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Engaging African Tech Hubs in the Search for Digital Jobs

“As we will be working with other hubs in Africa, the other teams will understand many of the issues that Africa faces, and perhaps offer solutions that are not readily available in Liberia currently.”

African tech hubs are in a unique position to identify impactful innovations. Not only do they support tech communities, but they also incubate promising enterprises, some of which have significant impact potential. As such, The Rockefeller Foundation tapped AfriLabs, a pan-African network of 35 tech hubs to surface insights into innovations that stimulate job creation for African youth at scale. We wanted to understand how enterprises generate jobs, and what trends will shape the nature and scale of job creation.

To explore digital job creation within the hub context, AfriLabs designed a two-part Digital Jobs Challenge, executed in partnership with De Connectors, a Dutch cross-media agency. For part one, we held a digital jobs pitch competition to enable our members to present their job-creating enterprises and share their thoughts on trends. For part two, we hosted a virtual co-creation, or daylong, online session, which enabled each hub to solve problems posed by a different group.

The Pitch Competition

In preparation for the competition, De Connectors and AfriLabs worked with hubs to develop cases that described a challenge faced by an enterprise engaged in digital job creation. Hubs produced brief case summaries, which served as entry forms.

On the day of the competition, pitched their ideas and discussed trends that could create large numbers of jobs for young people. For example, participants noted that increased collaboration between hub members’ startups has led to joint startups, generating new ideas and new jobs. It was also noted that freelancers were winning more projects, and more techies were participating in skills development training. The nine finalists from the pitch competition were selected to advance to the virtual co-creation event.

Virtual Co-creation

This daylong, live-streamed work session connected finalists to problem solve through an interactive platform. Essentially, each hub case owner was matched with a case solver team from a different hub tasked with delivering a solution, such as a business or marketing plan. What was notable from a process perspective is how engaged the teams were, despite the virtual nature of the interaction and the length of the day. In terms of outcomes, we were surprised by the quality of the deliverables and the knowledge exchange, given the condensed schedule. For example, the Senegalese team introduced the Cameroonian team to designers that could build the online music platform they had designed to distribute the work of local artists.

After an intense judging process, CcHub from Nigeria and iceaddis from Ethiopia were announced as the winners of the Digital Jobs Challenge. CcHub will create an online platform that uses consultants to connect digital technology talent with local organisations seeking to hire them, filling a local jobs gap in Nigeria. iceaddis will develop a tool to map residential houses where no maps currently exist, enabling better reach into communities and access to resources. (You can learn more about the co-creation here).

Insights and Impact

Because the pitch competition and co-creation were new methods of engagement for AfriLabs, it was difficult to predict whether the activities would resonate. Typically, tech hubs focus on entrepreneurship as their lever of impact, not job creation, although the two are undoubtedly linked. As a result, this exercise added value in a number of ways, including:

  • Enabling collaboration across the continent. Hub teams cited the benefit of tapping the expertise and perspectives of their colleagues in other countries as motivation for participating. According to the Liberian team, “As we will be working with other hubs in Africa, the other teams will understand many of the issues that Africa faces, and perhaps offer solutions that are not readily available in Liberia currently.”
  • Increasing hubs’ understanding of digital jobs. Although hubs typically view their missions through an entrepreneurship lens, we challenged them to consider the perspective of digital jobs creation. Perhaps not surprisingly, hubs initially struggled to connect the concept to on-the-ground reality. This disconnect, however, became an opportunity to better understand the hubs’ perspective and continue the education and dialogue process.

Although AfriLabs had previously identified virtual co-creation as a way to connect its members and foster a sense of community beyond the confines of physical space, the digital jobs co-creation was our first opportunity to use that mechanism. Based on this experience, we believe that virtual co-creation could be used to facilitate collaboration and community-building in other contexts as well.

We’ll continue to work with CcHub and iceaddis to incubate their innovations in 2015. Stay tuned for more!

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