Listening to the digital community to steer Africa-Europe cooperation
Sannssi Cissé is a Berlin-based entrepreneur of German-Guinean origin. His professional experience has largely focused on the intersection between innovation and Africa-Europe relations. Today, he uses his knowledge and experience to run V-Tay, a start-up that supports the personal development of young professionals.
According to Sannssi, Africa’s digital entrepreneurship ecosystem has an untapped potential for growth, if local actors are empowered to voice their priorities and participate in decision-making. “Africa is very dynamic and diverse. It offers so many opportunities for digital innovation, but people who understand the context need to set the agenda, otherwise we risk having a limited impact on development,” he said.
Sannssi will be the master of ceremonies of the first Africa-Europe D4D Hub Multi-Stakeholder Forum, which will take place online on 18 March. In this interview, he shares his views on multi-stakeholder participation and his expectations for the event.
Q: Why do you look forward to taking part in the Africa-Europe D4D Hub Multi-Stakeholder Forum?
SC: This event will be a great opportunity for policymakers working in Africa-Europe cooperation to consult different digital players on what their priorities should be. It is quite a unique setting to have such important institutions like the African Union Commission and the European Commission coming together and saying: “Look, we want to listen to the people who are impacted by our decisions, and we want to bring their ideas into our policymaking process.” They are opening the floor to key actors and the public so that everyone can contribute — this is crucial for the digital sector to thrive.
Q: What value does the digital community bring to the policymaking table?
CS: People operating businesses and using digital services know best what they need to fully take advantage of digital technologies and innovations. Policymakers should therefore make use of this on-the-ground knowledge to create the right environment for entrepreneurship to flourish.
Now, talking about the African continent, digital actors have a very valuable understanding of the context, and their inputs can ensure that policies and strategies match the characteristics of local ecosystems and meet citizens’ needs.
Q: You have a particular interest in digital entrepreneurship and innovation. Why?
CS: Digital technologies are helping many people to pursue their dream of starting a business — including in Africa. It is possible to start an enterprise without many resources. You can rely on digital solutions to test an idea or to bring new products to the market. Even those who are not entrepreneurs, they can benefit from these technologies to work remotely and access different opportunities.
That said, we should keep in mind that digitalisation is not a silver bullet for every issue in Africa or anywhere else in the world, and it does not automatically shift power dynamics. For example, most investment flows benefit white male entrepreneurs. Sadly, this is a common trend in Europe and in Africa.
This is why putting the right digital policies in place is so important, and the first step is to take different views into consideration.
Q: How can European and African actors work together to support digital entrepreneurship and innovation?
CS: There are so many opportunities for collaboration. To begin with, actors from both continents have a shared interest in investing in human capital and digital skills. This is the first step to make sure that everyone can take part in the digital economy.
Fostering exchanges between digital entrepreneurs in Europe and Africa is also very important. In my own experience, you can learn so much just by talking to peers, sometimes even more than in trainings and seminars; that’s how creativity flows.
What is very important is to create win-win opportunities, and to be very transparent about everyone’s interests. Sometimes there is a misperception that African entrepreneurs would need help, while what many are actually looking for is mutually beneficial partnerships. We need a change of mindset.
Q: Which session of the event are you the most excited about?
CS: Apart from the discussions on digital entrepreneurship, I am also very excited about moderating the opening session with African Union Commissioner Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid and European Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen. It will be an excellent opportunity to hear about their plans and joint agenda. Equally, I look forward to the participation of civil society and listening to their priorities.
Register for the Africa-Europe D4D Hub Multi-Stakeholder Forum here.