Leaders and managers of 45 African innovation hubs and communities from 25 African countries convened at the Impact Hub in Kigali, Rwanda, to co-design better innovation and entrepreneurship policies. The African Innovation Hub Convention culminated in a joint policy manifesto that was unanimously endorsed by the hub managers present, and is targeted at Africa’s policy makers at the national and regional levels.
The event was organized on the sidelines of the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali (8-9 May). Under the theme “Accelerating Africa’s Single Digital Market”, this year’s Summit brings together the largest community of stakeholders within the ICT space in the continent to discuss the role and power of digital technologies, including blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual and Augmented reality, among others.
The African Innovation Hub Convention on May 6-7 was attended by a very diverse group of hub managers, with fifty six percent of the participants identifying as female and the major linguistic groups on the continent represented, including Wolof, Swahili, English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Malagasy, among many others. Over the course of two days, participants broke into focused working sessions to discuss key public policy areas and to co-write the i4policy communiqué in view of accelerating digital transformation and contributing to more equitable, inclusive and sustainable development of economies and societies.
The first version of the i4policy vision was first drafted in October 2016 when a smaller group of African innovation hubs, bloggers, entrepreneurs and community catalysts, met in Kigali to discuss their public policy challenges. The current manifesto was achieved through collaborative discussions, with input from the innovation hub managers physically at the event, as well as communities participating virtually from across the continent.
The policy manifesto focuses on seven key areas: education, research and development; digital infrastructure; public multidisciplinary spaces; business registration; finance for innovation and entrepreneurship; local and regional markets; and taxation systems.
The African Innovation Hub Convention was also an opportunity for the leaders of existing hub networks and associations active around the continent to share their work and progress with the gathering, with a view to strengthening existing networks and ties between innovation communities on content as well as policy visions. Participants learned about AfriLabs from Anna Ekeledo, they heard from Global Innovation Gathering’s Vicy Wenzelmann, Impact Hub Africa’s Emily Sheldon, Alex Ntale from the Rwandan ICT Chamber, Karimy Sy of JokkoLabs, and René Parker of rLabs, and more.
Rym Jarou, the Talent and Capacity Building Manager at Smart Tunisia spoke about how the recently passed Tunisian Startup Act came to be and shared learnings from that process that can serve as a useful example for startup ecosystems and their respective policy makers across the continent. Jarou recommended her policymaking peers to believe in young people, because they can give you solutions. She further emphasizing the importance of involving all stakeholders, which “guarantees two things: implementation and buy-in”. Her counterpart from the innovation ecosystem, Walid Hached of Cogite, an important coworking space in Tunis, stood by Jarou’s side and shared the ecosystem’s perspective, emphasizing the “amazing bottom-up approach” to developing the policy.
“It is time for innovation for policy in Africa”, says Markos Lemma from Ice Addis, Ethiopia. “We are not asking our governments to listen to us anymore. Instead, we will work with them to co-create policies that work for the innovation community. It is not a demand-supply relationship we want to have with policy makers. We want to have a relationship of cooperation and collaboration.”
Other highlights from the African Hub Convention were TED-style talks by CEO of IOHK and co-founder of Cardano and Ethereum blockchains, Charles Hoskinson, and the special advisor for Smart Africa Secretariat, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, as well as live performances from Rwandan artists.
The hub gathering was co-organised by i4policy, Jamaafunding, Kumasi Hive, the African Agribusiness Incubator Network and Impact Hub Kigali with support from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the International Organization of la Francophonie (OIF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), Input Output, R0g, and the Smart Africa Secretariat, organisers of Transform Africa. The African Union Commission attended as observers.
In many African countries, there are significant barriers to growth for small and medium enterprises, and it gets even more difficult for innovative startups that leverage technologies outside the scope of current legislation, according to Dana Elhassan, at the African Development Bank. “Our mandate at the African Development Bank is to foster inclusive growth for the economies of our member states. But a theoretical, top down approach is no longer sufficient for the purposes of guiding the governments who look to us for advice. Interacting with innovators and entrepreneurs in the context of this bottom-up policy deliberation gives us an opportunity to use our convening power to recommend policy interventions that best serve the interests for which they are intended”, she said.
The i4policy Alliance has begun formalizing a legal structure, bottom-up governance structure and values. A second hub gathering will be organized later this year to validate the legal structure and importantly to provide a practical bottom-up training for hub managers on policy support methodologies developed by the community. For example, Kumasi Hive together with 29 other hubs in Ghana formed the Tech and Business Hubs Network (TBHN) to work with the Government to improve the regulatory environment for innovation.
Last year, Impact Hub Kigali also developed a policy hackathon methodology for supporting the development of Rwanda’s next seven-year Private Sector Development and Youth Employment Strategy. Civic Innovation Lab and Impact Hub Lagos together with i4policy recently contextualized the policy hackathon methodology and conducted events in Abuja and Lagos to work together with the Office of ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This and other methodologies will be developed into toolkits to support policy engagement at the national level to practically implement this manifesto.