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Pan-African progress: ORIBI Village X JICA

The Oribi team recently hosted a delegation from Nigeria, organised by JICA, a governmental agency that delivers the bulk of official development assistance for the government of Japan, it is chartered with assisting economic and social growth in developing countries, and the promotion of international cooperation. The purpose of this visit was to understand the SA start-up ecosystem to be able to design and develop their own incubation solution in partnership with the Nigerian government and NCAIR (The National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics), one of NITDA’s special purpose vehicles created to promote research and development on emerging technologies and their practical application in areas of Nigerian national interest, around tech solutions. In attendance was Nao Fuwa, JICA advisor; Yau Isa Garba, National Director of National Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR); and Abdallah Saad Ali, Entrepreneurship Officer of NCAIR.

The day started with a brief presentation to map out the ecosystem and identify the players throughout the country, which highlighted a lot of the similarities and also opportunities for knowledge exchange and collaboration between various African countries.

Next on the agenda was a roundtable, led by Lorenzo Davids, at the UCT GSB Solution Space in Philippi Village to explore:

"How the coordination and collaboration of multiple stakeholders can unlock a thriving and inclusive economy in South Africa and narrow the divide between informal and formal economies.”

This sparked incredible conversations between entrepreneurs, the public sector, and support actors in the entrepreneurship sphere. Oribi hosted this discussion to share their vision of creating a startup ecosystem that enables entrepreneurs to solve the toughest problems, therefore, creating social, environmental and economic justice. Nthakoana Maema (Incubation Manager) and Louis Prevost (Managing Director) of Oribi Village presented a snapshot of the SA Startup Ecosystem through an inclusive lens and highlighted the building of bridges between informal and formal economies as the next African economic revolution.

We need to value, nurture and catalyse collaborations and partnerships between multi-disciplinary stakeholders. The ecosystem as it is mapped today, only considers formalized innovations, hubs or unicorns, our work is to bring visibility to the potential value of unlocking low-income communities, in fact we are of the opinion that last-mile economies do not accurately capture what needs to be done. We need to create first-mile economies, where solutions are from, for, and within underserved communities—and create supportive structures and systems to build trust around them. This will enable entrepreneurs to be agents of their own development, while regenerating wealth and equity within their communities, instead of the extractive mentality of the current economy.

Yau Isa Garba presented the work of the NCAIR to attendees to provide context. The model of the NCAIR focuses on Research; Experience; Market/Entrepreneurship; Collaboration and Partnership. They are interested in providing solutions for the 200 million people who make up the population of Nigeria and creating linkages for intra-trade between Nigeria and South Africa; as well as access to market for SA Startups in Nigeria.

The point of their recent visit was to explore the local startup ecosystem to connect with hubs across the continent and create international partnerships. Specifically to increase mobility between Nigeria and South Africa for entrepreneurs and improve the ease of doing business across our borders. Opening our countries creates opportunities, and boosts the economies of each nation, with new markets for each to access and new thinking to share. Much of the discussion explained how government can become a key enabler instead of a stumbling block, how the powers that be can catch up to the highly evolved startup ecosystem, and how to create meaningful connections between different stakeholders; i.e. what co-creative processes can be applied to unlock inclusive economies.

Phillipi Village detailed the power of meaning-making with communities when innovating and creating solutions in informal economies and the lessons they have learnt on their journey.

Finding contextual ways to bridge the gaps between issues and solutions requires trial and error, do not be afraid to change processes if your model does not work... You might have a problem, but a risk is also an opportunity to do something.

Community-based data collection practices truly aided the success of the Solution Space. Through their Changemakers app and gathering community knowledge, a thought exercise was conducted asking community members: "If you could have anything that allows you to make your space creative what would it be?" this, coupled with transparent public participation allowed for the solutions to be truly contextual, effective and respected by the community. Throughout the process, the team were very mindful of their biases.

We should not assume that we have a shared experience or assume what people mean.

PayGas shared its system of empowering local entrepreneurs to create local jobs through sustainable, and safer, energy solutions. Founder, Phillippe Hoeblich, outlined the link between poverty and criminality, explaining how entrepreneurship is helping to lessen crime in even the most tumultuous of areas, as demonstrated by their successful operations in areas of Mozambique overrun by militia. He further explained how "An ecosystem is a story of pictures and pixels, an entrepreneur's strategy is to connect the dots and build the ecosystem around their solution with the support of people, technology, networks, and community.

Garth Barnes, a representative from the Department of Environmental Affairs, shared insights around unlocking ecological value chains stating:

In order to unlock an inclusive economy, there needs to be an aggregator function.

Focus must be put on securing off-take agreements on the demand side and oiling the machine supporting SMEs and Startups to deliver. Focus is being out on helping startups to understand what financial health looks like from an internal perspective.

Government officials need to get out and experience the realities they affect to begin to change how they view and understand the ecosystem.

OrderKasi is an on-demand delivery service closing the gap in township markets, and creating links as a trusted partner to connect urban companies to informal markets. Its founder, Leon Qwabe, explained how he is building intelligence on mapping township markets through localized staff resources. Stating his user-centric approach as the key to his success:

Our success has been about adjusting what we do based on our customers, as we have entered an unknown and misunderstood territory with little data.

