I had the privilege recently to representiLab at theeLearning Africa 2013, which was the 8th International Conference on ICT for Development, Education and Training held in beautiful Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
ELearning Africa 2013 brought together 1480 participants from 65 countries gather in Windhoek for three days of learning, knowledge exchange and networking. The Continent’s largest gathering of eLearning and ICT-supported education and training professionals, eLearning Africa brought together over 300 speakers from across Africa and the world to explore the latest innovations and issues in the fields of technology and education.
Getting me to Namibia to attend eLA 2013 was bit of a hassle because I needed to get a visa for South Africa in Accra, Ghana then get the Namibian visa in Pretoria, South Africa, but the dynamic and hardworking team ofiLabapplied all efforts and time to make that happen.
There were two major missions in sight as headed out to Namibia.
1. To represent iLab Liberia at the second gathering of theAfrilabs, a Pre-eLA 2013 conference workshop (Technology Innovation Hubs in Africa: Creating Opportunities for Peer Learning and Knowledge Exchange), which was organised and sponsored byGIZ.
2. To attend the actual eLA 2013 conference.
Africa now has several innovation hubs.iLab and these other hubs serve as business incubators, meeting places for the local IT-community and points of knowledge exchange. Although there are different types of spaces, but we all represent powerful opportunities for social innovation and community empowerment. A common challenge for many of our spaces is creating a sustainable business model that enables us to work independently and plan for the future. This pre-conference event was intended to strengthen the co-operation between individual hubs, as well as GIZ and Afrilabs.
During the first half of the pre-conference workshop, as hub managers / employees, we were asked to share our experiences on community building strategies, connecting members and enabling peer learning in our hubs. We were also asked to present our different business models and approaches to attain independence and sustainability. Additionally, during the second half of the pre-conference workshop, we were given a task to develop a toolbox that would include ideas for replicable income streams and ways to implement them. The essence of developing the toolbox was to find ways to give answers to the question: How can all activities, including community building, help build sustainable replicable environments for local empowerment?
Way forward/ Action Points (Opportunities) emerging from the pre-conference workshop + bar camp.
We should work on the Intellectual Property (IP) and legal challenges.
Build strong mentorship structures.
Successfully embrace virtual incubation.
Collaborate with our governments with the involvement of Development Funding Agencies (DFA’s) in technology development for example laying their own internet cables like Kenya did to cut the costs, subsidizing ICT equipment etc.
We need to be supplementing some of our government’s agenda’s if we are to tap in some of their support. We should also categorize the investors for example, donors, government, foundations, business angles among others.
We can only get good external funding if our activities clearly define “what is a hub?” in terms of what we do, the kind partnerships we are looking for, and most importantly the success stories we produce.
We categorized our revenue models into the activities that our hubs were good at and we highlighted;
Desk rental services
Donors, seed funders
Technology Philanthropists like the Geek Development Fund & Savanah Fund in Namibia
Local entrepreneurs e.g. Private Sector Federation, Rwanda Development Board.
Work on Hub profiles:
Statement of path to sustainability – develop prototypes of revenues models that can guide new hub entrants.
Shared amplification of AfriLabs using the Media Machine as double edged sword for example news channels, news papers, magazines, T.V and Radio shows but being conscious about cons international media. Hub managers should blog about their Hub activities and community activities.
Key Points about growing our hub communities:
We should have activities that are tagged to the community challenges and keep the hub open to society. It doesn’t have to be techie’s only. (Jessica-iHub, Kenya). Have events running frequently and ensure to make them practical. Something that will keep the participants engaged all throughout the entire activity. (Mohammad-Ice Cairo). Have a good set of planners (events management at the hub). Have a web platform for continuous communication between the community, event facilitators and the hub management as well.
We got a representative from ECOWAS in one of the Bar Camps, his remarks were: Ministries wanted to work with youth that were good at content development for example youth entrepreneurs, developers of animations that reflect the true value of the African Continent.
At the conference, I had the opportunity to attend the followings:
1. The opening plenary: Learning and Innovation: In the Cloud and on the Ground with a Spirit of Ubuntu which chaired by Honorable Minister Joel Kaapanda, Minister of Information and Communication Technologies, Republic of Namibia.
2. Promoting Innovation in Africa Through Free and Open Source Technology. This session chaired by John Matogo, Strathmore University, Kenya, Geraldine de Bastion, Germany and Joris Komen, FOSSFA, Namibia. The speakers shared their past five years experience of using free and open source software to create learning environments, as well as business opportunities in Africa.
3. Technology Innovation Hubs in Africa: This interactive session focused on how many of the innovation hubs in Africa go beyond start-up incubation and are actively supporting peer learning, community engagement and education. Finding sustainable ways to finance hubs and how can individual hubs network and cooperate. I actually served as on of the panelists during this session.
4. eLearning Africa Debate: Innovation and sustainable; which is more important for education in Africa? Participants were given the chance along with the panelists to point out if priority for education in Africa be Innovation or sustainability. In the end, the house that believes that more emphasis should be placed on Innovation won the debate.
As stated by the organizers, I do concur that ELearning Africa conferences are the key networking events for ICT-enhance education and training in Africa. It is a must those who want to develop multinational and cross-industry contacts and partnerships, as well as enhance their knowledge, expertise and abilities. The hub for first-hand information and real-life examples of how ICT advances the cause of education for all in Africa. Decision makers and practitioners from the education, business and government sectors, with 80% coming from Africa. And amazingly the conference is accompanied by extensive and exhibition and demonstrations.
Overall, eLA 2013 was a great learning and networking experience for me and I also found some time to have fun and explore beautiful Windhoek.