Learning from Nairobi – The city as a hub for innovation

‘Emerging markets are where the world is changing; it’s where the future is. You have this constant dynamic of both problems as well possibilities- which is an exciting place to be. If you’re interested in innovation in any form- you want to be where things are changing and come to the cusp of where the world is going. You see this in Kenya. In the last half a decade we’ve had mobile money and crisis mapping come out of Nairobi- these are innovations that have spread across the world. Kenya- Nairobi in particular- is a wonderful place to actually see the future and that’s why we’re here’.

– Roshan Paul, Amani Institute.

From San Francisco to Seoul, Sao Paulo to Bangalore, several cities around the world are now seen as ‘innovation hubs’, where athe mix of people, ideas, infrastructure and attitudes collides to create a hotbed of both technological and social innovation. 

Cities naturally develop as buzzing hubs where people come together in new ways, however, for a city to become an innovation ecosystem, is something more distinctive and unique. Innovation ecosystems have visible and invisible support structures that provide space and access for more people and ideas to have aget voiced, get tested and thrive with the right kind of support. If we want to create real and sustainable social change, these ecosystems are necessary for supporting innovators to grow, develop, collaborate and push the status quo. 

The event

For three days in May 2015, SIX and Amani Institute, with support from Hivos, brought together over 100 thinkers and doers from across Africa and the world to explore the different conditions and components that make a city a ‘hub’ for innovation. What can we could we learn from Nairobi? Event details here

 Insights and Outputs

1. Physical conditions – the Faces and Spaces – From the art hubs of PAWA254 and GoDown Arts Community, to the tech homes of the iHub and the @iLab;- each of these innovation spaces has an important role in Nairobi’s ecosystem in fostering a sense of community and in driving the prototyping and implementation of new ideas

2. Invisible conditions and enabling environment – Amrote Abdella of the Microsoft 4 Afrika Initiative highlighted that in order to build a place for innovation,- you need ‘hard infrastructure with connectivity and space but also the proper mind-set to build upon failure and share experiences. Resiliency and determination are paramount’. We discussed skills like collaboration, learning from failure, and building skills and capacity for innovation across systems

3. Inclusivity – who are these spaces for? Brining diversity of voices is essential for innovation. Although the influx of hubs and innovation spaces is essential for creating an innovation ecosystems- they are still sometime seen as elitist, and do not provide a space for everyone. Roseline Orwa from the Rona Foundation reminded us: Hubs should go to the people and not people go to the hubs’, expressing the desire to break beyond the innovation spaces in the city centre.

For more detail on our insights and case studies, download the ‘What makes a city a ‘hub’ for innovation? Learning from Nairobi‘ report

Amrote Abdella from Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative on how Microsoft is driving innovation across Africa

Boniface Mwangi from Pawa254 in Kenya and Louise Pulford in conversation

Kanika Kumar from Sankalp Forum in India on shift in the innovation ecosystems in India

Ore Disu & Malaika Toyo from Nsbidi Institute in Nigeria sharing experiences for Lagos – how to make sure we are delivering the innovations people really need?

Nivi Mukherjee from ELimu in Kenya on education and technology in Kenya

Rym Baouendi from Cogite Co-Working Lab in Tunisia

Carla Cipolla from DESIS network in Brazil shares a Brazilian perspective

Jordan Fabyanske from Dalberg, Nairobi talks about enabling entrepreneurs and making the case for developing ecosystems in cities

This event was part of a programme of work between SIX and Hivos examining how the fields of social innovation and international development could better connect and learn from each other