Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Entrepreneurship and co-working in Abidjan

Abidjan is a place that never ceases to amaze me.  Subsistence entrepreneurship is pretty big here (taxi drivers et. al.), but Ivorians strike me as reluctant entrepreneurs. I don't know if it's a relic of the country's colonial ties to France, but innovation and tech entrepreneurship are not the first things that comme to mind when I think of Abidjan, or Côte d'Ivoire. In fact, many of the online products being launched here are spearheaded by foreigners: Germans for Jumia, or the French and South Africans -- if you're willing to count Orange Money and MTN Mobile Money.

Given this unusual set of circumstances, you'll pardon my disbelief when a dear friend invited me to a TechMeet up in Abidjan sponsored by the African Innovation Foundation and featuring fascinating people such as Karim Sy from Jokkolabs, Cyriac Gbogou from Kumusha Takes Wiki, Florent Youzan from Ovillage, and others. Since I am not very knowledgeable about the topic or the environment as whole, I didn't expect much. In the end, I am so glad I went!

I never would have guessed it, but there are a few trends emerging in Abidjan. Whodathunkit? Co-working is coming to Abidjan.  Not only as a work space, but also as a community of people who support each other.

As we enter into a service driven society, one starts to wonder whether we won’t all become freelancers. Abidjan is no exception. As more and more people become freelancers, more will seek to create shared working spaces. These spaces are also serve as a way to fight the growing fragmentation in society.

The founder of Jokkolabs, Karim Sy, took the floor to explain his vision of the economy, including how technology allows groups of people to come together in ways they never could have before.  Today's new tools allow us to collaborate in a horizontal fashion.  Despite this, we face a number of challenges that can only be solved if we all come together. He also announced that Jokkolabs will be launched in September 2014, with Innova, on Rue des Jardins in II Plateaux. 

The participants also touched on a variety of interesting topics including:
-- Neutrality and non-profit. In a place like Abidjan, NGOs, the UN, and numerous foreign government hand over poisonous gifts -- that on their face seem altruistic, but hide a far less altruistic political or economic purpose.
--Africa's role in producing content online:  Africa produces very little content in places like Wikipedia.  With time, more people will learn to contribute to online communities.
--Humility: Elites who have been educated in the West often have a pejorative, or downright offensive view of Africans, even when they are African themselves. Local people are an incredible resource, and should be treated with respect, even when they lack foreign credentials. 

All in all, I was very pleased by the depth of the conversation and am looking forward to the TechMeet up.


  1. Good job Joanna!

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