On February 5th, the second Coworking Africa Meetup was hosted at The Design Bank space in Cape Town. Around 30 from South Africa gathered at the meetup to discuss best practices regarding how to strengthen the global and local coworking movement in Africa.
In 2013, coworking in Africa was barely visible on the global coworking map, with only 24 spaces according to The Global Coworking Sensus. Today, it’s a different story. So far, the number of spaces have more than tripled in the last 2 years, with over 300 spaces (hubs and coworking) currently in operation. We can safely say that the African movement is on the same track that Europe and the USA were 5 years ago and that coworking is here to stay. Thus the next logical step via the Coworking Africa network is to support the growth of African coworking communities by fostering knowledge, sharing and collaboration.
The 2016 event aimed to explore ways in which we can nurture South African relationships in order to connect spaces between local communities of freelancers, entrepreneurs and innovators, in addition to focusing on what we can do to stimulate collaborations, exchanges, social and business opportunities for members in South Africa. We put focus in this region, as it is currently leading the coworking movement throughout the African continent, with around 53 established spaces out of total number of 340 coworking spaces according to Global Enterprise research.
Steven Harris from The Design Bank opened up the meetup by welcoming the coworking community and telling the Design Bank story. He led attendees through the space philosophy, explaining why they were more than just a coworking and maker space, by showing their various innovative recycling initiatives.
The first keynote was presented by David van Berkel, owner of the first and only coworking space in Pretoria, Grounded at Echo. David introduced the South African coworking scene, continuing to give a complete overview while highlighting the challenges that the country has faced due to the lack of coworking awareness, wrapping things up by discussing the specific barriers needed to be broken to get entrepreneurship participation through collaboration.
Lauren Wallett from Sillicon Cape, a tech community based in Cape Town, also gave some examples about how coworking spaces can work together and presented a new project: Coworking South Africa, the first coworking directory in the region.
Ian Merrington from The Barn, one of the oldest tech hubs in Africa based in Cape Town, explained in his presentation “How important is coworking to the creation of a thriving ecosystem of digital entrepreneurs” that developing a globally competitive tech and innovation sector can enable sustainable economic growth while also providing greater employment.
Vanessa Sans of Coworking Europe, the biggest regarding the coworking movement, presented the most recent data of coworking in Africa, and also demonstrated the way that coworking conferences have enabled thousands of coworking communities around the world to be in touch with one another. She also discussed the importance of conversation and a network of trust between coworking communities that can benefit to all the players, as it has been demonstrated in Europe and in North America over the last 6 years.
Last but not the least, Paul Kersten from Open, a coworking brand with 3 established spaces in South Africa and with a new one coming soon, explained how through Open they are providing opportunities and benefits to their community by connecting worlds and creating ecosystems between different players such as entrepreneurs, corporations and professionals. He explained that building and connecting communities where trust, sharing and ideas can flourish, and where people are equal in a playing field that is accessible to all participants.
Today, we are fully aware that the way we work has changed and workplaces need meet these changes. As these transformations take place all over the world it is only natural that Africa should join the movement. Coworking spaces are the engine of local economies, and from that perspective Africa is no different from any other continent. This social boom within cities ultimately creates a healthy, dynamic and growing economic environment. As already experienced in Europe, the USA and now in Asia, we strongly believe and we always say that « the more coworking communities we have, the better off the country will be! »
Keep updated as all presentations will be published in the coming weeks.
2015 saw multiple events around the world, from South Africa, to Italy at the Coworking Europe Conference, bring together thousands of individuals all unified by one thing: Coworking. The movement has gone beyond its early stages, and has become a global phenomenon, opening the door to a community of international coworkers who are now shaping the future of work. Proof that the coworking movement is growing exponentially was the introduction of the Coworking Africa conference, which took place last July in Cape Town, South Africa.
Currently, there are more than 250 active coworking spaces on the African continent and South Africa is leading the movement with 42 spaces and 23 tech hubs. However there is still a need for a more established community. Coworkers and space operators still face a variety of obstacles, ranging from lack of infrastructure to staggeringly high real estate prices and various other sociopolitical barriers. Yet, coworking advocate, Paul Keursten, doesn’t see these issues as a problem, but something to work with.
Paul Keursten launched Open workspace with colleague Mark Seftel in 2012. The network of collaborative spaces now has two locations in South Africa and aims to open 2 more, setting the standard for a growing community of self-employed and remote professionals in Africa. Each location has its own personality. The space in Johannesburg, Open Maboneng, is divided by various open spaces, including a 9-hole putting green. They are soon planning to open another space in the area, which will be a hybrid space in partnership with Wits University. This platform will focus on the “convergence of software, hardware and content on developing the tech startup culture in Johannesburg and on the African continent”.
The Open concept has also made other collaborations, such Workshop17, which is based in Cape Town and part of the Waterfront shopping center. The local hub “provides a landing platform and stepping stone for international players in academia and business”, but also brings additional value to the Waterfront ecosystem that includes avenues for retail, living, hospitality, entertainment, and dining. The area sees around 24 million visitors each year and creates the perfect opportunity for local talent to connect with the international community.
Open’s next project will be to open a space in Mamelodi, Pretoria, in partnership with Essent and Kessels & Smit. The space will provide a hub for coworking, entrepreneurship as well as resources for teaching and learning. Mamelodi will also host YES!, an initiative focused on supporting startups and entrepreneurs with the ultimate goal of job creation.
The Open network is just the beginning. Paul Keursten sees real potential in the emergence of coworking spaces in South Africa and recognizes that there is a major shift happening in the way that people work all around the world.
Keursten and his team address the challenges of the African community by focusing on educating potential coworkers about the value of flexibility, networking, sharing physical place and knowledge. Yet, like all established coworking networks know, changing people’s mindsets can take time and patience. In South Africa, the introduction of coworking plays a big role in facilitating relationships between individuals from different backgrounds, creating stronger professional networks as well as social ones.
Keurston highlights in his presentation from Coworking Africa, the ways in which hubs, accelerators and coworking spaces can become destinations where the local and international community can connect and collaborate. Creating space for individuals will also inspire the community on the whole, and bring added value to local neighborhoods.
The introduction of coworking spaces in Africa considers the revitalization of spaces, creating links, not just between local coworkers, but also existing ones throughout the region. Ultimately, this network will serve as a tool used to establish partnerships with other entities, like universities, knowledge institutes, accelerators, incubators and property owners.
As the concept of open spaces, networks and working relationships becomes more widespread throughout Africa, it will continue to serve as a tool used to implement new social concepts within the developing professional landscape.
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.