChinAfrica.

More focus on youth

As the Belt and Road Initiative strengthens and deepens Sino-African cooperation, more and more people are paying attention to African students in China, who have the potential to play a significant role in this area.

According to statistics from China's Ministry of Education, about 50,000 African students were enrolled in China in 2016, and the number keeps growing. While experts in their respective fields and familiar with both Africa and China, these students still lack opportunities to put their know-how into practice.

"We wanted to do something for these students, who represent the future of China-Africa relations," said Wang, explaining the reasons behind the creation of the first China-Africa Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition. "This is a new breakthrough for Sino-African cooperation, not only in form, but also in content," Duan told ChinAfrica.

In addition, the China-Africa Youth Business Alliance was also established during the competition finals, with the aim of promoting youth entrepreneurship and discovering more talent in Africa and in China.

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