Finding Simple, Creative Solutions in Africa

Founder of Wecyclers, Bilikiss Adebiyi, speaks about recyclying business in Lagos on January 17, 2014.

Open a newspaper and the headlines coming out of Africa are likely to be about unrest, government corruption, poverty or public health problems. And while the West focuses on using foreign aid to solve those problems, are we missing the success stories happening in Africa? 

Journalist Dayo Olopade tells how ordinary and resourceful people are dealing with everyday challenges in sub-Saharan Africa. What drives these creative solutions? "The state only reaches so far," Olopade explains. "If the electricity doesn’t get to your house, if the water doesn’t get to your house, if the bus line doesn’t get to your house, you must invent a new way."

Olopade argues that the western focus on governance and foreign aid obscures the individual enterprise and social adaptation happening in Africa. She's critical of TOMS shoes, which donates a pair of shoes to poor communities for every pair it sells. "The problem is not lack of shoes in a poor community. The problem is lack of jobs, lack of stability, lack of the ability to plan based on the kind of poverty that might drive someone not to have shoes…It just doesn’t reflect any choice or any agency on the part of the person who might be receiving it. And if it’s about you and it’s about your brand being differentiated by the existence of poverty, you know, avoid that.”

In her book The Bright Continent, she calls for a shift in our thinking about Africa, and shows us that the increasingly globalized challenges Africa faces should be addressed with the tools Africans are already using to solve problems themselves.