Thought Leadership

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“Creativity is thinking up new things, innovation is doing new things”

More youth around the world are creating new and more effective solutions to the growing challenges of our times. Mikaila Ulmer, a 10-year-old girl from Texas, is the face of a thriving lemonade business. And if you are wondering if its just a well-trafficked stand in her parents front yard, then you are mistaken. It is a full-fledged company – BeeSweet Lemonade – that just got a $60,000 (Sh6 million) investment.

What makes BeeSweet special is that it’s sweetened by honey rather than sugar or artificial sweetener. Her interest with bees began at age 4 when she was upset and freaked out by two consecutive bee stings.

Here in Kenya, a young dynamic group of youth from Kibera has started a car wash garage and employs about 16 youth. The youth in the Kibera Vision Group are enterprising and have made the most of the resources available to them.

Every year in Africa about 10-12 million youths enter the workforce yet only about 6.7 million formal jobs are created on average, leaving about three to five million youths looking for non-existent jobs – unemployed, under employed and often vulnerable. If the talent of these youths is tapped and put into a path of innovation, the threat that unemployability poses to the growth of Africa would be controlled.

William Shakespeare once famously said, “Our doubts are our traitors, that make us to lose the good chance to win, fearing to attempt.” If you have an innovative mind or a brilliant idea that you think can change the world, then follow these nine guiding principles:

Get out of your comfort zone:

“You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new, because innovation begins at the end of your comfort zone.” So be willing to take chances, knowing you could fail or even that people will ridicule you.

Be open minded:

“The mind is like a parachute; it works the best when it is open.” An open-minded person sees life without boundaries.

Be part of/ build an ecosystem:

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. The most important aspect of sustaining innovation is to build, sustain and strengthen links among the ecosystem. Apple iPhone’s success is due to the ecosystem of content producers and consumers than to its hardware, looks or appealing browsing features.

Get the right people:

People inspire you or drain you, pick them wisely. Jack Welsh once said, “If you pick the right people, and give them the opportunity to spread their wings and put compensation as a carrier behind it, you almost don’t have to manage them.” So go ahead get the right people, some who have already been there or who want to go in the direction you want to go.

Don’t be afraid of failure:

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour not a dead-end.” Failures are important part of life; if you don’t fail you don’t learn, and if you don’t learn, you don’t challenge. What defines your success is how well you rise after falling. So go ahead and challenge yourself and your ideas.

Open up possibilities:

“The possibility of having a dream come true, makes life interesting. And it is this possibility that keeps innovators going, not the guarantee”. Be alert, be daring, be positive but most importantly be open to new possibilities. Remember possibilities comes in the form of opportunities, sometimes from the least expected, so make sure you step up when opportunity presents itself.

Personal development time:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Personal development is more than just polishing talents you already have; it’s about growing, becoming more aware and gaining valuable abilities that you can use to make an impact in the world. What you spend on your personal development returns to you as your confidence, hope, success and ability to overcome challenges.

Leverage technology:

“What new technology does is create new opportunities to do a job that customers want done”. Tech innovation has radically changed the way consumers and retailers experience the whole new dimension of online shopping. In an age where only the fittest survive, adapting to technology is seen as adapting to a changing environment. Remember, Kodak, the pioneers in film based technology, went bankrupt as a result of the failure to adapt to the digital photography revolution.

Build connections:

Communication is the human connection, the key to personal and career success. It is often said that “Your network is your net worth”. Build these connections before you need them. Be visible and try to be a go-to person. It does not matter how small or large your innovation is, what matters is how strong your connections are. Your network can take your idea from small to big.

Sriram is the founder and chief mentor of Kuza Biashara Limited, a capacity building organisation coaching youth and SME owners across Africa. Sri chairs Entrepreneurs’ Organisation for Africa. He can be reached @Sbharatam or

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