Building A Thriving Innovation Economy (3) (1)

After COVID-19 outbreak, the African Union in collaboration with UNDP and AfriLabs worked together to implement the first African business simulation that seeks to help Micro/Small/Medium Enterprises MSMEs to overcome the current COVID-19 challenges and the lockdown. More than 400 participants and 10 different partners have been involved in building and participating in the simulation in 2020 from 5 different countries: Cameroon, Egypt, Sudan Senegal, and Zimbabwe.



Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

1. Foreword

2. Executive Summary

3. Overview of AfriLabs

4. Our First Decade - Continental influence and

key learnings

5. Our Context - The world in which we work

6. The Africa We Want

7. Our Theory of Change

8. Building Ideal Innovation Hubs for Africa

9. Our Strategic Pillars

10. The Risks

11. Conclusion


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

ECOSYSTEM is a dynamic framework consisting of a set of stakeholders - startups, hubs, innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, academic institutions, public institutions, corporations - who interact and engage with each other to seize new opportunities, support innovation and strengthen the overall business environment for entities at different stages, sectors, and geographical locations. INNOVATION HUB is a centre for learning, ideas, co-creation and community that nurtures innovative ideas and market disruption, and supports creative ways of solving problems through offering on-the ground support across the entirety of the start-up lifecycle. Innovation hubs also offer support to other ecosystem members through training, opportunities for joint projects, career development and data resources. INNOVATOR is an individual who creates new ideas, methods or products. Innovators can be found in various environments and industries, and across ecosystem communities.

ENTREPRENEUR is an individual who works to create a business model around specific products or services with the aim of creating value for customers and making profits.

START-UP is a company in its first stages of operation searching for a repeatable and scalable business model.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy


WORD -Anna Ekeledo, Executive Director

I am excited to present to you our 2021-2031 strategic document, “Building A Thriving Innovation Economy - Setting Africa up for Success.” This document presents our stories, our learnings and successes and our aspirations. It shares the goals we have set for ourselves to ensure that Africa realises her potential to be a global leader of innovation. The past year, leading up to our 10th Anniversary, has been an exciting journey for the AfriLabs team. We have had honest conversations that have helped us take stock of our last decade of operation. It has been an exciting ride! We have experienced tremendous growth as a team and as a community, and we have been impacted positively by great partnerships along the way. We have also seen the immense resilience of our community, as we

battled with the negative effects of a global pandemic, overcoming and shining through with increased innovativeness, community support for each other and a collaboration towards a common cause.

We have used the last few months to zoom out so to speak, and really figure out what role we play in this vibrant African innovation ecosystem. We have come out with more clarity of purpose, which makes our work even more exciting. Our mission, and our vision redefined two years ago continue to guide our work, and this year the team has collaboratively developed the values that will enable us to have the kind of impact we want AfriLabs to drive. The strategic themes attest to our commitment to achieve excellence through our core functions of creation, dissemination,exchange of knowledge, and distribution of resources to innovators and entrepreneurs as well as our duty to engage the AfriLabs community and stakeholders.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

We have defined four strategic pillars which capture our priorities for the next ten years - supporting sustainability of hubs, catalysing innovation-friendly policies, building a body of innovation knowledge and building our internal capacity.

One of the resounding themes that came out over the course of our team, community and partner conversations was the need for contextualisation. We are excited to explore what it means to run a relevant, high impact sustainable hub in Africa, and support new and existing hubs to do so.

The last few years have seen the introduction of startup policies, innovation policies, data policies and so on, across the continent. There is a role for the AfriLabs community and our partners to ensure that these policies favour innovation and that they are implemented as intended. Our efforts to catalyse the innovation economy are for nought if we do not ensure that existing and proposed policies support that innovation. We recognise the need for open data. We want to collaborate with the entire African Innovation ecosystem to curate a knowledge base for the continent, as well as create a framework for other stakeholders to do the same. Our dream is that all innovators, entrepreneurs and their support systems will contribute and benefit from this ambitious goal.

Finally, we recognise that we need to strengthen our internal capacity to better position ourselves to tackle the task ahead. Building a thriving innovation economy is a mammoth task that requires us to have the right processes, right team and right resources.

We are excited that our partners from across the continent and the rest of the world have already begun working with us to realise our four core priorities, which align with their own missions and we invite more partners to sign on. We would love to have you.

