Innovation against inequalities: Bridging divides in the Sahel

How social and digital innovations can help fight against the roots of gender, territorial and digital inequalities in the Sahel

Innovation is key to address the social and economic challenges facing the Sahelian region. Participants will discuss how an emerging innovative social and solidarity economy is fighting against the roots of the fragilities and the inequalities of the Sahel. This session will explore targeted programmes to train Sahelian NEETs (not in employment, education or training) in digital skills. The programmes should be tailored to local needs with agritech solutions and address incubation initiatives of innovative projects in the field of maternal and child health, development impact bonds, and feminine hygiene management. This session will build on participative methods to challenge preconceived ideas about how innovation and extended partnerships are making a difference against inequalities in the Sahelian Arc.

Key points

  • Innovation in the Sahel covers digital technologies, delivery methods for development projects, and new financial and legal frameworks.
  • The region faces multiple challenges: gender inequalities, territorial and ethnic divides, plus armed conflicts and the climate crisis.
  • Disillusionment and radicalisation among its young population is another challenge.
  • On the plus side, fresh ideas include reality TV as a vehicle to motivate young people to work on behalf of their local communities.
  • Finance is also being mobilised through innovative development impact bonds.


Innovation in the Sahel region falls into three broad categories: digital technology, innovative delivery methods for development projects, and innovative financial and legal frameworks. African experts say innovation in the region works best when it builds on local structures and traditions. Yet it also has to overcome disillusionment and religious radicalisation, particularly among the 60 % of the population that is under 30 years old. Malian Mantchini Traore offered L’instant Thé as an example of innovative methods of bringing development to the youth of the Sahel. L’instant Thé, roughly translatable as a moment for tea, is the name of her reality TV show that encourages young Malians to develop projects to improve their communities. Run as a competition over 25 shows, the idea that gained the most local support won matched funding from the organisers. At the end of the first series, two out of the three winning projects were run by women. For financial innovation, Brussels-based KOIS showcased development impact bonds, which are designed to attract social investors to support projects that traditional donors deem too risky or uncertain to back. The social or private investors agree success criteria with traditional donors up front. If independent evaluators confirm the project has achieved these targets, the donor reimburses the original investors, potentially with a premium payment on top. If the project fails to reach its impact targets, the social or private investor takes the financial hit. First created in the UK in 2010, impact bonds aim to increase efficiencies and improve monitoring of developmental outcomes. KOIS outlined a women’s menstrual hygiene project in Niger and Ethiopia, which it is developing with support from the French government, and which would have had difficulty attracting traditional grant funding. Impacts to be monitored include raised awareness of menstrual cycles and sexual health, which are both taboo subjects in traditional communities. In terms of digital innovation, the multistakeholder AFD for Inclusive and Digital Business in Africa, said it has 23 digital start-ups lined up for support in the region. These include an online networking platform in Morocco, where people can publicise their skills to potential employers. The main technical challenge for digital businesses in the Sahel region is the lack of reliable electricity supplies, especially in rural areas, which may have no electricity at all. The AFD for Inclusive and Digital Business has also encountered a certain cultural reluctance to engage with digital technology, as well as limited availability of formal training opportunities and financial support.


For a region facing such deep gender, religious and territorial divides – as well as digital inequalities – each of the presenters at the EDD2019 seemed to brim with energy and confidence for the future.

Organised by


Alizée Lozac'hmeur
Juliette Averseng
Mantchini Traore
L'instant thé
Hatoumata Magassa
Executive Manager
AFD For Inclusive & Digital Business in Africa
Gautier Uchiyama
Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, France