The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) introduces the timbuktoo Initiative, a $1 billion innovation fund dedicated to investing in African startups. This initiative stands out as the largest of its kind on the continent.
Ahunna Eziakonwa, UNDP Africa Bureau Director, emphasizes that “timbuktoo aims to transform ideas and early-stage innovations into successful pan-African enterprises, attracting both global and local investment. The focus is on innovative solutions for people and the planet.” The fund made its debut at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda pledging $3 million to support the initiative, which will be based in Kigali, Rwanda. Kagame expressed the need to equip African youth with the tools for realizing their full potential.
According to UNDP, Africa currently represents only 0.2% of the global startup value, despite contributing 2% to the global trade value. Alarmingly, 89% of venture capital in Africa originates from foreign sources, with 83% concentrated in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Egypt. Additionally, over 60% of this capital targets the fintech sector. Eziakonwa highlights the potential of a knowledge-driven African economy, envisioning a transformation beyond the continent’s natural resources. She refers to it as a true revolution.
Over the next decade, timbuktoo plans to support startups in specific sectors across eight African cities. This includes fintech in Lagos, trade, logistics, and e-commerce in Cairo, healthtech in Kigali, Cleantech in Nairobi, and the creative sector in Cape Town. Other cities will witness targeted efforts in smart city/mobility in Casablanca, edtech and traveltech in Dakar, and agritech in Ghana.
This substantial investment aims to impact 100 million livelihoods and generate 10 million new jobs on the continent. The UNDP emphasizes timbuktoo’s unique design, blending commercial and catalytic capital to mitigate private investment risks. The initiative adopts a pan-African approach, engaging with the entire startup ecosystem, including government policy, universities, corporates, development partners, catalytic partners, and commercial investors.