Building A Thriving Innovation Economy - Setting Africa up for Success.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Executive Summary -Nekesa Were, Director of Strategy

O ur strategy design process has been an extremely fulfilling experience. We have had consultative sessions with our community that have taken the form of needs assessments, listening tours, feedback surveys and roundtables. These have helped us to better understand, articulate and address the needs of our community. We have also spoken to several friends and partners of AfriLabs to understand their impressions and expectations for our network. These conversations have challenged us, validated us and given us more clarity on our partner engagement efforts and our positioning in the African innovation ecosystem. We have had several internal co-creation sessions as well as a major organisational audit. Through these sessions we have defined our core AfriLabs personas, clarified our purpose and defined our organisational values. Having taken stock and spoken to multiple stakeholders, we have identified needs we are uniquely positioned to address. We have also found points of convergence and opportunities for collaboration and we are now well on our way to delivering an end to end value chain for innovators and entrepreneurs across the continent. Our 2021-2031 strategy, “Building A Thriving Innovation Economy - Setting Africa up for Success” is our roadmap to do this conclusively and these identified needs, points of convergence and opportunities for collaboration have formed the foundation for our strategy.

propose iterations to the way that we work. For example, lack of impact data is highlighted as an area to be addressed and is incorporated into all our strategic priorities through plans for constant monitoring and evaluation as well as plans to use this data to represent evidence and learning for the ecosystem. Having highlighted our experiences, the document moves on to describe the context in which we work, highlighting youth related data and the benefit to Africa if we harness it well. The document also explores different players and the work they do highlighting our disjointedness and making a case for the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

The strategy begins by taking stock of the last 10 years and surfacing lessons learnt. The rest of the document seeks to borrow from these lessons to

The strategy moves on to vision cast, listing our community aspirations which are aligned with


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

the African Union’s Agenda 2063 - The Africa We Want. The chapter is a clarion call for shared vision and shared impact. AfriLabs has admittedly not broadcast its intended and actual impact as widely as it could have. We begin this process by presenting a working theory of change to articulate our intended impact and associated pathways. This work begins to demystify the impact of AfriLabs and the role and impact of African innovation hubs. We consider our member hubs as the primary channel for impacting innovation in local communities. This leads us to a working definition of ideal African innovation hubs, challenging the contextualisation of our structures, program design and delivery and motivation for setting up hubs in our communities. We intend for this to trigger a conversation on the need for hubs, involvement and leadership from local communities in setting up African hubs, the meaning of and possibility of sustainability for

African hubs, and of course the impact of African hubs.

Having laid down the foundation through our learnings and aspirations, and having positioned African hubs as key to a thriving innovation economy, we then move to our strategic pillars and present our key activities to ensure that we have a sound internal structure, offer maximum support to hubs, influence innovation policies and curate key evidence and learnings to support data driven growth of the African innovation ecosystem. At the core of our way of working is collaboration. Partners and community members can rest assured that even as our goals and scope become more ambitious, our DNA remains the same. Co-creation, community, localisation and inclusion will continue to be guiding principles for our approach to engagement at all levels.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Overview Of AfriLabs

A friLabs is a network of over 300 innovation hubs in over 50 countries across Africa. AfriLabs was founded in 2011 with a desire to build a community, united by a common vision for excellence in Africa, around rapidly emerging innovation hubs - spaces that serve as centres of excellence and physical nexus points for entrepreneurs, innovators, technologists, and investors.

AfriLabs is working through these spaces to build innovation champions, innovation culture and innovation infrastructure that will encourage the growth of Africa’s knowledge economy by supporting the development of companies and sectors through technology, and indigenous innovation.

AfriLabs also serves as a landing pad for organisations and people wanting to invest in the continent. AfriLabs aims to provide a model for African innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration. The network is easily accessible to leaders of innovation hubs, and the communities they serve, as a place where they learn from each other and connect easily.

Our mission is to support innovation hubs and their communities to raise high potential entrepreneurs that will stimulate economic growth and social development in Africa. We achieve this through capacity building, financing, networking, policy advocacy, and providing insightful, reliable data. AfriLabs Mission

Our vision is a thriving innovation economy in Africa, driven by the power of our community. AfriLabs Vision


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Afrilabs Values

UBUNTU We believe in shared experience and collaboration. Our work is made possible and better through the strength of our community and partners, and our combined desire to see a thriving innovation economy in Africa driven by the power of our community. Our impact is only felt because it feeds into the impact of those we work with. We participate where we can make a significant contribution. WE EXPERIMENT AND WE ARE CURIOUS We relentlessly try and test solutions in a quest to serve our ecosystem better. Many times we succeed, but sometimes we fail. When we fail, we learn and move forward with an evidence base that makes us better. WE ARE PAN AFRICAN We are dedicated to the dignity of the people of Africa on the African continent and in the diaspora. Our primary interest is in the prosperity of our people. Our reach is far and wide. We are working towards an Africa whose leadership, resources and resilience work towards a flourishing continent and economically empowered citizens. OUR HUBS COME FIRST If it does not work for our community we won’t do it. Our community is at the heart of everything we do. The way we work, the people and organisations we interact with and the programs we design are all primarily to strengthen the communities in our innovation hubs. WE DO THE RIGHT THING We are committed to achieving our mission by always doing the right thing. We believe that by infusing professionalism, excellence, transparency and integrity into all our offerings, we ensure high quality products and services, attract the right talent and impact society with the right organisations. EVERYONE IS WELCOME We believe that great ideas can come from anywhere. We pride ourselves in being a neutral space that serves as a nexus point for all technology, innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem members like governments, development agencies, academic institutions, entrepreneurs and investors to interact directly with innovation hubs.

