Breaking more grounds – a note on Africa’s innovation ecosystem

Africa’s startup and innovation ecosystem is almost unrecognisable from 11 years ago when we started Co-Creation Hub and I am excited by the explosion, which is about to happen, as more capital and support are being mobilised to back innovators and creative entrepreneurs across the continent.

The progress takes me back to 2007/08 when we started the market assessment for what will end up being CcHUB. One particular experience shaped my approach and mission, which the state of play today validates and energises. On visits to Lagos, I was interested in understanding what innovation meant to medium and large corporations in Nigeria and, as such, spent a good part of my time in meetings with innovation managers, particularly in the leading banks. One thing that stood out from my engagements was that nearly all the organisations I reviewed situated their innovation function within Corporate Social Responsibility departments. It didn’t appear to be a function that was considered the source of their competitiveness. In those days, CSR focused on disbursing leftover resources to make the company look good and less about social investment. It is probably still the same today for quite many corporations.

That experience shaped my interest in driving the growth of the innovation ecosystem in Nigeria, and eventually Africa, to elevate innovation as the essential means of driving economic progress and shared prosperity. This decision guided the evolution of my interest and ethos on this fascinating journey.

Innovation for me is about:

1. A better society,

2. Shared prosperity and more inclusive Africa, and

3. The actualisation of potential (both for nations and individuals).

It has been an enormous privilege to lead and nurture CcHUB with many amazing people and partners. From a local hub in Yaba to a pan-African innovation enabler that empowers entrepreneurs as well as private and public institutions to accomplish so much in a short period. I have seen innovation contribute to our journey towards a better and more inclusive society where individuals can apply their talent to lift our nations. From a point where only a few local leaders were willing to bank on the ecosystem (like Funke Opeke and Tony Elumelu) to today where more high networth individuals are investing alongside foreigners to strengthen our evolving innovation ecosystem.

Though innovation is all around us, the Coronavirus Disease and recent developments have revealed the growing importance of science and technology to every nation. While the current wave of digital technologies is central to every facet of how our world is evolving, they are equally elevating the need to be more scientific in addressing the impact of their changes on society. These changes pose a ‘wicked problem’ for Africa in particular. Building a better community is no longer enough; we must constantly reimagine our place in this rapidly evolving world. The requirements of many solutions to our societal challenges are thus continually changing.

To this end, the following areas of our work at CcHUB will be receiving renewed attention in 2022:

*Building relationships and expanding our reach to support an integrated innovation ecosystem across the continent. We want to help create a support network for entrepreneurs and innovators across Africa to leverage resources beyond their immediate environment and market. We will direct more resources to contextualise African Continental Free Trade Area for entrepreneurs from all over Africa.

*Building on the work we’ve started with PAUSTI and PAULESI (funded by African Development Bank), we’ll direct more resources towards supporting academic institutions across Africa to participate in the innovation ecosystem.

*Deepening the work we do at relearn, eLIMU and STEMCafe to accelerate the development of a robust ecosystem that emphasises how we apply ‘learning science’ to rethink or revamp education across Africa (science education in particular).

*Through the CcHUB syndicate, accelerate our drive to mobilise local capital to leverage resources globally for innovators across Africa, while helping to craft policies that encourage local domiciliation.

*Contribute to strengthening Africa’s ability to capture more value from our creative economy through social capital and technology. Building on our know-how in ecosystem development, we will support technological solutions that strengthen the creative economy value chain across Africa.

In addition, we are announcing a dedicated team of researchers focused on building a body of knowledge on the implication of cryptocurrency on the sovereignty of nations. The team will aim to engage ongoing research outcomes and multiple stakeholders in conversations on the implication of cryptocurrency on nation-states across Africa. We recognise the incredible value this development brings to individuals. However, not enough is known on its importance to us, collectively, as a people and society.

Our work as ecosystem builders and enablers isn’t just to create wealth, but to constantly deepen our collective ability to create and retain wealth today and in the future. We live in an exciting time that calls for us to be intentional.

Harambee!

*Tijani is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Co-Creation Hub.

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