Dec 21, 2023

Julie Lanckriet-Goerig: Bridging Continents through Innovation and Diplomacy

From the heart of Africa to the pinnacle of innovation: Julie Lanckriet-Goerig's journey of connecting continents

Julie Lanckriet-Goerig: Bridging Continents through Innovation and Diplomacy

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Julie Lanckriet-Goerig has woven a life story as rich and diverse as the continents she connects through her work. Born into a family that traversed the landscapes of Africa, Julie's childhood was a tapestry of experiences across Central African Republic, Mauritania, and Niger. These early years, under the guidance of her father, a dedicated pediatrician, instilled in her a deep appreciation for the continent's diverse cultures and challenges.

Her academic path at Sciences Po Strasbourg, focusing on International Relations, particularly in Security and Defence, was a natural progression from her African roots. However, Julie's career trajectory took a fascinating turn with her role at the French Ministry of Defence's Innovation Laboratory. Here, she discovered a new universe of technology and innovation, which she would later apply to her passion for Africa.

Julie's journey is marked by prestigious roles, including positions at the French Embassy in Nigeria and the European Delegation in Dakar. Her multilingual proficiency in English, Spanish, and Portuguese further exemplifies her global perspective and ability to connect with diverse cultures.

In an exclusive interview, Julie shared insights into her passion for African innovation and economics. "I was always confronted with other children asking me about 'Africa'. The average French person's knowledge of the African continent is very poor, and I very soon made it my duty to present the continent in the best possible light," she recalls. This mission led her to focus on the continent's innovative revolution in tech ecosystems, highlighting positive narratives about Africa.

Julie's work at EMERGING Valley, where she has been the Chief Operating Officer since January 2020, is a testament to her commitment to fostering connections between Europe and Africa. Her leadership in managing impact startup acceleration programs and her editorial direction at StartupBRICS demonstrate her dedication to showcasing African innovation.

Julie's unique blend of security expertise and innovation acumen, coupled with her deep-rooted connection to Africa, positions her as a key player in shaping narratives about the continent. Her work is not just about connecting businesses or economies; it's about bridging worlds, challenging stereotypes, and creating a space where African innovation is recognized and celebrated on the global stage.

With over 15 years of experience in western and central Africa, what key changes or trends have you observed in the region's innovation landscape?

In my opinion, the game-changer was the mobile revolution, because everything came - and still comes in many rural areas - from the expansion of mobile access on the continent.

Africa has been called the 'mobile first continent', with many users jumping straight to mobile phones without ever having had a fixed line. A leap into the future that has brought with it an incredible range of services for both urban and rural users. The first of these is financial inclusion, and with it access to improved electricity supply.

For every mobile phone that an African household owns, it's a potential access to electricity with the incredible business model of "pay as you go", a business model that allows African consumers to pay for a range of services on demand and by sms; eventually, it’s an access to health education or agricultural advices through weather forecasts, all in the local language and again powered by incredible startups.

More than just a mobile-first continent, Africa can also be seen as a digital-first continent, and I remember being shocked at some point between 2015 and 2017 to be surrounded by mobile money users in the depths of the Benin City market, while my French relatives were basically non-existent in this space.

As the Chief Operating Officer for the EMERGING Valley Summit, what inspired you to become involved in organizing such a significant Euro-Africa startup summit?

EMERGING Valley stands at the crossroads of two universes: African impact entrepreneurs and European innovation stakeholders. The former need visibility, international exposure and soft-landing opportunities in Europe to grow their businesses. The latter are looking for new innovative models to replicate, high-potential companies they can invest in and ways to strengthen their RSE policies. At EMERGING Valley, we believe it's a match, and that the summit will bring together a win-win approach, which is the only way to co-construct fruitful and lasting partnerships between our two continents.

Moreover, we are convinced that Africa and Europe must join forces and share a common vision for our humanist models to compete with the American and Asian digital giants.

Digital sovereignty, individual rights and a human-centered approach are the new frontiers for African and European citizens, today and tomorrow. Let’s achieve this together.

In your role as the Tech Project Manager for the French Embassy in Abuja, what initiatives did you lead to promote technology and innovation?

Nigeria boasts of one of the greatest startup ecosystems on the continent. But back in 2017, the embassy was basically starting from scratch, so I decided to conduct field research, interviewing local players (ministries, startups, hubs, donors, government agencies), mapping what already existed and building a strong network of contacts. Contacts that proved to be very useful because, a year later, when French President Emmanuel Macron visited Nigeria, tech was high on the agenda and I was tasked with setting up the President's address to 2,000 young African entrepreneurs and ICT influencers, in partnership with the Tony Elumelu Foundation. A logistical nightmare, but a very rewarding challenge! A few months later, still building on my local network, I also led the Nigerian startup delegation to the VivaTech Summit in Paris, promoting the event, convincing the sponsors and organising the venue in Paris, where I was their liaison officer.