We believe that it is only in ensuring inclusion and diversity that we build an ecosystem that will be the foundation on which Africa develops to be the global powerhouse we want her to be. We will excel without discrimination of any kind.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

WE ENSURE GENDER EQUALITY AfriLabs recognises that development cannot be achieved in Africa without gender equality. As such, we will ensure adherence to principles and international standards of gender equality and parity in its operations and practices as well as in the programmes we implement.

WE DRIVE IMPACT While putting our hubs first and embracing an open innovation culture, we work to ensure that our work is measurable and drives change at scale. If we impact our hubs positively then they impact their innovators positively and these innovators impact their communities. Our work only means as much as the positive change it drives.

WE ARE A COMMUNITY We are a well curated membership organisation connected by our unflinching vision for economically and socially empowered communities and countries.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Our First Decade -Continental Influence and key learnings 2011 - 2021

Exciting beginnings

There was an air of excitement and uncertainty in the late 2000’s when Africa began to see the rise of independent innovation hubs. The African continent had begun to truly embrace digitalisation for efficiency and economic growth and with this came the beginning of democratisation of innovation. More Africans were venturing to innovate at scale outside of government agencies, universities and corporates. The concept of independent innovation hubs was relatively new in the African context and the few spaces that had succeeded in launching and beginning to grow communities naturally gravitated towards each other. Early innovation hub founders will tell stories of finding each other, working to define for themselves this concept of innovation communities, understanding the local context and perhaps being overwhelmed by the opportunity that growth of the hubs presented. While there was still a lot of learning to do, what became apparent quickly was

the need to share experience and collaboratively design innovation communities across Africa.

AfriLabs was founded to give innovation hubs an efficient avenue to share what worked and what didn’t work in innovation communities across Africa, to document the journeys of innovation hubs and to get smarter faster with regard to understanding and supporting local ecosystems.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Growth of community, acceleration and an explosion of opportunity

AfriLabs found a base in Abuja, Nigeria in 2016 and the secretariat has grown from a team of one to a team of over thirty with team members spread across three countries - Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and growing. The AfriLabs community has grown exponentially in the last 10 years, from 5 centres in 2011 to over 300 in 2022. AfriLabs hub members together support over one million innovators across the African continent who are solving the continent’s most pressing issues.

end of 2021 had been held in Ghana, Egypt, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria. The gatherings attract thousands of registrations and offer an opportunity for the AfriLabs community of innovators to network and co-create with other members of the ecosystem from host government agencies to corporates and local universities. AfriLabs innovation hubs are increasingly finding their niche with many building and implementing sector-specific programs. In 2020, about 50% of surveyeWd AfriLabs member hubs were focusing on education programs while just under 40% were focused on agriculture, artificial intelligence and financial services. 1

The AfriLabs Annual Gatherings previously hosted in Berlin, on the margins of an international conference, are now held across the African continent and by

Surfacing of fundamental challenges

Innovation hubs quickly began to see skill development as a vital component to their success and over the years have focused on learning and then teaching principles of program design and delivery, partnership development, leadership, fundraising and relationship building between innovators and investors. 2 Models for hub sustainability and technology skills continue to be pain points for hubs across Africa with only 18% of AfriLabs hubs reporting financial sustainability, 30% breaking even and 52% not financially sustainable in 2020. 54% of hub staff members had low levels of experience in key business skills, including finance management, marketing, communication, and technology. 3 At a secretariat level we could see the impact our work had but we struggled to quantify it. For example, while we knew hubs were benefiting from the community we fostered and that being part of

the network amplified individual and collective work of our members because they told us, we had not collected the data and processed the evidence to share this impact publicly and convincingly. In our formative years, because of pressure on finances and a rapidly changing African innovation ecosystem, we were unable to develop long term recurrent programs for our community and relied on short term partnerships, and on organic growth and interaction of the community. While we began to experience an increase in innovation positive conversations and actions from international, national, regional and local organizations, and also from innovation hubs and other innovation communities, the disjointedness was palpable which translated to replication of a lot work, restricted access to data and learnings, and a perceived battle for resources.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Building solutions

Over the last 5 years, AfriLabs has created a strong community of members, friends, partners and clients and together with them has delivered programs, projects and other interventions, whose impact we are now beginning to see and measure across participating hubs and startups.

