History was made a few weeks ago when some stakeholders of the African tech and innovation ecosystem converged at the African Union for the 4th edition of Afrilabs annual gathering, a yearly event designed to bring together hubs from over 40 African countries into a location, with the sole aim of discussing the way forward for tech and innovation in Africa.
The role a body like Afrilabs plays cannot be over-emphasised because this era presents a great opportunity for Africa and Africans to take charge and fashion out how the continent can be truly developed. Young innovators coming from Lagos, Douala, Kigali and Accra, among other cities, are testing, prototyping, building and in many cases, collaborating to solve various types of challenges. And this, indeed, is very heartwarming.
I had earlier planned to publish this piece immediately after returning from the event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but the nasty experience I had, with the NDLEA officials, which was published last week necessitated that it got delayed by one week. Anyway, I am glad that last week’s piece titled, ‘Our Airports Need The Latest Technology Equipment’, got published instead because, based on the feedback, a number of people, particularly, young people have either been intimidated or harassed by various officials at our International airports.
My hope is that someone is listening because at the end of the day, Africa’s future lies in her young. We have invested in them and should support them, not frustrate or intimidate them, especially, because many of those in authority simply do not understand how to view the world. I must, however, say that a lot seems to be changing because more traditional and bureaucratic institutions are now consciously trying to understand or even under-study the innovation ecosystem.
This is why hosting the 4th edition, of the Afrilabs Annual Gathering, right at the headquarters of the African Union is a welcome development and quite commendable. I believe it was a good start for the purpose of engagement but it must now be taken to the next level. The African Union should engage stakeholders to find how to provide the necessary support and required policies that will assist players in the ecosystem because what they have achieved, with little or no support is highly, commendable.
I believe that Africa needs to get to the full realisation that aids as it were, is not designed to develop Africa and this is evident from the fact that despite all the billions of dollars of aids received, the continent still faces numerous challenges. I belong to the school of thought that believes that what Africa needs to do is build the capacity of its entrepreneurs, particularly the young, to solve its own problems. This will eventually create more jobs but most importantly, help to fuel a system of improved efficiency and effectiveness.
Stories abound of various start-ups already changing the status quo in their respective countries, which is a trend that has to be encouraged. Tech and innovation hubs play an important role in all of this, which is precisely why Afrilabs, the umbrella body of hubs in Africa, with well over 180 members from 40+ African countries meets annually. The aim of Afrilabs is to support hubs to raise successful entrepreneurs that will create jobs and develop innovative solutions to African problems.
Afrilabs is set to assist African hubs and start-ups overcome some of the challenges they face in their entrepreneurial journey. Some of these challenges it has identified are inadequate and inaccessibility of funding, inadequate technical resources, inadequate support systems and challenging regulatory environment as well as inadequate requisite training and management skills by hub managers.
Afrilabs has gone ahead to find ways of resolving these issues by partnering with angel investors, consultants, training academies, international organisations, such as the African Business Angel Networks, African Union Commission Department of Human Resources, Science and Technology, Liquid Telecom, UK Aid, World Bank, Briter Bridges, United Nations Economic Commission For Africa, and many more, to serve as catalysts for resolving the challenges and propelling the hubs and start-ups to achieve their objectives and attain greater heights at what they do. There is no doubt that African hubs and start-ups are set for positive rejuvenation in the nearest future as these partnerships have started to make a positive impact on African hubs and start-ups.
One of the positives for me is that each year, something awesome comes out of Afrilabs gathering that will positively affect various ecosystems. As an example, the 3rd annual gathering in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, was where we made the first attempt at trying to bring hubs together in Nigeria. Today, the Innovation Support Network Hubs is now a reality with a membership base of 75 hubs that have just concluded a deeply rewarding event that members who attended found useful. I doubt if this would have become a reality if the stakeholders that made it a reality did not attend the gathering.
In the same vein, the 4th annual gathering turned out useful but this time, hub networks in three African countries decided to collaborate.
I am excited to announce one of the outcomes of this year’s Afrilabs, which was the signing, of a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding by the Association of Start-ups and SME Enablers of Kenya, Innovation Support Network Hubs, Nigeria, and Technology & Business Hubs Network, Ghana.
The agreement which was signed on October 29, 2019, is aimed at integrating the innovation ecosystem, among the three countries, (Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana). This MOU is to foster collaboration among these networks as they work to encourage knowledge exchange, capacity development programmes for the networks, as well as, growth.
The MoU was signed at the 4th AfriLabs Annual Gathering, which held at the African Union Headquarters, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Representing the network of hubs at the signing of the MOU were Sheilah Birgen, Vice-Chair, ASSEK; Fiifi Baidoo for TBHN; Hanson Johnson, Ecosystem Director, ISN Hubs; Jeremy Riro, Treasurer, ASSEK and Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata Jnr., Marketing Director, ISN Hubs.
The partnership among the association of hubs in the three countries will surely breed positives for hubs and start-ups in their respective countries.