While it's trite to talk about "thinking outside the box" or "coloring outside the lines," one thing I wish for in 2011 is that entrepreneurial Africans continue to discover new ways of seeing possibilities rooted in their indigenous culture and resources.
Drawing unashamedly from my own family, that may mean teaching materials science in Africa using African proverbs and anthills, critiquing cultural sensitivity in technology, rewriting African history, or developing new approaches to architecture. It also means creating new products and services. Emeka Okafor's fabulous blog Timbuktu Chronicles is a treasure chest for following the explosion of creativity and entrepreneurship in Africa. The blogroll there links to too many noteworthy sites to list here. Check it out!
Of course I'm especially interested in things connected to the food and hospitality industry. I've noticed a disheartening proliferation of styrofoam (polystyrene) and plastic take-out containers in Ghana. Carrying food home in these from parties, funerals, restaurants, etc., seems to be becoming a mark of prestige. The disposal problem, added to that of plastic water sachets and bags, is horrendous. Of course, some creative folks are working to recycle some of this waste, in a variety of forms, such as bags and baskets, yarn and beads.
An "outside the box" approach would be that of finding an African alternative. Years ago African women (and women elsewhere) were urged to use "modern" methods of feeding their children formula in glass or plastic bottles with rubber nipples instead of breastfeeding. Today, of course, folks realize that "mother's milk" is a far superior (cheaper, healthier, and generally simpler) solution.
When I first arrived in Ghana, people often used palm leaves as plates for serving many foods. I remembered that when recently given a lovely set of dinnerware from Verterra, a US company based in New York but using workers from India. The plates are made from palm leaves! As the package enthuses, the plates are "All natural, chemical and bleach free, nontoxic--no plastics or waxes, 100% compostable, naturally biodegrades . . . microwave and refrigerator-safe, no trees cut down, made from fallen leaves. . ." (BTW, the plates are also reusable.) What a lovely idea. Why not bowls? Serving platters?