How do you see the intersection of technology and social impact in the context of African innovation, and what role does EMERGING Valley play in fostering this intersection?

Technology is a powerful enabler for social impact and social enterprise as a whole. Innovation, disruption or leapfrogging, call it what you will, often comes from a gap in the system, a bottleneck. And usually the bigger the problem, the bigger the innovation. What you have to understand, coming from a Western background - and especially a French one - is that public services as we know them in Europe are almost non-existent in many parts of the continent.

Many of the solutions that these African innovators are bringing to the table are to build these services, to meet the daily needs on the ground, in a context of extremely limited resources and with a multiplied creativity.

That's where technology comes in: digital is an incredible tool for expanding access while reducing costs, and is a real catalyst for these innovations.

To give you a clearer picture, let me give you three very concrete examples :

  • From the Nigerian company LifeBank to Infiuss in Cameroon, several incredible startups across the continent are now providing blood banking services, offering African consumers digital apps that connect blood donors to hospitals and help them screen, track, store, distribute and prepare blood products, as well as manage inventory. They are helping to save millions of lives every year, addressing one of the continent's biggest health service failures.
  • Another concrete example combines education and financial inclusion: solar lamps that are leased to African households, who pay for electricity services on demand via SMS and even own the lamp in the end. That's the model of Baobab+, which provides electricity to enable schoolchildren to study after dark in Senegal, Ivory Coast, DRC and many more.
  • Last but not least, some very creative business models have emerged in the agricultural sector, providing digital platforms that directly link the field to the fork, allowing urban consumers to sponsor specific harvests (with a small return on investment along the way), while securing the distribution channel for farmers: that's the model chosen by GoGlobal in the DRC and Togo, as well as Farmcrowdy in Nigeria.

Our role is to support these brilliant entrepreneurs through our startup programmes and to give them a voice and visibility, access to connections and funding opportunities through the EMERGING Valley Summit.

Could you share some success stories or notable experiences from field missions you've led with EMERGING Valley?

There are plenty! The first that comes to mind is our internal startup programme, EMERGING Mediterranean, supported by the French Development Agency and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In just 3 years, we have identified more than 1000 impact entrepreneurs in a very limited perimeter of 5 countries - Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya - while accelerating 90 of them and awarding €100,000 in grants to the best 16 startups.

The highlight of this programme is the field bootcamp that we organise every year (twice in Morocco and once in Tunisia): meeting these entrepreneurs and understanding the full extent of their impact on the ground - whether it's in the health, education, agriculture, social economy or women's entrepreneurship sectors - seeing the entrepreneurs share ideas, give everything they have in 3 days and scale their model in a very intense 72-hour rush is one of the best experiences I've ever had! And this could not happen without our incredible local network of partners who are key to us and who compete to host this bootcamp every year.

What do you believe are the most pressing challenges and opportunities for entrepreneurs in the African tech ecosystem today?

The first constraint will always be funding: although the number of international VCs focused on the continent continues to grow, and even better, the number of local VCs and business angels is increasing, raising funds for a high-growth business remains a daunting task if you have no prior network or connections.

The legal environment is another major bottleneck, and often one of the first to be mentioned by entrepreneurs. But there's a real awareness of this issue and many countries are working on Startup Acts with tailored benefits and incentives for entrepreneurs.

In terms of opportunities, there are both structural and conjunctural: the continent's demographics are both a plague and an opportunity, with a very young and dynamic population, while growth indicators continue to outperform many Western countries, attracting skilled investors. I would like to conclude with regional integration - such as the African Continental Free Trade Area Support Programme - which will be the real game-changer in allowing promising businesses to truly scale up across Africa, but which still depends on concrete operationalization and political will.

As someone deeply involved in supporting African entrepreneurs, how do you measure the success and impact of initiatives led by EMERGING Valley?

Beyond all the KPIs we track for our own growth as well as for our sponsors, every year we are deeply humbled to see the progress of our event.

We have just completed our 7th edition and since 2017 we have gathered more than 12,000 attendees, 750 speakers, 650 startups and close to 350 tech hubs and VCs from more than 100 countries across Europe, Africa and the world. For the third time in our short history, our 2023 edition has received the high patronage of the French President Emmanuel Macron, and has also been labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean. But what's more important is that our partners and the entrepreneurs keep coming back year after year, which remains our best indicator and a real reward.

What advice do you have for individuals and organizations looking to contribute to the growth of the African tech ecosystem?

Boots on the ground, multiplied coalitions of local partners and constant optimism!

What is your one guiding principle in both life and work?

Contextualise, try to understand the environment of others and always move forward.

What mark do you hope to leave on the world?

In the current environmental context, I'll be tempted to answer 'none'! On a more symbolic note, let's say that I will be proud if I can somehow contribute to the journey of some inspiring characters who will in turn inspire generations to influence and work for positive change in their communities.

Images courtesy of: Julie Lanckriet-Goerig

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