The Impact of Covid-19 on the Kenyan Innovation Ecosystem - AfriLabs

An overview of the challenges Kenya has faced following the disruption of the Global Pandemic of 2020.

Posted on: 25/09/2020

An overview of the challenges Kenya has faced following the disruption of the Global Pandemic of 2020.

The first Covid-19 case in Kenya was confirmed by the Ministry of Health in Nairobi on 12th March 2020. This was followed by a period of lockdown of major cities with economic and social activities mostly brought to a halt. But specifically, how did the pandemic impact Kenya’s innovation ecosystem? And what can be done to assure future resilience?

KTN Global Alliance and AfriLabs – A synergy

The economic realities of the pandemic have led many within the African innovation ecosystems to look for ways to keep their innovations alive, with varying degrees of success.

In order to track the impact of the pandemic on the innovation ecosystem in Africa, AfriLabs and KTN Global Alliance worked together to deliver a rapid analysis of the innovation ecosystem’s response to the pandemic in Kenya.  Our research looked into the impact of the pandemic on the innovation ecosystem, the response to it, the success and failures and the opportunities to strengthen the Kenyan innovation ecosystem.

What has been the main impact of the pandemic?

The impact of the pandemic in Kenya is similar to the impact in South Africa and Nigeria – the two other focus countries.

The initial spread and uncertainty around the nature of the virus resulted in the implementation of a months-long nationwide lockdown by the government. A huge effort went into healthcare, ensuring large scale testing and treatment through existing and purpose-built infrastructure. Large scale economic support was made available, with a focus on supporting the basic needs of the poorest.

Many businesses and organisations had to adapt to digital purchase and delivery of goods and services, while the rest failed or temporarily suspended operations.

What are the lessons learnt?

At the most basic level, all businesses have had to adapt to the new climate, with remote working the new way of the world.

In Kenya, we found strong reciprocal support between the International community and government/public bodies. NGOs and Charities also worked effectively with the international community to address the impact of the virus. We found important lessons that should form the basis for future responses to emergencies.

There is evidence of a stronger digital education system and a drive towards medical care gear in the manufacturing sector.

We found major failings in the ability of many small or startup businesses to respond to the restrictions occasioned by the virus. Stakeholders identified lack of funding for them to execute timely pivots, lack of access to digital channels (resulting from a lack of access to affordable internet and data), lack of digital literacy and lack of accessible business mentorship and support. The innovation ecosystem eventually responded by providing many of the above support, but for many, it was too late.

Specific impact on innovation funding

In Kenya, significant funding from government and ecosystem support organisations were almost immediately redirected to feeding arrangements and the supply of food packages to the poorest of the poor. The immediate impact on innovators was far fewer funds available, especially to the already struggling early-stage startups. Furthermore, the prevailing uncertainty meant that businesses turned away from their growth strategies towards newly defined “survival strategies” resulting in fewer opportunities for the innovators, entrepreneurs and SMEs to access institutional funding.

What direction should future research and analysis take?

Innovators need skills and tools to forecast their short to medium-term fiscal situations and assess changes to these predictions in almost real-time to make quick shifts and alterations. Many startups struggle to get a firm grasp of these numbers and how they will evolve with changing economic conditions and consumer behaviours. Support organisations can help by providing technical assistance around financial modelling and data-based decision making. Also, future research and analysis into business support methods to improve or in the minimum maintain the channelling of funds to early-stage entrepreneurs in emergency times and for critical survival pivots would be helpful. Critical is the analysis of infrastructure, access to data, business coaching and mentorship as well as governmental policies required to fuel the continued growth of entrepreneurs and innovators in the local ecosystem in emergency and post-emergency times.

Recommendations towards greater resilience

Given the size and scope of the economic impact of the pandemic, there is the need to implement certain strategies for future resilience. Resilience is as much a tool for persisting during a crisis as it is for thriving. Now, more than ever, programme design and intervention strategies for players within the innovation ecosystem must be intended at assisting them build resilience in the immediate to long-term. Implementing the following recommendations would aid such resilience.

  • Greater access to flexible and responsive financing support.
  • Increased digital literacy and access to affordable data.
  • Greater resilience through targeted policy design.
  • Identify and facilitate value-driven partnerships.

You can view a slide presentation which analyses the innovation response here.

Related events

Global Ideas Exchange: Enhancing Innovative Resilience in Africa – 19 to 29 October 2020

As Covid-19 rapidly started sweeping the globe, KTN’s Global Alliance Africa project quickly shifted its activities to track and map the innovation response to the pandemic in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. KTN’s new “Global Ideas Exchange: Enhancing Innovative Resilience in Africa” event series is our way of responding to these calls. We hope to encourage sharing and learning and aim to showcase the latest ideas and best practice in innovation.

Who should attend?

This event series is an inclusive platform for innovators, innovation enablers, investors, industry leaders, academia, the public sector and global innovation community to share knowledge, exchange ideas, and enable inclusive, multi-scalar approaches to resilience.

We have partnered with AfriLabsCcHub, and the South African Technology and Innovation Agency, while also reaching out to other international partners to collect experience data, case studies and best practice from 23 countries across Europe, Asia and Africa.

What are our aims?

  • To share the findings of our rapid analysis and provide inclusive platforms to drive constructive discussions around key findings and clearer information around public sector offerings
  • To ensure participation from diverse innovation stakeholders in the UK, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and from around the world in building frameworks for future cooperation
  • To launch inclusive communities of practice that can actively support more robust and effective investment pipelines in Africa
  • To improve the visibility of existing connections and develop new avenues for communication between policymakers and innovation enablers

For more information and to register for this exciting event series, click here.


AfriLabs Annual Gathering – 12 to 14 October 2020

AfriLabs is a network organisation of 225 innovation centres across 47 African countries. They support hubs to raise successful entrepreneurs that will create jobs and develop innovative solutions to African problems. AfriLabs’ mission is to raise high potential entrepreneurs that will stimulate economic growth and social development in Africa. They achieve this through capacity building, financing, networking, policy advocacy, and providing insightful, reliable data.

The AfriLabs Annual Gathering provides a unique opportunity for tech hubs in the AfriLabs network and other stakeholders in the African tech ecosystem like local innovators (entrepreneurs), corporates, investors, academia and developmental agencies to convene, network and share knowledge. The AfriLabs Annual Gathering has historically been held at different cities around the African continent in collaboration with national and local governments, the private sector and their member hubs.

KTN Global Alliance will present the Global Ideas Exchange Masterclass on the 12 October 2020 at 1:30pm – 3pm in the afternoon part of the programme agenda. For more information and to register, visit the AfriLabs website.


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