The AfriLabs Capacity Building Program is strengthening hubs to better equip them to nurture successful African startups 4 . The EdTech Hub used evidence based solutions to disrupt how technology is used in the education space 5 . Rollo Africa is a simulator program that is inspiring and supporting small African enterprises facing challenges after the COVID-19 outbreak to manage and operate in a competitive environment within different market outlooks, in a risk free environment 6 . The Catalytic Africa program is our African startup matching fund in collaboration with ABAN (African Business Angels Network), which aims to strengthen African startups, African hubs and angel investors while delivering impact results to institutional funders 7 .

1 3e26/1572269613096/4.0_AfriLabs_REPORT+FINAL-compressed.pdf 2 3 4

5 6 7


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Our Context -The World In Which We Work

According to the United Nations World Population Prospects 2019, Africa is expected to double its population to nearly 2.4 billion people by 2050 with about half of that being people under 25 years of age. Nine countries will make up more than half the global projected population growth between now and 2050 with 5 of these countries being in Africa: Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, and Egypt. Africa’s young and increasingly educated population is another asset for accelerating the continent’s digital transformation 8 . The number of Africans aged 15 to 29 with an upper secondary or tertiary education has risen from 47 million in 2010 to 77 million in 2020. Progress is most notable in North Africa, where 47% of the youth have at least an upper secondary education. Under business-as-usual scenarios, this number will increase to 165 million

by 2040. In relative terms, the proportion of African youth completing an upper secondary or te rtiary education could reach 34% by 2040, close to the proportion in Asia and up from 23% today. If African countries follow the same trajectory as projected for Korea in a fast-track scenario, this proportion could even reach 73% (233 million) by 2040. These encouraging statistics come with a warning. Despite the increasingly educated population, the African continent is facing massive youth unemployment and under-employment indicating that we are already facing major challenges in absorbing youth into the job market. Our population is growing faster than we can create jobs. The African Development Bank has stressed the need for urgent measures to match the continent’s growing population and youth unemployment, which they likened to a “ticking time bomb.”


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

It is important to note that Africa’s wealth is not just in a youthful workforce but in the fact that this generation has within it innate innovators, forward thinkers and doers, open minded, curious youth whose imaginations, hunger for solutions and ability to create must be harnessed and encouraged. Africa’s innovators and entrepreneurs continue to show their capacity to innovate world class products and services and build world class businesses. Acquisitions, taking companies public, successful fund raises, improved livelihoods, digitalisation across African entities, demand for skill and knowledge, regional and Pan African scale of businesses and steady increase of local funders for local businesses is a testament to the fact that the African innovation ecosystem is ready for a new wave of exponential growth. According to the African Development Bank, Africa has made great progress in improving her infrastructure. Projections of electrification rates suggest a steady rising trend to about 70% in 2040 providing access to 800 million more people. At the current trajectory, broadband coverage in Africa will likely reach 99% by 2060. 9 To take advantage of these encouraging trends, we must jointly develop and implement a strategy that will enable more Africans to earn an adequate living wage that allows them to live a life of dignity. We must create and support opportunities for Africans to continue to develop the necessary skills to take

advantage of and actively support the improvement of infrastructure that serves as the backbone of scalable solutions for Africa built by African innovators. We must create enabling environments, enabling policies and demand enabling leadership that gives innovators the space they need to innovate. We must adopt a holistic approach to deliver sustainable broadband by ensuring connectivity,digital literacy, content infrastructure, increased access to funding data protection and privacy, cyber security and gender equality 10 . The last twenty years have shown us what Africans can do with less than adequate connectivity, minimal infrastructure and a disabling policy environment. Imagine what the next twenty will bring if we work actively to improve these factors! AfriLabs is committed to supporting a broad range of strategies that can make this a reality. For example, creating communities of innovation where ideas and people are nurtured to build lasting solutions with no discrimination, and working with regional, national, and sub-national governments and networks to create and maintain a framework of laws and infrastructure that encourages economic activity for job making and innovation organisations to perform optimally. AfriLabs is also committed to supporting the growth of the community of African funders. As skills and infrastructure improve, there is more opportunity for investable innovation.

