LUANDA — Weaving informal markets into the formal economy may be key to lifting African nations out of poverty. According to Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, founder of the African Innovation Foundation, it’s in these niches that “needs-based and localised innovation [can]thrive.” And Africa has its own unique creativity to fill them.
A Country of Entrepreneurs
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor ranks Angola as one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. Angola’s millennial generation, shaped by music, social media and new technology, is brimming with ideas to help solve problems in Africa through innovation in agriculture, tourism, healthcare, transportation and technology. In order to be successful, these ideas need funding and opportunities to catch the eyes of investors.
From Soap to Start-Ups
As an innovative entrepreneur committed to supporting socio-economic development in Africa, Bastos de Morais built Fábrica de Sabão, Angola’s first innovation hub. The building was once a soap factory in the middle of one of Angola’s largest slums. Now, completely refurbished and repainted, it holds space for start-ups and entrepreneurs to work on their projects.
Old shipping containers inside the factory are fitted with electricity, Wi-Fi and plenty of furniture. These rentable spaces are available for start-ups with ideas on how to reduce poverty in Angola and other countries. The new businesses come from a range of backgrounds, from venture capitals to pharmaceuticals to human resources.
Another key feature of Fábrica de Sabão is its “Makerspace.” This part of the innovation hub holds equipment like welders, smelters, CNC machines and 3D printers. Innovators can manufacture their products and prototypes right there in the hub.
A Culture of Collaboration
The hub also offers a co-working space, which seeks to create space for brainstorming and idea generation. Here, the entrepreneurs can share their ideas with each other and transfer knowledge on how to enlarge the capacity of their start-ups. New innovators can learn from running businesses about funding and attracting investors thanks to peer mentoring and networking.
Bastos de Morais is also attentive to the needs of those living in poverty in Angola. Clearing the land around the hub and the surrounding area, the community is now growing gardens with herbs, vegetables and fruits to feed those living in slums.
The Makerspace and co-working spaces inside the hub also offer resources to children and adults from the slums and other areas of Luanda. Businesses in the hub offer jobs. Innovators and schoolteachers from the area volunteer their time to teach classes on a variety of disciplines, from using 3D printers to honing skills in sports and the arts. The success of these programs prompted the founders of Fábrica de Sabão to build its own sports ground and a music events area.
A Global Network
Local, regional and international artists have performed and displayed their work at the hub. Many of these visitors also offered workshops for the Angolan youth in the community. These workshops are geared towards helping the children build sustainable and creative-led futures instead of languishing in poverty. In the future, Bastos de Morais plans to have Fábrica de Sabão launch its own radio station and to offer classes in media and broadcasting.
The innovative work of Bastos de Morais has helped create an “ecosystem” with the surrounding community and its inhabitants, working together on all fronts to end poverty in Angola. He hopes that the children in these slums learning how to assemble 3D printers and start their own businesses, creating “a new generation of African entrepreneurs” that will “secure continent-wide transformation.” Bastos de Morais hopes that Angola will soon be free of poverty, and that the entire continent of Africa will become one of the greatest hubs for innovation in the world.
– Sydney Cooney