Inside Africa's Hubs: 2010-2014

47 images Created 27 May 2013

From Kigali to Kampala, Dar es Salaam to Dakar, Cameroon to Kenya and across the African continent, new collaborative workspaces and ICT hubs are emerging as beacons for the ICT hopes and dreams of the continent.

As fiber optic cables continue to lay foundations for a new Africa, the continent is undergoing a “tech-hub boom”, as Erik Hersman – Co-founder of Ushahidi and Nairobi’s iHub, one of the most well known hubs in Africa – pointed out in a recent BBC article.

There are now more than 90 hubs, labs, incubators and accelerators in Africa, covering more than 20 countries. There are nearly twenty in Nairobi alone- and most have emerged in the past two years. According to recent research, a new African hub is springing up nearly every two weeks.

The World Bank has a €12.9 million program to encourage innovation and competitiveness via innovation spaces, and The Gates Foundation's Beyond Access Initiative is showing how libraries and open spaces power development. USAID is sponsoring a $7.5 million Social Innovation Lab in Cambodia, and South Africa’s RLabs has even invested in an innovation hub in Somaliland.

In many African countries, the trouble for young entrepreneurs has often been physical space. With the exception of a handful of expensive or high-end local coffee chains like Kenya’s Java House, there are few places on the continent for young developers, innovators, and entrepreneurs to interact. Few places offer free-wifi in a comfortable enough setting for people to work, individually or collaboratively.

Africa’s hubs are a brand new kind of physical space, which lie somewhere between a university lab, coffee shop and internet café. They are essential melting pots where creative young tech graduates can nurture innovation and find opportunity. Students, programmers, developers, entrepreneurs, designers, investors and techies come to work, network and create. Built upon values of openness, access, collaboration, education and sharing, they are building communities of trust.

These spaces have also become critical international touch-points for those seeking to engage in technology and business in Africa. By virtue of being nerve centers for the tech community, they have become points of exchange for long-term expatriates and short-term visitors looking to identify trends, find local talent, and catch the African wave of innovation.

Africa’s hubs ooze with creative and collaborative-centered design, reminiscent of an early 2000 Google headquarters. Moveable whiteboards act as window shades. Bean bags serve as chairs. Electricity outlets have built-in adaptors for frequent travelers. Color schemes are a pastel collage. And of course, foosball tables are almost always required.

As many of the ‘well-established’ hubs are now two years old, and new ones are sprouting up every week, a new angle of storytelling is needed to map their impact.
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