It seems like only yesterday when one of the innovators from our inaugural list, in 2015, warned the audience at a Quartz event in Nairobi that we shouldn’t “fetishize entrepreneurship.” The context was discussing the many programs in Africa designed to support entrepreneurs which didn’t take into account the fundamental challenges of local markets, such as inadequate infrastructure and poor electricity supply.

As with entrepreneurship, there’s also a tendency to fetishize innovation, particularly in the African context. This is why there’s so much talk about “leapfrogging” in almost every book, report, or Powerpoint presentation you’ve seen on development in Africa. But while there is much about overselling or overestimating the impact of innovation that makes us all a little weary, there’s also plenty of real-world evidence that supporting innovative thinkers and outperformers has a credible, and at times disproportionate, impact in developing markets.

At this year’s World Economic Forum Africa, our panel of innovators drove home the point that innovation for Africa was a much more comprehensive philosophy than simply building things or creating smart apps. They argued for the need for more innovative thinking in every aspect of modern African life—with the legal and governmental infrastructure to support it. And if the support wasn’t going to be readily available, then self-identified innovators would have to take matters into their own hands and get involved in reinventing politics and governments.

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