Foodprint Labs creates digital blockchain solutions to help small scale farmers formalize their operations, sustain their businesses and grow their markets. Founder Julian Kanjere states that a key contributor to their success has been the links to academia and university resources, and the network accessed through ORIBI Village:

Access to other capability and skills, ecosystem actors and new relationships through ORIBI has certainly made things much easier for us. We are tech based, and it became very clear that we need feet on the ground who understand the food system dynamics, and get closer to small scale farmers to understand their needs

Shirley Gibley of Future Females noted the key success factors for startups as:

A problem that needs to be solved, access to finance, network capital and an inconducive and non-supportive regulatory environment. She highlighted that for women founders, the investment market is becoming more open to supporting women; unfortunately, many women still need to build their self-confidence, self-belief and kick down the doors to access opportunities. Sebekedi Koloi, Technology Portfolio Manager at WESGRO, listed the key to unlocking a more inclusive economy as improving access to critical and hard infrastructure; real estate, entrepreneurs should convene, meet, and empower themselves to gain assets; building connectivity, WESGRO has built 200 public wifi spots to help get people connected as digitization rapidly became a right especially in light of the pandemic; advocacy for reduced red-tape, and enabling policy interventions to help high growth, high scalable startups move and transform the economy through job creation.

Renée Hunter, Portfolio Lead at Value for Women stated that building relationship assets are what makes an entrepreneur successful, and a way of creating an inclusive economy. She stated that we need to find different ways to incentivise and stress-test inclusionary impacts of the BBEEE tool, as it is a good tool, but it should not be reduced to a checklist. Renée noted that there are still barriers to inclusion for women as women are less likely to receive funding even when they have entered into an entrepreneurial development program. And satisfaction levels with these are low due to a lack of a differentiated approach considering women, as programs do not cater to their particular logistical needs like schedules, or personal needs like building self-confidence.

Many agreed when she stated that more work needs to be done on creating more access to high performing programs; program developers need to engage in human-centred thinking when designing programs and avoid the one-size-fits-all approach, remove their bias from processes, consider financial literacy and inclusion through digital financial systems that are easy to use and affordable, identify what is crucial to enter the program and what can be taught or developed. More effort must also be made to work with and ensure those in power understand that women need to build their self-confidence.

After the invigorating roundtable talk, the group took a brief tour through Langa with Ubizo Tours to better understand the operations and role of entrepreneurs in the informal economy, ending with a decidedly South African lunch at Mzansi Restaurant.

With full bellies and smiles all around, the delegation made their way to TSIBA for a site visit, for a discussion with the TSIBA CEO and three of the university's top achieving first-year students, who had previously interned at ORIBI Village during their TSIBA project management module in 2021. Many interesting points were raised and discussed. Dr Riedwaan Kimmie, CEO, explained TSIBA is a social enterprise comprising a business school, ignition academy, and education trust—working together to develop people with highly sought-after skills to better local communities as they believe that entrepreneurial youth in low-income communities is the key to unlocking the African economy. They recruit ambitious bottom of the pyramid, purpose-driven people and emerging youth entrepreneurs who want to take South Africa forward through triple bottom line strategies. TSIBA seeks to challenge the status quo of business education through a values-based approach to teaching and learning in a changing world offering Bachelor of Business Administration in entrepreneurial leadership degrees and higher certificates.

The students had many insightful ideas, Siyabulela Kela shared his experience:

Through our learning journeys in incubation programmes as interns or entrepreneurs, we noticed that entrepreneurs going through incubators and accelerators often lack marketing and financial support services to support their day-to-day operations. Founders of start-ups usually run all the components of a business whilst in the infancy stages. By understanding this market gap, we birthed a student consultancy firm led by students from TSIBA through an incubation programme we are on, run by the impact investing firm Push Local Ventures. We have worked together as a student team to develop our own social businesses as well as collaborate to develop business support and enterprise development products and services that we provide to a variety of clients as a collective. Since inception we have worked with Ubizo Tours, ORIBI village and Push Local Ventures to co-create an incubation programme for the launch of the ORIBI Village 2022 incubation cohort. We have collaborated to include our student-led business clinic support services as a value add to the project.

Cameron Palmer highlighted the willingness from TSIBA students to provide solutions, stating how they are always looking to contribute towards incubators and accelerators in Southern Africa through business clinics mentioned by Siya, as well as market access points for product development or market research processes for entrepreneurs to access from trusted local knowledge and resource points in SA.

The day concluded with a Food Jams to help the team open up and connect better for a reflection session. At the end of the day, the delegation had enjoyed the perspective they had gained from ORIBI Village, stating:

When we talk about startups we often think of unicorns and big tech but forget about the Bottom of Pyramid which is actually the base of the economy, there is no thriving economy without including them.

The day has left them contemplating the resources and cooperation relationships needed to move towards the smaller players who impact local communities and how technology can play a role in improving their experience.

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