The King Baudouin Foundation has handed the 2016-17 King Baudouin African Development Prize to the founders of BarefootLaw (Uganda), Farmerline (Ghana) and Kytabu (Kenya) at a biennial award ceremony at the Royal Palace in Brussels.

It was attended by King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium. The Prize recognizes the outstanding achievements of three young African tech-entrepreneurs driving social change across the continent.

By empowering those at the heart of social enterprises to advance, the Prize endorses a new model of global development that views entrepreneurship and local leadership, rather than traditional aid, as the key to sustainable change.

A release made available by the Foundation to the Ghana News Agency on stated that for the first time, the Prize would be awarded to three organisations to recognise the growing number of socially minded tech-entrepreneurs across the continent.

“All three organisations share the underlying principle of using simple technology to connect people with essential knowledge.

Each tech-platform enables communities to access and share information in fundamental areas: education (Kytabu), legal rights (BarefootLaw) and agriculture (Farmerline),” the release said.

BarefootLawis is the first online legal service in East Africa. Of Uganda’s approximately 2,600 licensed lawyers, the majority are based in Kampala, leaving millions of citizens with hardly any access to legal services.

The organisation offers free-of-charge services that help those who are in need, especially the most vulnerable, to understand and defend their basic rights.

Smallholder farmers are the backbone of African economies, but many are held back by a lack of readily available information. Farmerline connects more than 200,000 farmers with market information, peers and larger organisations. A study conducted with fish farmers revealed that, farmers who subscribed for Farmerline’s information services for an entire season have seen revenue grow by more than 50 per cent.

Kytabu developed an innovative textbook content-leasing app for students. The app makes school-reading accessible to 11 million students in Kenya to break down the high rate of students currently without access to textbooks (1 in 10).

The award Prize includes an award of € 75,000 for each organisation and access to a wide network of stakeholders who will support them as they grow.

Commenting on the event, the Chair of the King Baudouin Foundation, Thomas Leysen said: “By enabling local, creative initiatives focused on social good to grow, we promote a culture of self-sufficiency and empowerment, not dependency.

“Traditional foreign aid and donating funds have proven theirs limits if what we want is to create long-term change on the continent.

“The Foundation believes in recognising and supporting local entrepreneurs who are passionate about finding solutions to local development challenges. Our winners have set a new precedent on how technology can change lives across Africa.”

The Chair of the Prize Selection Committee, Koen Vervaeke, said: “Expanding the Prize to recognise three winners instead of one is a reflection of the abundance of tech-entrepreneurs driving social change across the continent.

“Young entrepreneurs are changing the economic landscape on the continent. They represent the future, a future that is happening now. Illustrating this in three key sectors was the only way of doing justice to the diversity of this transformation,” he said.

On his part, Gerald Abila, BarefootLaw Founder, based in Uganda said: “I am humbled by this award and the recognition of BarefootLaw’s work. In 2012 we set out with the goal to demystify the law and empower people to understand their rights. The few legal practitioners in Uganda are based in the capital city, making it difficult for people both in urban and rural areas to access legal services.

“Our journey is just starting. With the money and mentorship offered through the Prize, we will be able to grow and support more people to protect themselves, their families and communities from legal wrongs”, he added.

Farmerline Co-founder AlloysiusAttah based in Ghana said: “We are excited to grow and expand with the support of the African Development Prize. Agriculture is central to African economies.

“We see the impact that technology is having on local communities; our ambition is to connect even more smallholder farmers with direct access to global markets, information and finance. We are building the operating system for small-scale farmers in Africa. Hopefully, this will make them exponentially more successful.”

Kytabu Founder ToneeNdungu based in Kenya said: “Quality education is at the heart of human development. Many students miss out and are held back because they cannot afford books that are curriculum required.

“Our app changes that. We are the alternative to textbooks. It is solutions like this that will transform our communities and enable people to build more prosperous lives.

“We are proud to be a part of a new wave of development across the continent and looking forward to developing the platform further through the Prize.”

The King Baudouin Foundation, which was set up in 1976 on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of King Baudouin’s reign, is an independent, pluralistic foundation working in Belgium and at the European and international level.

It seeks to change society for the better by investing in inspiring projects and individuals.

In 2016 the Foundation provided a total of € 41.9 million in support to 2,211 organisations and individuals.

The aim of the King Baudouin African Development Prize is to acknowledge the work of African individuals or organisations that have made an exemplary contribution to development in Africa.

It also seeks to draw public attention to the many inspirational stories of hope, struggle and success, which emanate from the development field in Africa.