Paving the way for an innovation ecosystem

Ama Afrifa-Tchie, founder of the The Inclusion Agilist and head of culture & wellbeing at MHFA England reflects on her experience at the AfriLabs Annual Gathering, an event she was supported to attend by AFFORD.

Hosted in partnership with the African Union Commission Department of HR, Science and Technology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, AfriLabs was attended by over 300 delegates from across the continent and the diaspora.

Being from the diaspora myself, it was so inspiring to see such a wide and diverse representation of African individuals, gathered to talk about technology. Living in the western world, this isn’t the narrative or the vision you see – let alone think about – when you talk tech.

The theme of the event was Connect: Towards an Integrated Innovation Ecosystem and the aim was to bring together all players of the African innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem – hubs, venture capitalists, investors, development agencies, media, government officials, start-ups, innovators and entrepreneurs, academics and researchers, training and legal consultants, business people, professional development experts, creatives and the diaspora – to create synergies and pave the way for the ecosystem to thrive and enable wider African development.

There were inspiring speeches, discussions and debates tailored towards building strong systems, increasing institutional capacity and sharing technology and people-driven ideas that foster collaboration between stakeholders to increase investment, research, creativity and skills.

Some of the panel sessions focused on:
• Working with hubs to support African start-ups
• Working with corporates to support African start-ups
• Increasing early stage investment into African start-ups
• The role of the media in promoting the African innovation ecosystem
• Increasing the participation of women in the African innovation ecosystem

My favourite keynote speaker was Dr Celestin Monga. He shared his experience, was open and honest and emphasised that for us to progress as a continent, we must build more partnerships and be willing to work together. He spoke about self-esteem, the deficit of knowledge, capacity building, intellectual curiosity, conflict resolution and leadership.

I was part of a panel that talked about integrating the African digital and tech start-ups ecosystem with the diaspora business ecosystem, organised by the African Diaspora Youth Forum in Europe (ADYFE) and the NYETAA Mali business innovation and incubation centre, in collaboration with CIDO of the African Union.

I spoke about access to talent and building an inclusive network and community of people who have a lot of knowledge and different experiences to share. I also spoke about cultural nuances and understanding the associated opportunities and barriers.

We fed back to AfriLabs and CIDO, recommending:
• Capacity building to include transfer of knowledge and access to diaspora community skills
• Finance to use local contacts and knowledge to facilitate and deepen access.
• Information connect via hubs, build reliable information loops, liaise via official channels.
• Diaspora entrepreneurs to provide resources, knowledge and network transfers.
• Hubs to provide B2B opportunities, joint ventures and access to new markets.
• Market access to build local partnerships, use verified channels for communication and services and leverage on technology.

AfriLabs also launched three programmes during the event:

  • EdTech Hub: a research project that seeks to develop education technology in developing countries.
  • AfriLabs Capacity Building Programme: a 36-month intensive programme for hubs across Africa.
  • Catalyst: a new investment solution for African start-ups co-designed by the African Business Angels Network and AfriLabs

I met some truly amazing, smart and passionate individuals who are all playing their part to connect the diaspora with Africa. But there is still a lot to be done. The narrative must change and be more inclusive. I look forward to seeing the landscape change as CIDO, AfriLabs and all participants strive to take things forward.

Thank you to ADYFE, AFFORD UK and CIDO for this memorable experience and opportunity. It was an honour to be part of this forum.

The AfriLabs Annual Gathering was held 28 to 30 October, 2019.

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