« We expect an explosive growth in coworking communities across Africa as youth population and income levels increase » – Yaw Owusu, Accra (Ghana)

« We expect an explosive growth in coworking communities across Africa as youth population and income levels increase » – Yaw Owusu, Accra (Ghana)

Interview of Yaw Owusu, Managing Director Gateway Innovations Ltd – Accra, Ghana


Can you introduce yourself?

I founded Gateway Innovations Ltd to plan, develop and manage Ghana Cyber City. I co-authored the book Modernizing Commonwealth Governments, which outlines the role of startup incubation and technology parks in transforming Africa’s IT economy. I have appeared on ENCA and SABC TV (South Africa), CCTV (China), Bloomberg TV (United Kingdom) and CNN iReport (USA) to discuss developing smart cities in Africa. I worked for General Electric and IBM (Washington) and Goldman Sachs in New York before relocating to Ghana to work full-time on the Ghana Cyber City venture.

Can you explain us, in more details, the Ghana Cyber City project?

Ghana Cyber City is a business innovation hub, comprising workspace and data center for innovative companies; new age condos for knowledge workers and executives; and a commercial center for technology retailers such as Huawei, Samsung, Apple. In collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Airtel Ghana and corporate partners, the project would incubate African startup firms. Located next to the University of Ghana at Legon, a high demand and strategic area of Accra, one of West Africa’s biggest commercial hubs, the Ghana Cyber City offers an innovative environment and a vibrant business and social community to its corporate, retail and residential tenants. Ghana Cyber City seeks to develop the infrastructure that will facilitate development of more African innovations such as mPesa (mobile banking), esoko (online marketplace for agricultural producers and buyers), mPedigree (protecting the integrity and safety of medications in African markets), etc.

Can African cities become « cyber cities » despite the infrastructure challenge most of them are facing?

Ghana Cybe City

Ghana Cyber City Project

Africa indeed has substantial infrastructure deficit for which the continent needs to invest more than $90 billion a year to address, according to the International Monetary Fund. The African Development Bank, in partnership with the African Union Commission, recently launched the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) to facilitate investments in four areas, including Information technology and energy, critical to building Africa’s infrastructure.

According to you, what can coworking bring to make the vision happen?

Coworking and startup hubs serve as infrastructure (training center, incubator, accelerator), to support tech, entrepreneurship and innovation. Coworking can be a powerful platform to discover and nurture young entrepreneurs seeking affordable avenues to transform smart ideas into commercially-viable and profitable businesses and smart community development initiatives.

Ghana Cybe City (Conflit lié à une espace)

How to you see the Ghanaian new breed of startups and digital freelancers develop and which tools and actions are needed for that as of today?

Corporate partners and universities can play a key role promoting innovation in Ghana and Africa. Case study: The Accra-based Gateway Innovations, the managing company of the Ghana Cyber City venture, has partnered with Airtel Ghana and MIT Global Startup Labs of Cambridge, Massachusetts to develop Airhub, to promote technology entrepreneurship and develop startup ventures in Ghana and Africa.

According to you, can coworking communities help them to engage individually with communities of peers elsewhere in Africa and beyond?

The Coworking Africa 2015 summit is a good avenue to start the process of linking promoters, managers and patrons of startup hubs, coworking spaces and technology parks together.

There would be more than 600 million Africans between the ages of 10 and 24 by 2050, up from 344 million today. By 2040, over 1.1 billion Africans will be of working age, surpassing India and China (Source: McKinsey). There’s going to be an explosive growth in coworking communities across Africa in the coming decades as the youth population increases, income levels continue to grow, more young Africans acquire higher education and become more tech-savvy and entrepreneurial-minded.

Can you tell us more about how you see technologies being embed in the Cyber City project ?

A smart or cyber city is characterized by the integration of technology into a strategic approach to sustainability, citizen well-being, and economic development. Africa is making strides in the following areas:

  • Energy: smart metering and grid technologies for optimizing energy infrastructure and minimize electricity loses.
  • Transportation – Mapping mobile phone signals at peak commuting times to better analyze movement of people, enabling city planners to make smarter transportation decisions. This may help address the substantial working hours that are lost due to heavy traffic jams, putting a strain on city and national economies. IBM, for example, is developing a platform for sharing real-time traffic information in Nairobi.
  • Revenue Collection: Digital payment system creates opportunities to use big data technologies to boost city revenues from parking fees, garbage collection, water and other utilities. Big data may help identify underpayment, which account for many African cities losing up to 50% of their potential revenues.
  • Health: Identifying and weeding out counterfeit medication from the African market using mPedigree, an innovation, pioneered in Ghana. Up to 30% of medications sold in Africa, according to estimates, are counterfeit. Hewlett Packard has partnered with the mPedigree Network and major pharmaceutical firms to deploy the application, currently in use in Africa and Asia.

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