Last week, the prestigious british weekly The Economist issued an article on the rapid expansion of coworking in Africa.
« While coworking spaces are heralded in the rich world as trendy, open spaces conducive to networking and brainstorming, in Africa they serve a far more practical purpose: coworking spaces mitigate the exorbitant costs of setting up and running an office », writes the magazine.
This is indeed a statement that we share, as coworking Africa conference’s organizers. Maybe, nowhere in the world is coworking more important than in Africa to let the middle class of digital savvy workers, freelancers and entrepreneurs rise up.
In 2014, Luanda (Angola) and N’Djamena (Chad), according to Forbes magazine, were the most expensive cities in the world with respect to the cost of living, ahead of Tokyo, London or Geneva. Victoria (in the Seychelles Islands) Libreville (Gabon) and Kinshasa (DRC) are also in the top 20 of the worlds most expensive cities as well.
The lack of proper infrastructures added to a rapid economical growth feeding demand for good quality offices, lands and goods, is an explanation of the rising disconnection between the average revenue per person in Africa and the cost of living in major cities.
Although too slowly, as opposed to other emerging areas, education in many African countries is improving. So is internet access and digital services provision. As more than 50% of the African population is under 20 years old, a huge skilled workforce is arising which will need places, convenient work environments, connectivity, meeting areas, informal learning and networking opportunities… The challenge is enormous.
Here comes coworking.
Mutualized community based infrastructures such as coworking spaces can provide them with a more affordable solution compared to what they are charged for an isolated office. In addition, coworking allows to split the cost of a generator or of a bandwidth capacity, a critical point in Africa, where power outages and bandwidth scarcity might impede the development of new businesses.
This is the reason why coworking could emerge as a must for modern digital and creative professionals in Africa as it does in Hong Kong, London, Paris, Barcelona or New York City.
As a matter of fact, these cities are steadily transforming themselves into coworking villages. Coworking has been acknowledged as one of the workplace models of the 21st century, where values such as positive social interactions, openness and serendipity are gaining ground.
As far as we are, though, in Africa, the growth of coworking spaces is mainly fueled by the mushrooming of tech hubs all over the continent.
Thanks to these tech hub communities, Lagos, Nairobi, Cape Town and more are giving birth to a breed of great startups, in the mobile and web industries.
But what are Tech Hubs if not « dedicated coworking spaces » ?
This new tech hub IBM plans to open up soon in Johannesburg, for instance, will be built around a coworking space. So is KLab, in Kigali, and many more we could mention.
So, community based tech hubs are definitely part of the coworking family.
Industry wise, coworking spaces are sprouting in many different fields. The international network Impact Hub for instance, devoted to social entrepreneurs, has wide ambitions in Africa, with spaces soon to be opened in more than ten African countries, like here below in Accra.
Coworking spaces put themselves also at crossroads. Between artists, designers and digital entrepreneurs, for instance. Take BongoHive, in Zambia.
« BongoHive is building connections between its new community and other communities, illustrates this blog supported by Cisco. It is now working with Zambian artists and photographers to build websites for them to showcase and sell their work. »
Vertically (focused) or horizontally (general) oriented, business or social minded, coworking spaces are blossoming in every directions in Africa, as it is elsewhere in the world. That said, whether they are tech hubs, vertically focused or stand alone spaces open to digitally enabled professionals, a coworking boom in a city is the evidence of a healthy growing ecosystem dynamic.
Startups and companies need skilled and creative workers, business savvy individuals, HR, law and marketing experts, around them to fuel their development. Coders are not enough.
From that perspective, Africa is not different than any other continent : the more coworking spaces communities you have, the better off your country will be !
Initiator of the Coworking Europe and Coworking Africa conferences
The Coworking Africa conference, the first major event organized on the topic of Coworking in Africa, is to take place in Cape Town, South Africa, on July 23rd and 24th 2015.
During two days, Cape Town will be the African capital of Coworking, an ever more successful work model that is becoming the natural professional environment of the new breed of digital workers, startups, and distributed companies who are shaping the economy of the 21st century. Coworking spaces are (mainly) open floor or building where people active on respective different businesses come to work on a same mutualised flexible place shared with peers.
Africa, too, is ready for a Coworking boom
More than 5.800 spaces are operating in the world. The number almost doubles every year. Although Africa still is a small player in the Coworking landscape, the booming tech scene and major demographic shifts are creating the ideal conditions to unleash the development of many more Coworking spaces all across the continent. Within the last 18 months, the number of Coworking spaces in Africa more than tripled. Nowadays, more than 100 units are in operation on the whole continent, to extend that one can now say : Coworking in Africa is now on the same growth trend Europe and the US were five years ago.
Coworking empowers freelancers, remote employees and entrepreneurs all over Africa in multiple ways. Infrastructure wise, coworking spaces are local hotspot where users can now benefit from an efficient connectivity solutions as well as access to an affordable qualitative working environment to operate their activity in African cities often experiencing high real estate costs. From a business perspective, the community dynamic of a Coworking spaces brings freelancers and small businesses with more visibility and networking opportunities to boost their activity. More broadly, Coworking spaces physically support the development of local entrepreneurial ecosystem, connected with other communities in Africa and in the rest of the world.
The best Coworking experts and practitioners will be in Cape Town in July 2015
More than 100 delegates from Africa and beyond are expected in Cape Town to attend the Coworking Africa 2015 conference.
The conference will operate as meeting platform which will facilitate the emergence personal relationships between the leaders of Coworking spaces, startup accelerators and incubators operators, Coworking catalysts and Coworking users, NGO’s, government representatives, foundations, tech companies and Coworking practitioners from outside Africa. All of them will have the opportunity to share ideas, opinions, knowledge and best practices during the two days conference.
By having a Coworking conference to Africa, the initiators of the conferences hope to support the development of an African Coworking awareness as well as a link between Coworking communities on the continent in order to bring Africa in a global move from which we all can end better off.
Global Enterprise is the producer of the Coworking Europe conference, already organized five times since 2010. The last edition of Coworking Europe took place in Lisbon, Portugal, and gathered 320 people from more than 40 different countries. Coworking Europe works closely with GCUC, organizer of the US Coworking conference GCUC, which has now branches in Australia and Canada.
Cape Town Office, founded by Lizelle van Rhyn, is one of the pioneer and one of the most reputed Coworking space in operation in South Africa. The space is located downtown Cape Town.
Karim Sy, founder of Jokkolabs, will be a speaker at the Coworking Africa 2015 in Cape Town.