8 Africa’s Development Dynamics 2021, 9 development#:~:text=Infrastructure%20development%20is%20a%20key,productivity%20and%20sustainable%20economic%20 growth.&text=Investment%20in%20infrastructure%20accounts%20for,potential%20to%20achieve%20even%20more. 10


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy


For decades, African innovation has been rooted in the needs of communities. It has been empathetic, aspirational and futuristic, created by innovators who yearn for more for themselves and their communities. These innovators have constantly challenged the status quo working to prove their ability and that of fellow African innovators to build solutions for Africa that the world can use. While innovators continue to push boundaries building the Africa they want and creating the dignified lives that they aspire to for themselves and others, other elements are required that acknowledge the strides innovators have made and work to provide the wind under the sails that innovators need to continue their work at scale. The AfriLabs Strategy for 2021–2031 seeks to ensure that innovators remain at the forefront of conversations and considerations for parties working towards dignified lives for Africans. The strategy is aligned with the aspirations of the entire African continent as articulated in the Africa Union’s, “Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want”. AfriLabs envisions a moment when all governments across Africa create and implement enabling policies that ensure support of ideas, startups, small businesses, inclusive opportunities, fair taxes and eliminate all barriers to trade. Decent jobs in strong businesses, supported by progessive policies, are not just a

means to an end. Business, policy and infrastructure cannot thrive in isolation, they serve a greater purpose as captured in the African Union’s, seven core aspirations 11 : 1. A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development 2. An integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan-Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance 3. An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law 4. A peaceful and secure Africa 5. An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, shared values and ethics 6. An Africa, whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children. 7. Africa as a strong, united, resilient and influential global player and partner. AfriLabs Strategy 2021 - 2031 embraces these aspirations as the vision for what Africa can and should be. The innovation and entrepreneurship community across the continent has embraced an open, collaborative, and inclusive approach to problem solving that is particularly well suited to tackle complex, long term, problems that the AU aims to solve.



Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

For Agenda 2063 to be successful we will all have to work together on solving the biggest challenges in our society such as providing quality health care for all, quality education for all, decent standards of living for all, in societies where human rights are respected and protected. In order for Africa to have a robust, innovative private sector, we have to engage in all thematic areas. AfriLabs envisions an efficient African health system that provides the entire population with access to good quality services (prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care), health workers, medicines and technologies with a financing system to protect people from financial hardship and impoverishment from health care costs. AfriLabs envisions an Africa where education is a human right and a force for sustainable development and peace. Where education empowers people with the knowledge, skills and values to live in dignity, build their lives and contribute to their societies. AfriLabs envisions an Africa anchored by the spirit of Pan Africanism where the vastness and variety across Africa is a foundation upon which we can build a society of accountable leadership and transformative social change that will address Africa’s social and economic challenges and meet the needs of Africa’s dynamic population. We envision an Africa where solidarity amongst Africans positively influences the progress of the communities and societies of which they are a part. An Africa where all Africans live dignified lives supported by well-designed, evidence- based, policy designed to reduce poverty and increase employment, gender equality, child protection and improvements in health and education outcomes.

AfriLabs envisions an Africa where citizens are encouraged and engaged in providing solutions for the challenges in their community. This engagement is informed, inspired, and supported by a vibrant civil society which governments and the community see as an essential building block of development and national cohesion. AfriLabs envisions an Africa where regional, national, and sub-national governments shall have a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, and respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law. Governments that are capable of building well and building smart to ensure that the right policies and infrastructure are in place at the right time, meeting the right needs. Governments that promote and do not stifle innovation, that manage volatile political seasons and respect citizens democratic rights to expression on digital platforms at all times. AfriLabs envisions an Africa where great innovative ideas are funded on merit, based on their applicability and impact. Where African funders and funding organisations are champions for investment in local solutions and invested in the growth and development of Africa’s innovators and their local innovation ecosystems. We imagine an Africa where we all did in practice what we have committed to do on paper: from individuals to local communities to academic institutions, to civil society to funders to governments. If we did, then Agenda 2063 might be achieved long before 2063 catalysed by Africa’s own entrepreneurs and innovators. It is these innovators and entrepreneurs who are the core beneficiaries of the work that the AfriLabs community does.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

The AfriLabs Theory of Change

AfriLabs believes that supporting the development of a pan-African infrastructure for indigenous technology innovation and knowledge creation— with hubs serving as centres of excellence—enables Africa to participate in the global knowledge and innovation marketplace, thereby stimulating its economic growth. We believe that innovation comes in all forms from successful startups to talented and experienced content creators, to skilled workforces armed with a mindset for challenging barriers and creating opportunities to empowered communities that have the ability and capacity to identify their challenges and define and develop solutions that work for them. We also believe that innovators can be found everywhere from governments and other public institutions to corporates, civil society and corporates, academic institutions, hubs, community centres, cities, towns and villages. Our purpose at AfriLabs is to form/build/enable/ strengthen a catalyst that creates opportunities for communities across Africa to find and build innovation, and develop channels for deploying this innovation that work for them. This catalyst is the innovation hubs we serve.

