A key aspect across creativity and entrepreneurship is diversity of experience, and there’s no better way to broaden your perspective than getting out and about somewhere very different to your normal environment. I’m an avid traveller and it always facinates me to see how other countries and cultures respond to challenges and opportunities.
So when you think of west Africa, do you think of innovation?
There are two likely stereotypical views, one is that large parts of Africa are poor and focused on subsistence in the face of harsh environmental conditions. The other is that these very conditions stimulate new ideas to deal with very practical problems. Having recently returned from The Gambia, some examples stood out that deserve a mention.
Energy is big topic across the world, and it’s probably no surprise that solar power is increasingly being used in africa and elsewhere. I visited the Bird Safari Camp near JanJanburegh on MacArthur Island, some 280km upriver from the capital Banjul, and inbetween admiring the wildlife, the owner, Brit Mark Thomson, showed us how they managed their energy.
With the use of solar panels, not only was there sufficient electricity to power the fridge and freezer, basic lighting and the camp’s single fan but also, perhaps most importantly, to power the water pump. Gambia is a river country and the river as a source of water for washing, watering the newly formed vegetable garden (and flushing toilets!) is invaluable. The solar energy allows the use of an electric pump to keep a main water tank filled from river water, which then feeds individual small tanks in the accomodation.
Ok, so no great dramatic new ideas here, just simple practical use of natural resources and effective utilisation of technology that is becoming well established. However, put these factors together in a different way and think what else you could do. Mark’s latest venture (in a series of projects providing jobs for the community and furthering environmental goals inlcuding his hybrid tent house with composting toilet) is a solar powerered boat. In fact, Africa’s first solar powered boat!
Through his other business, Hidden Gambia, he provides boat tours exploring the best of Gambia up river. Recognising the cost and pollution impact of diesel driven boats, he has invested in one powered by solar panels. It’s actually a hybrid, combining 2.2 KW of photovoltaic panels with an efficient diesel generator, but with solar power alone can reach speeds of 6km/hour through rechargeable battery packs.