Last week I wrote a little about the incredible work the iSpace, a technology hub in Accra, Ghana are involved in. I spent a lot of time in the hub, taking in the atmosphere and talking to the inspiring young people learning, creating, innovating and aspiring out of the Labone office. One of those that I was introduced to was Emmanuel Mbalam, who has founded a startup called Lending Square. Emmanuel arrived at iSpace for an interview for a position at iSpace but ended up himself being supported by iSpace to develop his business, with funding, business support and event accommodation!
Emmanuel had an air of confidence about him when he began to tell me about his startup. It may have had something to do with being introduced as iSpace’s cash cow, or simply because he has a great idea, which promises to change the lives of many in Ghana.
If you read about African technology and innovation a lot, (and if you are reading this you probably do!) then over the last year you will have heard a lot about the many technology hubs that are being established across the continent. In many ways the tech revolution in Africa is partly due to these shared spaces that things are moving so fast. These hubs bring people together from all backgrounds with varied skills to work side by side, sharing their skills and expertise and pushing each other to realise their dreams. One such technology hub, that I had the pleasure of spending time in, is iSpace in Ghana.
Founded by Josiah Kwesi Eyison and Fiifi Baido in 2013, iSpace has now grown to support over 30 startups with a space to work, expertise, business advice and funding. Josiah Eyison is incredibly passionate about pushing young people to be creative and to support each other. They are also supporting other tech projects for example with their own coding club, pushing women in technology. They even help with initiatives of others. As you may have read in the previous blog, iSpace also supports the CoderDojo project set up at La Wireless school in Accra, by providing much needed mentors.
When I started Inventive Africa, I was not aware of exactly how innovative Africa is. I hadn’t thought of the potential of technology in Africa and also the possibilities for technology created by Africans. Each week I am surprised by the amount of incredible technology and innovation that is springing up from all corners of the continent. But, it is not good enough to just write about it! I have been itching to be part of the change. But how?
The answer jumped out at me during the World Web Forum, in Zurich in January. Bill Liao, co-founder of Xing (A German Linkedin, was on stage discussing the fact that the world lacks computer programmers, and that most of the start ups that come to see him plan to outsource their work to coders. I was already beginning to think about how Africa could offer a solution to this problem when Mr Liao also provided that. He had set up and organisations called CoderDojo which has set up fun computer coding clubs across the world. Dojos enable kids to have fun for 2 hours a week and learn anything from Scratch, a very basic drag and drop computer language for beginners, to HTML, Java and Python. They are not structures with a teacher at the front of the class leading the kids through the process. The kids themselves sit down and learn via trial and error, with mentors on hand to answer any questions.
Due to some technical issues and simply taking my time to enjoy being back in Ghana, Inventive Africa has not been very active recently. Having said that, it is great to see that some of you have still been scrolling through the content and being inspired by African Innovation. For a while I have been writing the Inventive Africa blog and getting very excited about all the new ideas that are being created across the continent, but I have not been there to see them first hand. I have spent my time in Ghana getting myself acquainted with some of the most recent changes.
Mobile money has taken off in a big way across the continent. Although Kenya leads the way with M-Pesa, Ghana was also one of the pioneer countries for mobile money. They have fallen behind somewhat in recent years, but the cashless system is still making great differences in the lives of many. Some told me that not too long ago, they were travelling from the village to the capital, Accra, to pick up owed money in cash. Of course, as well as being inconvenient and time consuming, this also meant that some of money was used up paying for transportation. This is no longer a problem for many. Even with the most simple of phones, people are capable of receiving large amounts of money, instantly, from all over the country. I though, as it has been mentioned so many times on the blog, that I should try it out for myself.