This is what rang true when AfriLabs was founded, and what still rings true today. If we do not strengthen the hubs, then the infrastructure on which innovation is built to support local communities to build market relevant solutions is unstable and will not withstand the test of time, political seasons, partner goodwill and ever changing needs of those communities. Where the hubs work as they should, sustainable businesses are built and successful entrepreneurs are nurtured, innovation and entrepreneurial mindsets are adopted across the ecosystem and there is evidence of improved standards of living in local communities where the hubs are based. This evidence, we argue, encourages and supports relevant, enabling policies and other interventions from other stakeholders and ultimately leads to better more inclusive governance and sustainable economic development.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy



Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Africa is the most diverse continent on the planet. Africans and those of African descent are the most genetically diverse among all racial groups. There are at least 3000 ethnic groups and 2000 languages spoken in Africa. Africa is the second largest continent in the world, by land and population. Africa is made up of 55 countries with diverse climates, politics, religions, business environment and innovation cultures. Since inception, we have made a practice of constantly working with our community of hubs, friends and partners to understand their priority areas and pain points, and where these align with focus areas for AfriLabs and our members. The primary role of innovation hubs is to catalyse and sustain an ecosystem that supports communities to learn, build, guide each other, innovate and deploy solutions. How these ecosystems form and function may vary depending on the country, political environment, geographical location and so on. What is right for Niger may not work in Namibia; what is right for Nairobi may not be right for Kakamega even though both are in Kenya and only seven hours apart by road. AfriLabs turning 10 presents the perfect time to work with our hubs to re-evaluate models, collect data and make informed decisions on the type of hubs that will work and provide the biggest positive impact across the African continent. This may call for going back to basics and creating hubs as meeting points, conveners, teachers and community builders. It may call on us to redefine the hub success matrix and develop our own standards for expectations of African hubs based on what our diverse innovation communities needs are. It may call for increasing the capacity of hubs to support scientific and engineering challenges. Different hubs in different ecosystems will require different types of support.

efficiency, a desire for opportunity, a desire to create or identify new markets for solutions. Innovation hubs continue to be well positioned to offer these.

Each innovation community will have to determine the ideal structure for the innovation ecosystem they are building. AfriLabs role will be to provide best practices from our Research, Evidence and Learning, that will set new ecosystems on the path towards delivering effective programming and transformative impact. In this way, AfriLabs continues to fulfil its purpose to form, build, enable and strengthen hubs as catalytic agents that create opportunities for communities across Africa to find and build innovation and skill, and develop channels for deploying this innovation and skill in ways that work for them including entrepreneurship, public office, civic engagement, academics and so on. In re-evaluating African hubs, we will consider personas of different users, different funders, and different beneficiaries. We will also consider specialisations based on geographical location and needs of local communities as well as needs of specific demographics within those communities. Our efforts to re-evaluate African hubs will also interrogate acceptable evaluation matrices to consider when defining impact and success of hubs, and the effect of these hubs on their communities. In doing this we intend to collectively, with friends, partners, hubs, innovators and entrepreneurs, determine the standards by which we will hold ourselves accountable as African hubs working towards the Africa we want. Our hubs have had an incredible impact in the communities they serve. We have certainly seen this in the media and in the individual hub impact reports. We have heard the stories of Africa rising. The hubs and their communities are the heroes

What will likely be similar for innovation communities regardless where they are located or what the socio- political climate is, is a desire for relevance, a desire for


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

• Have founders that have a track record of innovation • Have women in positions of leadership • Invest time in developing relationships with public and private sector, academia and civil society • Have a physical presence in their city/town for a convenings and work space or have regular access to a physical space for collaboration and community building activities • Embrace an open, collaborative, and inclusive approach to innovation • Adopt a hybrid approach by fostering communities as well as offering innovation services or solutions and teaching innovation and entrepreneurship skills. • Have clarity on intended impact that matters for their community and regularly measure and evaluate the impact of their work • Invest in building communities more than just delivery of programs • Have diverse and qualified team members to ensure proper running of entrepreneurship programs, finances, hub operations, technology development etc • Have strong mentor networks with diverse skill sets and sector experience relevant to their communities Over the next few years, we look forward to unpacking these further, understanding and documenting the intricacies of Africa’s diverse innovation communities and supporting their advancement. We will amplify both measurable and non-measurable impact that our community of hubs continue to have across the continent: growth of startups, amount of funding attracted, jobs created, lives impacted by businesses, connections facilitated, underserved demographics supported, digitalisation of communities and sectors, policies and regulation impacted, impact of coaching and mentorship and so on.

