Africa, a breeding ground for innovation

African innovation is on the rise and the continent could play host to several new technology disruptions in the next few years. According to Darryl Bernstein, Partner and Head of the Technology, Media and Telecommunications Practice at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, it is an increasingly common belief that various technologies benefit from the lack of IT legacy systems and old, entrenched infrastructure in Africa. Innovative new products can be designed around future environmental stressors and demands without having to consider old, established systems.

“The continent is therefore extremely agile in in terms of its ability to innovate and adapt to innovations. The next step is ensuring that Africa is able to harness these opportunities to innovate,” he notes.

Bernstein says that collaborative hubs act can as a meeting point for discussions between the public and private sector around creative solutions that could be applied to the regulation of new technology and innovation.

“The answer lies in creating wider ecosystems where everyone can contribute to innovation. We need environments that allow for fresh ideas, and where it like-minded individuals can challenge and improve established ways of doing work,” he notes.

Bernstein notes that law-focused innovation hubs can also help address regulatory challenges.

“Legal and regulatory frameworks in Africa will need to adapt to address changes that innovation brings and to protect those that invest in, build, implement and use new technology. Often, the groundwork for these kinds of policy changes is as a result of discussions that begin at these hubs.

Morne van der Merwe, Managing Partner at Baker McKenzie in Johannesburg, notes that Baker McKenzie has established numerous innovation hubs in various locations around the world, which are proving to be successful in identifying challenges and collaborating on innovative solutions.

“The firm’s Whitespace Collab in Toronto, for example, allows for face-to-face collaboration between attorneys and leaders in business, government, academia and not-for-profits to address complex global challenges at the intersection of business, law and technology. Many of the collaborations centre on innovations related to data privacy, smart cities, and other data-related challenges, in a conducive workspace.

“In addition, our partnership with the World Economic Forum’s innovation hub in San Francisco – the ‘Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution – aims to ensure that not only is the firm adapting to meet the new needs of clients, but that they are all participants in the discussion to harness innovation that is in the public interest. This hub’s mission is to accelerate the deployment of technology and science for positive impact on individuals and the societies, while minimizing their downside risks.

“In April, the firm became one of the founding sponsors of “ReInvent Law“, the first Legal Innovation Hub in Continental Europe. Reinvent is a hub for multidisciplinary collaboration, enabling cooperation between lawyers and corporate leaders as well as academics and representatives from non-profit organizations. It is place to meet and to encourage communication between lawyers and digital experts,” he says.

The firm is also part of the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, an organisation of legal operations professionals who are seeking to share best practices, create standards and accelerate innovation across the legal services ecosystem.

“More than ever before it is critical for everyone with an interest in finding solutions to current challenges is able to collaborate, share expertise, learn from others and contribute. The power of change lies in using multi-disciplinary teams to solve problems that breach borders and industries,” says van der Merwe.

“Organised innovation hubs, accessible to all with creative ideas to share and problems to solve, are a powerful mechanism for ensuring that collaboration across Africa results in innovation that can provide solutions to global challenges, and where good ideas turn can into practical, implementable solutions.

“Our firm is continuously looking for ways to engage with the wider ecosystem and as such we hope to be able to open an African innovation hub for the legal sector in the future,” van der Merwe adds.

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