UNICEF projects that by 2050, the African population will have grown to 2.4 billion people, with the vast majority under 35 years old. Catering for this population will require catalytic innovations in health, education, agriculture, transportation, water management, energy, sanitation and housing. While there are emerging social innovators and entrepreneurs on the African continent, they struggle with scaling and replicating their initiatives, sustaining them in the face of weak funding and intellectual property frameworks, fostering cross-sector partnerships and measuring their impact.i Thus, what does social innovation in Africa mean?

When we speak about social innovation in Africa, there are only a small number of successful social innovations that have significantly scaled their social impact or managed to create systemic change.

In this article we will showcase eight remarkable projects relating to social innovation in Africa.

Ndidi Nwuneli, author of the book ‘Social Innovation in Africa: A practical guide for scaling impact’, mentions that social innovators should have scaling at the top of their mind from day one.

The best way for them to do this isto first determine the problem they are trying to solve and the most demand-driven, low-cost, simple intervention that would be required, and then implementing clear performance measurement frameworks, leveraging technology and engaging the community.ii

We selected 8 examples of successful social innovation in Africa.


The Living Goods project

The Living Goods project was launched in Uganda in 2007 and in Kenya in 2015. It is one of 23 projects in 43 countries that were selected by the Social Innovation in Health Initiative, out of a total of 170 nominated in 2015, as promising new ways to improve health care delivery.

The Social Innovation in Health Initiative is a collaboration between the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases at the World Health Organization (WHO), the Bertha Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Cape Town, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

In health, social innovation may refer to low-fee private delivery of health care, using mobile phone applications – such as the one Balamu uses to diagnose common childhood diseases – and other novel ways to make health care delivery more accessible and affordable in low-income communities.

The project was designed to tackle three problems undermining community health: finding volunteers in impoverished communities, lack of supervision and a poorly-stocked supply chain.iii

Read more about the project here.


The Learner Treatment Kit project

The Learner Treatment Kit project in Malawi is run by Save the Children in partnership with the health and education ministries. Teachers participating in the project provide malaria testing and treatment for their pupils at school. The service reduces absenteeism because children come to school even when they feel unwell, knowing they can get a diagnosis and treatment there. It adds to the teachers’ workload, but the teachers are motivated to provide the service because of the wider benefits, according to Victor Kadzinje, who coordinates the project. The Learner Treatment Kit is the only medical health service readily available in primary schools during core school hours. It is a life-saving service.iv

Read more about the project here.


The Kheth’Impilo project

The Kheth’Impilo project operates a nationally accredited training programme for high school graduates to become pharmacist assistants in four provinces of South Africa. Once qualified, they can work as pharmacists in the public and private sector under the direct supervision of pharmacists. These assistants can also perform certain duties in primary health care clinics under the indirect supervision of a pharmacist, such as ordering medicines and dispensing them, along with providing health advice. Indirect supervision means that the pharmacist is based at a nearby pharmacy and visits regularly to supervise the pharmacist assistants. The focus is on training people to work in communities where increasing the capacity to dispense medicines will have the most impact on health and employment, in a country where one-quarter of the 53 million-strong population is unemployed.

Under this apprenticeship model, pharmacist’s assistants spend four days a week in the clinic under supervision and one day in class. Students in this two-year programme have a 95% pass rate and a 99% employment rate.iv

Read more about the project here.


The footprint of 2iE

The International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering – 2iE – is a bilingual, higher education institute and research centre. Their specific approach for getting young African people back into jobs is based in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso). 2iE’s main challenge is to develop students’ innovation, technical and managerial capacities by providing them with the opportunity to start up their own businesses in the fields of water, energy, mining, environment and civil engineering. 2iE is committed to social innovation in Africa through two essential pillars: training and entrepreneurship programmes.

Thus, 2iE is an ecosystem combining training, research and businesses on-site, allowing students and graduates to evolve in a stimulating and innovative environment.v

You can find out more about their work on the YouTube channel here.



Fishing communities in South Africa have lived off the seas for generations. But times are changing. A new quota system coupled with climate change is threatening their way of life and sparking protest. A new mobile app called ABALOBI (isiXhosa for small-scale fisher) is being introduced to make the small-scale fisher’s life a little easier.

The full suite is made up of five interconnected apps that each work to make each stage of the small-scale fishing process more sustainable, trackable and manageable.