of these stories. But we need to understand more deeply what we mean by Africa rising. We need to make sure that we do not mistake hype for reality; we do not mistake hope for achievement 12 . Who has set our measures of our success and are these measures an honest reflection of the impact of hubs and their communities and the situation on the ground? Is it time to redefine this success? For example, while exits, investments and acquisitions are huge wins that we want to have or hear about in Africa, do hubs and their communities do more that would qualify as success? We need to begin to celebrate more of our innovators who are building solutions that are transforming Africa whether they are elusive Unicorns or the numerous Zebras. African hubs have countless stories to tell. In redefining our measure of success, we begin to nurture even more hubs who understand the potential of Africa and want to do their part to help Africa realise its dream of prosperity. We grow more hubs who understand the potential of Africa’s youth force, who understand the potential that exists in an Africa with great infrastructure and want to innovate to build that infrastructure or want to innovate for an Africa in which that infrastructure exists. AfriLabs will redefine this success and realise this success by increasing the value of African hubs. We have done a lot, but a lot more can be done. Our role as AfriLabs is to position innovation hubs as catalysts for community development, national cohesion and ultimately continental economic prosperity. Having said that, in our experience there are some characteristics that hold firm across all successful innovation ecosystems despite our diversity. Successful innovation hubs: • Are started and managed by members of the innovation community that use them • Serve immediate and future needs of their communities by balancing reactionary tactics with anticipatory ones.

12 Ali Mufuruki -


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Our Four Strategic Pillars For 2021 - 2031

Overall Goal: A cohesive high impact innovation community across Africa We believe that a multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach to collaborative open innovation and entrepreneurship is essential to achieving a knowledge economy and sustainable socio-economic development across Africa.

Increasing opportunities for networking and collaboration across different innovation actors in Africa will ensure cross pollination of ideas and building of trust across the ecosystem and ultimately building of relevant infrastructure of support for innovators.





Policy and Practice Advocacy

Research, Evidence and Learning

High Impact Sustainable Growth For Members

Institutional Development for Long Term Sustainability

strategic pillars


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Strategic Pillar 1: High Impact Sustainable Growth For Members

Grow the number of sustainable innovation and entrepreneurial excellence centres and networks in every region of Africa and in African Diaspora target communities.

We believe that innovation can happen anywhere. From rural towns to major cities, from high schools to universities. More hubs are needed to cater to the ever growing needs and numbers of innovators across the continent.

Over the next ten years we will:

Recruit more hubs into our network . There are close to 1000 hubs across Africa, many of which can benefit from the ever growing list of resources we offer in our network. We will amplify our offering and intentionally seek out hubs across the continent to join our community. Hubs will have a clear understanding of the requirements to be an AfriLabs member and will have access to resources to help them achieve this should they so wish. Develop, grow and support national hub networks National Hub Networks are critical for growth of national and subnational innovation ecosystems. Through these national networks we will: • support the launch of new hubs • support the contextualisation of the work that local hubs do to support their communities • build partnerships with national and subnational public and private sectors to support curation of relevant data that all parties need to develop and validate national innovation agendas. • Develop and deploy more inclusive, more valuable membership models. We understand that hubs have different capacities to engage and contribute financially and we want our membership packages to reflect this. As we encourage our members to contextualise their interventions, we too will ensure that our interventions are more inclusive and tailor made to the capacity and needs of our members. By making our membership more inclusive we will support more hubs to achieve their goals and build more trust and collaboration amongst our members. deepen collaborations with national organisations such as the Association of Startup and SME Enablers of Kenya, Innovation Support Network in Nigeria and Ghana Hub Network with whom we have existing Memorandums of Understanding. • develop formal relationships with other existing hub networks. • support hubs to create national hub networks in their countries. • support national networks in implementing their projects and programs


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

We will focus on developing a network of investors, corporates, development agencies, media and academia interested in Pan African impact. We want to form a coalition of the willing who will work with us over the next 10 years, leveraging our individual and collective strength to build launching pads, safety nets and long term support and partnership for our members and the communities they serve. This coalition will also keep us honest in our plan to support innovation communities. We will grow our portfolio of signature AfriLabs programs Through our programs, we will ensure that we provide much needed knowledge and skill building and transfer, and access to funds within the network. We have begun piloting programs like our AfriLabs Capacity Building program, which develops and delivers a critical innovation curriculum to our hubs and Catalytic Africa which aims to strengthen African startups, African hubs and angel investors while delivering impact results to institutional funders. We look forward to scaling these programs and building more programs geared towards ensuring our members are always able to support the growing needs of their communities. We will co-create sustainable impact programmes with partners. We will co-create programs with partners which will offer long and short term learning, working and funding opportunities for our community. We have begun implementing some of these programs, for example the African Union Tech Fellowship Programme with GIZ and the African Union which identifies and deploys highly competent Africa based tech innovators within the African Union headquarters and organs to identify challenges within the systems and propose sustainable solutions. We are also working with Mozilla to introduce Lean Data Practice methods to our community to support how they collect, use, and secure data all while engaging their data subjects.

