The African continent is increasingly becoming a hotbed for innovation and creativity, with countless innovators, entrepreneurs, and developers working hard to bring their ideas to life. And at the forefront of this innovation revolution are women who are making remarkable contributions to the growth of Africa’s innovation ecosystem.
AfriLabs, a pan-African community of technology and innovation hubs, has been at the forefront of fostering a thriving innovation economy. With over 400 active member hubs across 53 African countries, it provides innovators with the necessary resources to transform their ideas into viable business ventures.
These Women of AfriLabs are leading the way by leveraging technology to solve problems in various sectors, including education, agriculture, healthcare, and finance. They are developing innovative technologies, solutions, and platforms that address social challenges and create new opportunities for businesses across the continent. Read our Q&A with these phenomenal female leaders and be inspired.
Anna Ekeledo is the Executive Director ofAfriLabs, a network organisation of over 400 technology and innovation hubs spread across 52 African countries and the diaspora; She leads the AfriLabs community to achieve its vision of a thriving innovation economy in Africa and heads a pan-African team to develop initiatives and build multi-stakeholder partnerships that support African innovation hubs and other stakeholders in raising high potential entrepreneurs that stimulate economic growth and social development in Africa.
Anna is an international speaker, trainer, innovation ecosystem builder, and mentor. She is also an advisor in several advisory roles; she is a member of the Africa-Europe Foundation Digital Strategy Task Force, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the future of technology policy, and a member of the NESG Strategic Group on Mining and Manufacturing.
Anna has a first-class degree in psychology from Covenant University, Nigeria, and an M.Sc. in International Marketing Management from Leeds University Business School, UK. She is a Skoll World Forum Fellow and has also been recognized as a top African economic and tech leader by bodies such as Choiseul 100 Africa and Agile 50, the World’s 50 Most Influential People Navigating Disruption, by Apolitical and the World Economic Forum.
Q: Tell us more about Afrilabs’s role in the African tech and innovation landscape.
ANNA: AfriLabs is committed to fostering a thriving innovation economy in Africa through a network of over 400 innovation hubs and communities in 53 African countries. We empower innovators, startups, entrepreneurs, and creatives within these communities while bridging connections with investors, academic institutions, public organizations, and governments. Initiatives like AfriLabs Connect, Catalytic Africa, and AfriLabs Connect Deal Room demonstrate our commitment to facilitating collaborations.
We advocate for innovation-friendly policies through high-level dialogues and our Policy Pathways framework, aiming to improve the innovation ecosystem across the continent. Our commitment to data-driven development led to the formation of the AfriLabs Research Group, which gathers crucial data to assist stakeholders in Africa’s digital economy.
With the data we collect, we launch initiatives like RevUp Women to increase support and funding for women-led businesses, addressing the gender gap in support. In essence, AfriLabs plays diverse roles but remains steadfast in our mission to bolster a resilient and impactful digital and innovation economy in Africa.
Q: In today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape, how have you managed to stay ahead of the curve and constantly adapt to changing circumstances?
ANNA: I believe agile leadership requires always staying ahead of the curve and being prepared to adapt. COVID-19 disrupted the world in ways we are still learning about. At AfriLabs, it acted as a catalyst for change. In a few weeks, we transitioned our projects to a fully virtual setup for the period of lockdown and scaled our pan-African team at the secretariat. Our membership grew, we worked with a lot more global organisations and we became more ambitious in our vision for the continent. We increased support for our community and invested in research about the post-pandemic world. The decisions made during that time have largely shaped our current path, and we’re better for it. The AfriLabs leadership continually examines ways to support our community better and inspire the team. We strongly believe in collaborations and partnerships, constantly seeking alignment with organizations and individuals who share our dream for Africa’s innovation economy. This approach helps us enhance our impact’s quality and reach. With our openness and commitment to necessary work, we consistently stay ahead of the curve.
Q: What challenges are you facing, and how can you overcome them?
ANNA: AfriLabs, like many nonprofit organizations, faces a primary challenge: securing sustainable funding. To address this, we’re enhancing our funding sources. Diversification reduces dependence on a single source and ensures financial sustainability. We’re also improving our reporting and storytelling methods. Our projects and initiatives have had a significant impact on lives across Africa. Nevertheless, we are committed to ensuring that all relevant stakeholders learn more about our work and the impact we make. We’ll continue to invest in storytelling because we understand it’s not just the “AfriLabs story” but Africa’s story.
As an organization dedicated to supporting innovation in Africa, we recognize that while we share similarities across the continent, we also embrace significant differences. By respecting and considering these cultural distinctions in our program and activity planning, we ensure inclusivity within our community.
Collaboration is pivotal for us. We continually explore partnerships to gain extra support, especially when more hands could enhance our efforts.
Jennifer Okeke-Ojiudu is the Senior Ecosystem Engagements Manager at AfriLabs. In her role, she Heads/Drives the most impactful convening of the African technology and Innovation Ecosystem. Jennifer also serves as a strategic bridge, fostering positive relationships between AfriLabs and African governments, international bodies, and stakeholders to enhance the organisations image, promote its objectives, and ensure its alignment with regional and international interests.
Q: Tell us about your role as Senior Ecosystem Engagement Manager at Afrilabs.
