Just last week Africa had its very first Coworking Conference in Cape Town. Coworking operators and experts from around the world gathered in South Africa to bring know-how from the international coworking community and start an important conversation about the development of coworking in Africa.
In addition to a line-up of inspiring talks, from spaces like Mozambique’s Cowork Lab and Hub Dhaka from Bangladesh, we also came back with some facts and figures that can help the community understand the development of coworking in Africa.
Rapid Economic Growth
There are over 1 billion people in Africa, spread across 54 different countries, and around 70 percent of the population is under 25, which means there is a lot of potential for a rapid growth in industry. As the coworking movement is still carving out its role in the European business sector, it seems that Africa is not far behind.
As one of the world’s fastest growing economies, there are now over 100 million people active on social media and very much in tune with digital trends.
In 2013 Coworking in Africa was hardly known, with just 24 spaces on the map. Today is a different story, with over 100 spaces from Kenya to Cape Town, the global coworking community is becoming more dynamic with the inclusion of African coworking spaces.
South Africa Leading the Way
With 42 coworking spaces and 23 active tech hubs, South Africa is leading the way when it comes to the development of coworking. Currently, more than half of these spaces are based in Cape Town. Like coworking around the world, the majority of these started out small, but their the word is spreading, and big names like Google, Skype and StartupGrind are looking to lend the African community their support.
Addressing the Challenges
While knowledge about coworking steadily increases, the African coworking community is still very much aware of the various obstacles they must overcome, like the lack of quality infrastructure and the availability of a stable internet connection. According to a presentation given by Cape Town Garage, which also has locations in Nairobi and Lagos, many coworking spaces face the same challenge across the continent.
Some of the main issues are ensuring that prices are cost-effective for members, as well as the promotion of coworking.
While the alternative workspace has dramatically increased in popularity, it is still relatively unknown in countries like Nigeria. Thus education is still a priority. CTG explained how they attempt to address these issues faced by many spaces, they also mentioned that power-cuts are still a problem. But with the installation of a generator, the Garage group has found ways to prepare for this as not to compromise the member productivity.
The Future of Coworking in Africa
While there are always challenges, they certainly don’t cast a shadow on a bright future. Paul Keursten, co-founder of Open, an established shared workspace in Cape Town, highlighted in his presentation the richly diverse community in Africa that aims to overcome these obstacles.
Keursten highlighted how coworking spaces can become destinations for the African and international community, which will ultimately help bring local neighborhoods to life. With this idea, the African community is learning how to add value to their buildings, through revitalizing spaces, and enabling cross-pollination between educational institutions, property owners, accelerators and coworkers. A diverse community that is connected, will then be able to promote the concept of coworking on a broader scale, bringing benefits to each player through the value system of the sharing economy.
Other organizations, like TechStars see this growing interest in coworking spaces and accelerators as a ripe opportunity to introduce various wealth management systems, such as a comprehensive banking infrastructure, in a mostly cash-based economy.
For those of you who could not make it to the very first Coworking Africa conference, we have uploaded all the statistics and presentations, including interviews with coworking operators from all across Africa, like The District in Egypt and Bantuhub in Congo, Brazaville.
Being involved in the World Summit on Information Society since 2000, we believe that there is a paradigm shift that is happening in the society and economy; a new economy is emerging that gives windows of opportunity for Africa. But nonetheless, humanity is facing unique economic, social and environmental challenges. We know that we need to change behaviours and innovate to find new ways of living in a more sustainable and more shared prosperity.
We believe that entrepreneurs are those who have the creative mind to imagine that future and make it happen. We need a new kind of entrepreneurs: more collaborative and involved in the community. That’s why we have built a home for them: Jokkolabs, inspired by the open source/hacker movement.
In 2010, I decided to dedicate my time and resources to launch Jokkolabs as a social change hub. The first hub was launched on 10/10/10 !
Our vision is to pioneer a new model of business, entrepreneurs based, supported by the emergent digital economy.
Nowadays, Jokkolabs is a network of 8 hubs in 8 countries*. Thanks to our hub leads, who are entrepreneurs aiming to engage with the community around them. Jokkolabs is now close to what we envisioned in the beginning : to be a collaborative ecosystem around creative hubs, where like-minded people drive entrepreneurial innovation and social change for a shared prosperity.
For example, more than just having a coworking, we help to structure communities aligned with our vision of openness and sharing, open source and tech communities (Mozilla, Google, Mobile Monday, etc.) as well as green economy friendly. In France, it’s an opensource software company Maarch, who supports the hub in the Paris suburb of Nanterre – La Defense. Depending on the level of maturity we also run pioneer project involving a community and technology driven approach such as:
Those projects are not usually happening in a lot of coworking spaces. In addition, we also have regular programmes, such as the Global Entrepreneurship Week.
We have a strong digital culture, as it’s the basement of the new economy. But we are open to all industries. Nowadays, our creative hubs are rather designed for creative talents working in mobility. However, we are thinking of a model for rural areas, around agriculture topics.
What is specific to run a coworking space in Africa and what are your main challenges ?
The private sector and the culture of entrepreneurship is very new in Africa. A challenging environment and a small economy make the business very difficult for our members. They can’t usually afford the real cost of the hub. Therefore, we have to be very innovative to find a sustainable business models. Nonetheless, we get no support at all from the government.
