Over the past few years, Kenya’s innovation scene has come to the limelight, resulting in some naming the country as the technology hub of Africa. Some of the factors that have led to this acclaim are the growing number of shared working spaces, young technology enthusiasts, incubators where developers are mentored and trained, and a craze for mobile application development. The Open AIR team in Kenya – comprised of Dr. Isaac Rutenberg, Victor Nzomo, Louisa Matu-Mureithi and myself – is conducting research on mobile innovation in Kenya. As a researcher on the team, I am helping to conduct research, interviews, and analysis on the case study entitled “Open Collaborative Models of Mobile Tech Innovation in Kenya.”
This is the first in a series of blog posts highlighting Open AIR’s latest working paper, A Framework for Assessing Technology Hubs in Africa, which will soon be published in the New York University Journal of Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law. This is the first paper to offer a framework for systematically describing and assessing the emergence of high technology hubs throughout Africa.
Back in October 2016, three of our Open AIR Research Fellows had the unique and rewarding opportunity to participate in the Second Annual Institute of African Studies Undergraduate Research Conference at Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies. Undergraduate researchers from across the globe presented their research findings on a wide breadth of topics – from fiction describing Nigerian culture, to professional development for youth in South Africa, to political structures that influenced the welfare state in Tanzania and Kenya.
Open AIR North Africa Distinguished Speaker Series: Ibrahim Al-Safadi on Makerspaces and Employment Opportunities
On 10 December 2016, as part of the RiseUp Summit in Cairo, Open AIR’s North Africa hub hosted their first Distinguished Speaker event with Ibrahim Al-Safadi, the CEO of Luminous Education. The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) invited Al-Safadi to speak about the role of “makerspaces” to tackle unemployment and to share his experiences in how to create a makerspace that ensures that the individuals involved end up with jobs.
The Summit was part of a series of events that took place in Egypt in conjunction with the Global Entrepreneurship Week. A2K4D’s Senior Research Officer, Nagham El Houssamy, participated in the summit, speaking on the Data-Driven Innovation Panel on Friday, November 18.
In mid August, Open AIR hosted a roundtable discussion on makerspaces and innovation hubs in Africa. I found it really fascinating to take part in the discussion, which featured a number of uOttawa entrepreneurship and engineering professors, Open AIR researchers, visiting professors, and staff from IDRC. The presentations and follow-up conversations were thought provoking and the room had a great mix of diverse ideas.
How the world evolves in the next decade (and beyond) may be dependent upon a new-age movement re-instilling age-old skills: the maker movement. In my ongoing research into the maker movement in Canada and South Africa (see earlier posts here and here), I recently co-hosted a workshop in Ottawa with attendees from the University of Ottawa, representatives of makerspaces in the community, and those with knowledge about makerspaces elsewhere in the world.
Makerspaces are places where innovators gather together to develop new ideas, technologies and entrepreneurial opportunities. The concept of sharing not only space but also tools and equipment is gaining popularity in many countries. Canada is home to several makerspaces ranging from hackerspaces, to fab labs, to informal studio spaces where people can create, invent, and learn. Some are run for profit, some are non-profit, and some are run by individuals or larger institutions.
Creativity is a key ingredient in innovation, and the University of Pretoria’s (UP) makerspace screams it from the moment one arrives; the walls are brightly painted orange and green, there are several large tables surrounded by equally bright chairs, and along the back and side walls lay computers, makerbot 3D printers, and, of course, a coffee machine. Currently, UP is the only South African university with a ‘formal’ makerspace, although many, including the University of Cape Town and Rhodes University, are working to establish their own official makerspaces.
Some people tour Europe’s finest vineyards others tour Australia’s sweetest surf spots—I tour South Africa’s pioneer makerspaces; part of the growing global maker movement. The movement is a culmination of people becoming “makers” (someone who uses their personal abilities to create anything from mechanical or electrical to visual or musical) and spaces becoming makerspaces (an interdisciplinary area stimulating people to create by providing resources and idea sharing).