Once part of the Mali Empire, Guinea-Bissau is a small, low-lying tropical nation located along western Africa’s Atlantic coast. The country is renowned for its beautiful, vibrant landscapes, biodiverse ecosystems, and its incredible range of plant and animal life. In the Arquipélago dos Bijagós—a verdant nature reserve made up of 88 islands—visitors can find long stretches of white-sand beaches, hundreds of species of birds and fish, and a rare herd of saltwater hippopotamuses. On the mainland, the nation’s capital, Bissau, is a beguiling confluence of past and present; colonial buildings are long-standing reminders of the country’s Portuguese influence, while diverse people and cultures fuse tradition and modernity through dance, art, fashion, and food.
Though Guinea-Bissau has faced a number of political and economic challenges since gaining independence in 1974, Bissau-Guineans have persevered with characteristic strength, resilience, and good humor. Every day, inspiring YALI Network members are striving to improve their country and create lasting change. Thanks to their incredible dedication, Guinea-Bissau is the YALI Network #CountryoftheWeek!
Keep reading to learn more about one innovative Bissau-Guinean entrepreneur who is empowering small businesses by unlocking the power of technology.
YALI Network member and Mandela Washington Fellowship alumnus Adulai Bary is a tech pioneer who’s changing the face of entrepreneurship in Guinea-Bissau.
He’s the founder of InnovaLab, Guinea-Bissau’s first technology accelerator, which focuses on improving the country’s education, agriculture, and healthcare sectors while also creating economic growth. The accelerator’s mission, he says, is to achieve sustainable development in Africa by fostering innovation and expanding job opportunities among youth.
“More than 70% of Guinea-Bissau’s population is under 30, and barely 55% of the country’s youth attend and complete primary school,” explains Adulai. “As a result, more than 60% of the country’s young people are lacking basic entrepreneurial skills and are unemployed.”
Adulai also notes that Guinea-Bissau is among the African countries at risk of becoming a two-tiered society “where only part of the population has access to and is able to use new technologies and reap the benefits.”
To solve this problem, InnovaLab—comprised of engineers, financiers, and managers— encourages small business development and provides training opportunities for entrepreneurs working in sectors such as education, agriculture, and infrastructure. “Through in-person and online mentoring programs, as well as OpenLabs, forums, tech camps, hackathon events, and bootcamps, InnovaLabs inspires and empowers Guinea-Bissau entrepreneurs to solve socio-economic challenges by leveraging and providing access to technology, resources and stakeholders,” says Adulai.
So far, InnovaLab has achieved incredible success. In 2016, four of the incubator’s startups won top prizes at a national competition organized by the Government of Guinea-Bissau and the World Bank, each earning a 5 million-franc CFA grant to support their fledgling businesses. InnovaLab was also awarded a national creativity award by the Guia de Sucesso, an NGO that works to empower youth in Guinea-Bissau.
For Adulai, InnovaLab is just the beginning of his quest to help others develop new technologies, spur innovation, and expand job opportunities across Africa. “As entrepreneurs, we’re always looking for the next thing to create or conquer,” he says. “It’s a calling that we must answer, because it’s at the core of who we are as people.”