Category Archives: Informal Entrepreneurship

Strengthening innovation support systems at Ghana’s Suame Magazine

In my previous blog on skills development and innovation at Ghana’s Suame Magazine, I showed how the high level of collaboration and sharing of knowledge and skills within the cluster is contributing to innovation. Further, I provided some preliminary findings on the inability of these artisans’ to keep pace with the changing technology landscape. I also found that few artisans expressed interest in joining or maintaining a membership with local trade associations due to these associations’ inability to implement their key mandate of skills development and facilitation of business for members and firms.


Exploring Crowd-Based Capitalism in Africa’s Sharing Economy

The sharing economy has been growing at an ever-accelerating pace throughout the world as peer-to-peer networks and collaborative company models continue to pop up. The sharing economy, according to Rachel Botsman, is “an economic model based on sharing underutilized assets, from spaces to skills to stuff, for monetary or non-monetary benefits.” They often involve platforms that enable the exchange of services between peers or businesses. Arun Sundarajan explains the sharing economy somewhat differently: “What is new, in the “sharing economy,” is that you are not helping a friend for free; you are providing these services to a stranger for money.” He describes this as “crowd-based capitalism.”


Innovation by “makers” in South Africa’s Gauteng Province

The “Makers” who come together to tinker and hack in the maker collectives of South Africa’s Gauteng Province display a wide range of innovation practices, our research for Open AIR has found.

Our study, Collaboration and Appropriation in Gauteng Makerspaces, investigated the activities of eight Gauteng maker collectives. The findings have now been published in Open AIR Working Paper 6, entitled The Maker Movement in Gauteng Province, South Africa.


Challenging the Meaning of Innovation: Lessons from Refugee-Founded Organizations in Kampala

There is often a limited and constricted view of African innovation, especially when it comes to refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). While there is the common perception that refugees on the continent are resilient, innovative, and resourceful, it is only in the sense that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Too often, refugees and IDPs are perceived as persons with only needs. The reality is that refugees and IDPs are just like everyone else and bring many skills, ideas, and innovations to the global marketplace, both the marketplace of ideas and of goods.


Open AIR hosts South African Maker Movement Workshop

Enthusiasts and researchers gathered on Friday, March 3, 2017 to share research on the growing African maker movement. The workshop was hosted at the Institute for Economic Research on Innovation at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa.


Understanding Knowledge Dynamics and Scaling-up in Micro Enterprises in Otigba Market Cluster

In part 1, I discussed our preliminary findings from 73 field interviews conducted by my team and I in the Otigba Market Cluster. Since then we have conducted an additional 123 interviews, making a total of 200 interviews in all. In this second post, I will discuss more on the kind of innovations in the cluster, how MSMEs in the cluster scale-up, and the impact of knowledge sharing on MSMEs’ innovativeness.


Skills Development and Innovation at Suame Magazine, Ghana

Funded by the Open AIR network, my case study is about skills development and innovation at Ghana’s Suame Magazine Industrial Cluster. The research I am conducting seeks to understand the processes and systems that contribute to how knowledge is or is not shared and how skills are acquired in one of West Africa’s largest informal sector industrial clusters, Suame Magazine. How skills are learned and what is communicated between those in the industrial cluster will help us to learn how innovations are shared and taught among these informal businesses.


Understanding the Dynamics of Knowledge Transfer in Nigeria’s Otigba Hardware Cluster

So what is the Otigba Computer Village? Oyelaran-Oyeyinka in 2006 described it as the biggest ICT hub of West Africa – perhaps the biggest ICT market in all of Africa – because of the size and the volume of business activities carried out on a daily basis within the cluster. The research I have been conducting looks at the knowledge dynamics at play in the informal ICT businesses in the cluster, with a view to understanding how these dynamics drive informal enterprises’ innovation and scaling-up. While other studies of the cluster have evaluated the size and capacity of the cluster, the evolution of the cluster, mode of operation, performance, sustainability and constraints, there are no studies looking at how the local businesses identify new and useful knowledge. With over 5000 businesses in the cluster, there is bound to be knowledge exchange either through spillover or conscious transfer. How is this happening?


Makerspaces and Creativity

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.


“Making” Innovation Happen: Open AIR Hosts a Successful Workshop on the Maker Movement at uOttawa

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.


Emerging issues in campus and community “makerspaces” across Canada

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.


Innovation, Makerspaces, and the Future: A Lesson from the University of Pretoria

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.


Beyond the Poster Boy of the Maker Movement

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).


Upcoming research into informal entrepreneurs

Our Open AIR researcher Dr. Erika Kraemer-Mbula is continuing her exciting research in South Africa about informal sector entrepreneurs.

Informal entrepreneurship is receiving increasing scholarly and political attention in Africa. The continent’s booming youth population calls for an unprecedented need to create income and livelihood opportunities. Besides the traditional focus on formalisation, there is a growing interest in understanding the creative processes and innovations occurring in informal enterprises. However, evidence remains scarce, and research on informal enterprises still represents a relatively new and unexplored frontier.