From a personal logbook where fishermen co-produce knowledge to a digitised community catch monitoring system, the apps make it easier for fishermen to find their hauls. As part of the management process, the apps allow for real-time fishery data, transparent accounting of the catch and a digital marketplace, making the catch easier to sell.vi

Read more about the project here.


The ICT 4 Social Innovation Network is a pan-African initiative. It joins social innovators that use ICT for solutions for improved Education and Health for their communities. This is a network of professionals from the African telecom industry, public administration, civil society organisations, researchers and skilled technical professionals that join forces to effect change in their communities across the African continent. With a common goal, they aim to, in practical ways, foster collaboration that enhances development within the African continent with information and communication technology (ICT) as an instrument for opportunities and innovation.

The ICT 4 Social Innovation Network:

  • explores the integration of ICT to solve social problems and create sustainable social impact
  • brings together Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the private sector, social entrepreneurs, government and technology gurus to solve problems identified
  • provides a platform to share knowledge and resources
  • identifies new technological solutions and looks to leverage experiences and expertise
  • is a springboard for further collaborations
  • drives scale-up of social innovation using ICT in the region.vii

Read more about the project here.


Wild4Life Health

Wild4Life Health focuses on establishing the basic building blocks of a health system. Only then – when the system is high-functioning – can health programmes have a lasting effect on community health. Working closely with the government, they identify and fill the gaps in local health systems. The result is an efficient and resilient health system for those who need it the most. They deliver better health outcomes for less money by identifying and coordinating low-cost interventions with a high return on investment. They almost always have to do the following three things: train health workers, make clinics functional and increase use of services.viii

Read more about the project here.


31 Bits

31 Bits is a business using fashion and design to empower women to rise above poverty. They believe that business is one of the most powerful and sustainable approaches to turning scarcity into abundance, and eventually, alleviating poverty completely. The business was started after five college friends spent their early twenties visiting Ugandan streets on the back of motorbikes with bags full of recycled paper, which would often get soaked in a downpour, trying to set up a mission-driven business.

After forming a partnership to sell jewellery, made by women in Uganda, they implemented a five-year programme that offers fair pay and holistic care. This means they provide finance education and business training, promote physical and mental wellness, and care for their families and communities. After five years in their programme, an artisan is ready to graduate. This means she is educated, healthy and confident while managing her very own business where she has an ongoing and sustainable income.ix

Read more about the project here.


Learn more at Social Innovation Academy

To help tackle even more social challenges around the globe, Limitless and We4You together with 3 other partners has recently started a project aiming to develop the first online Social Innovation Academy to be the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation. If you are interested in following the project, you can subscribe to our newsletter, become one of our friends or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.


i     Nwuneli, N. (n.d.). Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in AfricaCatalysts for Sustainable Transformation (article). Retrieved from https://www.hks.harvard.edu/centers/mrcbg/students/sg/social-innovation-and-entrepreneurship-in-africa-catalysts-for-sustainable-transformation 
ii    How to scale Social Innovation in Africa: An interview with former McKinsey consultant Ndidi Nwuneli (n. d.). Retrieved from https://riseafricarise.com/social-innovation-africa-ndidi-nwuneli/ 
iii   van Niekerk, L. & Chater, R. (2016). Living Goods, Uganda. Social Innovation in Health Initiative Case Collection. [Online] WHO, Geneva: Social Innovation in Health InitiativeAvailable at: http://socialinnovationinhealth.org/downloads/Case_Studies/Living_Goods_SIHI_Case_Collection.pdf 
iv  Bull World Health Organ (2017). Social innovation for health-care delivery in Africa (article). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/95/4/17-020417.pdf 
v   Ginies. (2013, July 24). Social Innovation in AfricaThe footprint of 2iE (article). Retrieved from https://www.socialinnovationexchange.org/insights/social-innovation-africa-footprint-2ie 
vi  How tech hopes to improve the lives of fishermen in South Africa (n.d.). Retrieved fromhttp://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/how-tech-hopes-improve-lives-fishermen-south-africa 
viiI  CT 4 Social InnovationUsing technology as a tool for Africa’s development (n.d.). Retrieved fromhttp://ict4si.org/ 
viii  Wild4Life Health (n.d.). Retrieved fromhttp://www.wild4life.org/ 
ix   Acholi women (n. d.). Retrieved fromhttps://31bits.com/pages/acholi-women 
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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