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In Africa, areas such as internal and international trade, banking and finance, communications, health and logistics, etc. are some of the areas that have been heavily impacted by technology and innovation. Obviously, the brilliant ideas and solutions we see today were not born out of a vacuum. New opportunities, better access and inclusion for all, as well as speed and efficiency of operations, are notable solutions today; simply because our tech hubs have been kept alive and teeming with innovative ideas to improve the status quo.
These hubs, which serve as incubators, accelerators and other forms of innovation hubs, are making strides in providing solutions to Africa’s most pressing development challenges across different sectors, thereby transforming the level life of Africans significantly. By contributing to the development of successful entrepreneurial ecosystems, these hubs have an impact in real time, in practical terms, and not just in theory. These are indications that Africa is advancing, with technology and innovation as key drivers.
Obviously, these emerging technology hubs have great potential and their impact cannot be of much use if they do not survive. And yes, it takes targeted support to see technology hubs survive. Essentially, tech hubs provide a space where the growth of high tech companies can be accelerated and, in turn, bring prosperity to the community. With foresight and experience, they help build community, foster collaboration, embrace diversity and catalyze innovation within their spaces. The success of technology hubs is not a coincidence either. They can be broadly attributed to network bodies / organizations that are specifically set up to be key drivers and important contributors to the sustainability of the technology and innovation ecosystem in Africa. Research has shown that networked organizations that support the survival and growth of technology hubs do so by providing funding resources, support systems, infrastructure, culture, policy and regulatory framework, education, and markets. .
One of those network organizations striving to accelerate the tech landscape in Africa today is AfriLabs – a Pan-African community and connector of African tech hubs. Founded in 2011, AfriLabs was born out of the need to create a community around rapidly emerging technology hubs, essentially innovation spaces that serve as meeting points and communities for developers, startups, entrepreneurs and investors. AfriLabs operations started with just 5 hubs in 4 countries, with the sole aim of providing sustainable support to African innovators to help train high potential entrepreneurs who will drive economic growth and social development in Africa. In ten years, the network organization has experienced astronomical growth and currently has more than 300 member hubs in 51 African countries in its portfolio and still counts.
Here are the 4 key channels through which the organization has driven the growth of technology and innovation in Africa:
- The power of a vibrant community: Leveraging a collective intelligence community is a major way for AfriLabs to foster technology and innovation in Africa. Over the years, AfriLabs has built a strong network of thriving tech communities. By managing one of the largest tech communities that provide members with access to a well-connected network of tech innovators and entrepreneurs across Africa, AfriLabs is able to foster collaboration with teams from different sectors, in particular on innovation projects and activities. An example of an initiative that leverages the power of its vibrant community is the AfriLabs Annual Gathering, which has been held annually since 2016. The AfriLabs Annual Gathering provides a unique opportunity for AfriLabs network hubs and other stakeholders in the AfriLabs. African technological ecosystem to come together, share knowledge around a common theme and forge partnerships. Another example is the AfriLabs Candid Conversations, which are online panel sessions where leaders of the technology and innovation ecosystem in Africa share their knowledge and experience with the community on important and sensitive issues on how African innovation facilitators, policy makers, donors and other stakeholders can do better for the innovation economy in Africa.
- Capacity Building: Over the years, AfriLabs has conducted extensive research to determine the needs of African technology hubs. Based on this research, AfriLabs designs and manages a series of initiatives targeting hubs across Africa. These initiatives have now been updated and extended to the AfriLabs capacity building program (ACBP), which is being carried out with the support of the capacity building project of the French Development Agency of 2 million euros, through the fund of seed Digital Africa. Key activities include physical training workshops, peer learning, funding and certification. The objective of the program is to strengthen the member clusters, thus contributing to the growth of the African innovation ecosystem while increasing the percentage of successful and ready-to-invest start-ups on the continent. In addition, part of ACBP is Learning Week AfriLabs Hubs is a series of virtual peer-to-peer capacity building workshops that equip managers and staff of innovation centers with required and formal training and skills. in incubation management and the skills to start, operate and expand the centers. / innovation centers in Africa. In the first quarter of 2021, five (5) Hubs Learning Week rounds were held with more than 2,000 participants, including hub managers and hub staff in 54 African countries and 2 diaspora countries. attended the learning week.
- Access to funding and resources: For innovation to thrive, it needs adequate funding. Beyond facilitating collaborations and partnerships that accelerate the tech ecosystem in Africa, AfriLabs also provides access to finance for tech start-ups in Africa to promote and support innovators. In 2020 alone, the network awarded more than € 279,000 in grants to community members and supported more than 212 start-ups, 78% of which are led by women. Another example is the recent launch of Catalytic Africa, an investment tool that aims to increase the pool of capital available to promising growth stage African entrepreneurs, support the startup ecosystem and increase the visibility of the business. impact for institutional donors. This co-matching investment was developed by AfriLabs in collaboration with the African Business Angels Network (ABAN) and designed to fund African start-ups with innovative digital solutions and measurable impact.
- Influencing policies across Africa: AfriLabs is also renowned for leading policy advocacy to help shape the future of technology in Africa. The organization helps members of its community to partner with national governments, regional bodies, and local and international non-governmental policy advocates to initiate policies that help nurture the innovation and innovation ecosystem. entrepreneurship. AfriLabs currently influences politics in five African countries, including Mali, Senegal, Niger, Nigeria and Rwanda. AfriLabs also relies on partnerships to achieve this. Their recent partnership with the United Nations Development Program’s Accelerator Labs to drive innovation policy in Africa is a prime example.
As the tech landscape in Africa continues to evolve, networked organizations like AfriLabs are vital, as they will not only help close the connectivity and funding gap that often blocks the growth of tech companies across the continent; but will also support the development of the African technology and innovation ecosystem, through initiatives that will lead to further acceleration of technology and innovation on the continent. This in turn will enable Africa to participate in the global market for knowledge and innovation, thus stimulating its socio-economic growth.