Strategic Pillar 2: Policy and Practice Advocacy

Generate innovation policy evidence with the AfriLabs community for their use and for the use of the rest of the innovation ecosystem.

Over the years, AfriLabs has participated in and led policy conversations convened across Africa. We have also been and continue to be part of various policy networks. Having worked across the Africa innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem for 10 years, and seen first hand the impact of policies on the community we support, we are now well placed to take a leadership role in ensuring that policies designed for innovators and entrepreneurs work for them.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Over the next ten years we will:

Provide thought leadership on business and innovation policies in Africa. AfriLabs is grounded in the practical reality of its member hubs and will influence policy and practice, based on evidence and learning from emerging practice made available and accessible through our Research, Evidence and Learning pillar. Be a leading convenor on innovation and entrepreneurship policy issues across Africa. AfriLabs will bring together the key players in the field of innovation, entrepreneurship, scaling-up, policy and research on innovation to nurture the interaction between innovators, entrepreneurs, civil society organisations and public and private policy bodies at regional, national, sub-national level. We will shape debates, and contribute to advocacy efforts of AfriLabs members. Ensure adoption, implementation and evaluation of policies Where policies are designed to support entrepreneurs and innovators, we will work with our hubs, national governments, national hub networks, strategic partners to ensure that implementation is realised as envisioned and that there are opportunities for public evaluation of these policies especially by those who the policies affect. Where policies need review following evaluation of their impact, we will work with stakeholders to ensure that such reviews are made. Hub civic engagement. We will develop curriculums on civic engagement and policy design for innovators and entrepreneurs. These will be critical for our hubs to better position themselves as policy influencers in their communities and contribute meaningfully to their national or local policies.

Strategic Pillar 3: Research, Evidence and Learning

Build a unique base of evidence on what works in guiding and encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship across Africa.

AfriLabs and our member hubs have spent the last 10 years understanding a relatively new space in Africa - how independent hubs support innovators and entrepreneurs and offer additional services to other members of the ecosystem. We have understood first hand the importance of reliable, up to date data about the African innovation ecosystem and we have seen what is at stake when decisions affecting Africa’s innovators and entrepreneurs are made with little to no regard for their actual needs.


Building A Thriving Innovation Economy

Having understood the needs and opportunities in the African innovation ecosystem we are now better equipped to define our measures of success, show the impact of AfriLabs and of our member hubs and surface data which is critical for growth of the ecosystem.

Research, evidence and learning are crucial elements of building the unique pathway and niche of AfriLabs.

Over the next ten years we will:

Create robust datasets on our community Our community presents an invaluable resource of critical data, which we need to continuously harness to ensure that the network’s growth and strategic direction reflects the needs and priorities of the members. These datasets will be critical knowledge bases for our implementation of all our strategic pillars. This data will also be critical in enabling member hubs to understand and connect better with fellow network members. While the data we have continues to support our work and that of our hubs, we will ensure that the evidence we are constantly curating is relevant for the wider innovation community as well, especially where their work intersects with ours. We will ramp up knowledge mobilisation. The process and mechanisms by which we capture, share, and generate knowledge and learning across the different AfriLabs’ members and beyond will be critical in ensuring that AfriLabs adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Adopt a learning approach to all our work. We will continuously adopt a learning approach to our work, in the belief that relentless enquiry and constant reflection are critical to delivering effective programming and transformative impact. Our learning architecture embodies this fundamental principle of our way of working, and is being woven through all four of our strategic pillars. Co-create a monitoring, evaluation and learning framework for AfriLabs and our member hubs. Together with the national networks, our member hubs and partners, we will determine the markers of success that will determine the impact of our African and African focused hubs. We will design our hub monitoring and evaluation matrix and we will surface, share and amplify Africa’s innovation success stories from the grassroots to the major cities and everywhere in between. Design and build a knowledge portal Together with our partners, we will build a knowledge portal that will support and guide the work of hubs, innovators, entrepreneurs, donors, investors, governments, and researchers in their work across the African continent. We are working to ensure that engagements with the African innovation community are well informed and valuable for all involved. We will nurture research partnerships to support development of this evidence base to conduct research into urgent or important questions on innovation strategies across Africa. Our knowledge portal will be open to every African across the continent to contribute to and anyone who contributes to it will have access to benefit from it.


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