In this interview, meet Isadora Bigourdan, COO & Chief of Staff, Digital Africa
Isadora, you are now the COO and Chief of Staff for Digital Africa. Can you share with us how you got to this position and what brought you there?
I have been working for nearly 20 years in contributing to structuring and financing groundbreaking innovative ventures for the benefit of the real economy, mainly in Latin America and Africa. Throughout my experience as a business lawyer, investor or coach, I quickly notice that radical innovators were inventing solutions that could address the challenges our world faces in terms of development models. What they desperately needed, however, was upskilling, as well as appropriate funding and advocacy so that the ecosystems they operate in make their idea to turn into sustainable and valuable ventures possible. That is our method at Digital Africa: operating as a one-stop shop for tech early stage entrepreneurs operating in Africa.
In a few words, what is Digital Africa? What is the core mission of the organisation?
Digital Africa is the affiliate of Proparco, a subsidiary of the AFD Group focused on private sector development. Our mission is to equip Africa’s tech entrepreneurs with the capabilities to design and scale-up groundbreaking innovations for the real economy. In a nutshell, we develop expertise, create knowledge-based communities, provide technical assistance and finance, by way of grants as well as early stage investments, projects and businesses, ease market access and the creation of a regulatory environment that supports African innovation.
Concretely, what are the priorities for Digital Africa on the ground these days?
Our main focus is to leverage the huge potential that the digital economy brings to the African continent and make sure a tech made in Africa arises thanks to the scale of entrepreneurs developing groundbreaking solutions. For now, only five African countries (Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa) receive 90% of the investment funds. We have developed a specific investment tool named FUZE to bring appropriate funding to early stage tech ventures to the rest of the continent. Our priority is to disseminate the same opportunities throughout the continent to ensure inclusiveness.
What do you see as major challenges to achieve these goals and what can be done?
The main challenge is to make sure that every programme we develop is built with an ecosystem approach, where we embark all stakeholders, from policymakers to investors, academia, entrepreneurs, business angels and so on from the continent or the diaspora. If entrepreneurship is really rooted in Africa, it too often stays at a micro level with limited impact. Our challenge is to create favourable conditions for tech ventures to scale and create real value for the benefit of the real economy and people.
Why is the question of education in Africa important to you and for the future of African countries?
Education is key in Africa. More than 12 million young talents enter the labour market every day, whereas only 3 million jobs are created. A quarter of the youth have declared that they want to create a company and most of them are digital native.
Often self-educated when it comes to digital skills, with a lack of soft and business skills, and no access to small funds to initiate a venture, they are often prevented from transforming an idea or a technology into a sustainable venture. Therefore, when you consider that 230 million jobs will require digital skills and a digital mindset by 2030 on the continent, developing access to these new skills is necessary. That is the whole rationale between our programme Talent4startups, which we developed with German cooperation and Make it. 293 talents have been trained and placed to operate in 8 specific positions into startups in 12 different African countries.
If you are interested in our activities, do not hesitate to visit our website and apply to one of our programmes. Everything we do is accessible and open to partnerships. Operating as a catalyst, we are always looking for new partnerships and projects to make a tech Made in Africa happen!
What are you planning during the LearningPlanet Festival?
We are planning to take part in a fireside chat on how digitalisation can be a lever to improve the lives of people and speed up the transformation of the continent for good. Africa lacks a lot of infrastructure the leapfrog digital tools offers is indeed a real opportunity. We are also planning a session with our connectors on the ground to offer an interactive discussion around what Africa requires in terms of needs and new skills in order to succeed in its digital transformation.
Meet Isadora Bigourdan
Isadora Bigourdan is the General Secretary and Chief Operating Officer at Digital Africa.
After 20 years of experience in structuring and financing ground breaking innovative ventures for the benefit of the real economy, notably for the Agence Française de Développement group, she has chosen to join Digital Africa to design a new operating platform company to enable tech entrepreneurs to scale.
Operating as a one stop shop, the value proposition is to create a catalyst where tech entrepreneurs operating in Africa would get upskilling, appropriate early stage fundings and literacy, as well as access to an international network.
In the meantime, as the entrepreneurs operate in multi stakeholders ecosystems, the objective is to create a data based organisation where literacy and data are produced and shared to contribute to developing the literacy towards the digitalisation of the African continent .
As a lawyer Isadora graduated from Sciences Po Paris in international affairs and from the Autonomous University of Barcelona in international law. She also holds a degree in engineering and design of hybrid training from the University of Rennes II.