When we opened in France, we received a grant. It was so new to us that we haven’t been able to spend more than 50% of the amount…
There is a new starting wave, with more mature networks and initiatives. We need to find a way to go beyond our “egosystem” to really create a sustainable ecosystem within the continent and, even, on a more international level. We are open to collaboration with all those whose share the same vision of openness and collaboration. Those who wants to build a better world for a shared prosperity.
We believe in a very open partnership and in the principles of creating value together for the society.
In 2010 we were just 3 on the continent, out of 700 worldwide. Today we count at least more than 50 spaces like ours, I think. New spaces open everywhere, every month. That’s a good news, something is happening, that’s for sure. Over 5 years time, I see more and more spaces covering the continent, as well as more mature spaces, with a higher commercial and societal impact. As the level of intra-Africa trade is lower than 25%, I believe that all those spaces will connect the entrepreneurs of the continent with the world, serving as a catalyst for a sustainable and inclusive economic growth of Africa.
* France, Senegal, Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivoiry Coast, Gambia, and Marocco.
Indy Hall is a coworking community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA that we started in 2006. That makes us one of the longest-running spaces in the world.
If we’re “famous” for anything, it’s our relentless focus on community. At the heart of Indy Hall, you’ll find great people having authentic and meaningful experiences. We are living – and working – the good life.
We believe in sharing the good life & actively working towards it together.
I started Indy Hall because I was lonely. I didn’t so much need a place to work as I needed people to work around.
I’d quit my job as a web developer to freelance, and found that freedom and flexibility of being independent was awesome but DAMN it was lonely.
It seemed easier to find like-minded people anywhere except in my own city. So I spent nearly a year looking for those people. As I found them – I realized that many of us had the same problem in that it was difficult to find other people who had the same interests and passions we did.
By the time we were actually considering opening a coworking space, it was less like opening an office and more like building a village. The community we’d already built was invested in having a place to gather and work and meet and learn and explore.
I didn’t start Indy Hall for the community, I started it with the community.
One of the worst things I could do is show up in Africa and say “Here’s how we built our coworking space in Philadelphia. Do it our way!”
Coworking is an incredibly local experience. Indy Hall’s experience is the way that it is because we started in Philadelphia. The city’s local culture and DNA is baked in. I think that’s what makes us, us.
When I see new coworking spaces simply copying what they see in other coworking spaces from different places, I know they’re setting themselves up for failure. This happens very often in the US, and I’m seeing it more and more around the world as people try to copy the “visible” elements without understanding why they’re there in the first place.
I’m most excited for two things about coworking in Africa: the first is to discover the differences in our cultures that will make coworking in Africa unique. But the second is to discover the similarities, the basic human elements that we all share.
I’m coming to share, but I’m also coming to learn.
My personal philosophy on collaborations is also at the heart of Indy Hall’s success: true collaborations start on the foundation of a trusting relationship, not a transaction. Said more simply, we need to get to know each other before we work together.
So right now, I think we need to focus on truly getting to know each other. And then…the kinds of international collaborations that people crave will become not only more possible, but natural and effortless.
Over the last year, more of the people who join my list Coworking Weekly have introduced themselves from somewhere in Africa. It has been amazing, and exciting, to meet them and learn what’s happening in their cities, towns, and villages.
Villages. I want to know what coworking in villages is like!
This is a pioneering conference for a region. Not just a region, but an entire continent. That’s incredible, and I’m honored to be able to be a part of it.
Every time I’ve been to an event like this, I’ve gotten to see people who never would’ve otherwise found each other meet for the first time. That experience is truly magical, to find your tribe. It’s the same kind of thing that a great coworking experience can provide…except compressed into a couple of days full of gathering and working and meeting and learning and exploring.
Coworking Africa conference is the first attempt bringing together more than 20 countries from Africa and beyond: Senegal, South Africa, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Maroc, Gambia, Benin, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Congo, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Philadelphia (US), Spain (EU), The Netherlands (EU), Austria (EU) and Belgium (EU).
A unique opportunity to share and learn best practices, knowledge, success and failures experiences about coworking. You are also welcome to bring your story too.
Be one of the first people to take part of the coworking movement in Africa, the continent with the youngest population and with the highest potential in the world.
The pioneers from the African coworking scene will meet up in Cape Town next July 23-24.
Start to collaborate. Joining forces with other coworking spaces will make you stronger towards other players such as local institutions, sponsors and potential customers elsewhere in Africa or in the world. Build together a conversation and a network of trust between other coworking communities, it benefits everybody.
Who’s coming to Coworking Africa conference ? Coworking space managers, incubators managers, startup accelerators managers, business centers managers, real estate pundits, innovation ecosystem specialists, economic development public agencies, entrepreneurship associations, universities, business schools and journalists.
The conference is a unique occasion to connect with the best experts from the coworking world. Meet them and start interesting relationships, and, why not, build up and collaborate on new exciting projects.
Coworking is about people!
Cape Town is one of the cities leading the coworking movement in Africa with about 20 coworking spaces. Once you’ll be in Cape Town don’t miss hotspots such as Workshop17, Daddy.O, Garage, Twenty-Fifty, Cape Town Office, the Design Bank or The Barn… to mention a few.
Coworking Africa conference is more than a conference. We love coworking as much as having fun.