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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.