JENNIFER: In my current position, I am tasked with actively participating in the dynamic Technology and Innovation ecosystem, serving as a representative for Afrilabs. This involves extensive engagement with various stakeholders and enablers within the ecosystem. My responsibilities include orchestrating and managing events, cultivating public relations strategies, and fostering relationships through government engagements. Essentially, my role revolves around establishing and nurturing connections on behalf of AfriLabs within the intricate web of the Technology and Innovation landscape.
Q: What are some lessons you’ve learned that have aided your career?
JENNIFER: Harness Your Innate Talents: Propel your career forward by capitalizing on your natural gifts and abilities. Embrace your strengths and unique attributes, steering away from the urge to emulate others. Recognize that each of us possesses distinctive qualities that can make us shine in our own individual ways.
Celebrate Success, Then Resume Action: Bask in the glory of your achievements, but swiftly return to the grind. Develop the confidence to acknowledge your triumphs while maintaining the humility to dive back into the work. Challenge yourself continually by setting and surpassing your own benchmarks. Compete against your previous self rather than comparing yourself to others.
Balancing Career and Motherhood: Juggling the roles of a career woman and a mother requires finesse. Learning the art of delegation is paramount. Not only does it enable you to fulfill all aspects of your life, but it also empowers the growth of the next generation of accomplished women. By delegating, you provide opportunities for others to learn and evolve, contributing to the development of future superwomen.
Q: You’ve worked on two continents (Africa and Europe) and in a variety of industries; what are some resume-diversification tips you can share?
JENNIFER: Articulate Your Contributions: Clearly delineate the tasks you undertook and successfully accomplished during your tenure with an organization. Emphasize your roles within teams that achieved significant milestones, even if you weren’t the ultimate decision-maker. Highlighting collaborative accomplishments underscores your ability to contribute effectively within a group setting.
Identify a Unifying Theme: Uncover a cohesive thread that weaves through your resume, connecting the various positions you’ve occupied. This commonality should spotlight your core skills or area of expertise, providing a narrative that demonstrates your professional evolution and the consistent value you bring to diverse roles.
Rahel Chukwu- Senior Operations Manager
Rahel Chukwu is a multi-skilled professional who excels in both operational and engagement areas. She currently serves as the Senior Operations Manager at AfriLabs.
Born in Cameroon, with a heart that beats with a desire to help the less fortunate, to develop strong institutions, and to nurture talent across varied industries. For almost four years, Rahel served as Senior Human Resources Manager and committed Francophone Engagement Manager. Her academic background includes a B. A in Linguistics and French from the University of Buea in Cameroon, as well as professional certifications in Human Resources Management and a Diploma in Operations Management. Rahel developed a penchant for innovation and communication while navigating the various organizational landscapes of AfriLabs’ Operations, Human Resources, and Francophone engagement departments.
Rahel bridges language barriers as the Francophone Engagement Manager, facilitating equitable engagement within the AfriLabs community.
Q: Describe a typical work day in your life.
RAHEL: A typical workday for me encompasses a dynamic fusion of responsibilities, including operational management, corporate travel management, facility oversight, troubleshooting, procurement for programs, and addressing organizational needs. My day commences early, marked by a rigorous organization of tasks. I kick-start by reviewing my schedule, addressing emails, and prioritizing duties.
As an Operations Management Expert, my focus remains on streamlining processes, optimizing resource allocation, and adeptly resolving operational challenges. This involves close collaboration with cross-functional teams, as well as the orchestration of contracts with consultants and vendors to ensure the seamless execution of these tasks. The day often concludes with a reflective assessment of accomplishments and a meticulously planned strategy for the following day. My professional journey is a perpetual voyage of learning, growth, and the invigorating challenge of managing multiple objectives.
Q: Your skill set is pretty diverse. What suggestions do you have for women who want to broaden their skill sets, which is essential in the current environment?
RAHEL: Indeed, diversifying one’s skill set is a remarkable asset in today’s fast-paced and competitive environment.
Here are some suggestions for women seeking to expand their skill sets:
Identify Your Interests and Passion: Begin by recognizing areas of interest or skills you are genuinely enthusiastic about. Passion is the fuel for successful skill development.
Set Clear and Achievable Goals: Define specific, attainable objectives for skill enhancement. Clear goals enhance motivation and concentration.
Embrace Continuous Learning: Cultivate a mindset of ongoing learning. Online courses, workshops, and webinars offer valuable resources for acquiring new skills.
Network Actively: Engage with professionals in your areas of interest. Networking can provide insights, mentorship, and opportunities for skill development.
Solicit Feedback: Seek constructive feedback from mentors or peers as you refine your skills. Constructive criticism is a priceless aspect of growth.
Apply Your Learning: Don’t hesitate to put your new skills into practice. Real-world experience is an invaluable teacher.
Celebrate Achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments as you progress. Recognizing your journey’s milestones is essential for motivation and self-appreciation.
Remember, the voyage of skill development is an enriching one, paving the way for exciting career prospects and personal advancement.
Q: Who inspires you and why?
RAHEL: My inspiration draws from diverse sources, but two prominent groups inspire me the most:
Pioneering Women in Operations and HR: Women who have broken the glass ceiling in traditionally male-dominated fields like operations and human resources inspire me profoundly. Their unwavering determination, leadership, and capacity to drive transformation motivate me to continually push boundaries and strive for excellence.
Strong Multilingual Communicators: As a bilingual compere, I find immense inspiration in individuals who excel in communicating across multiple languages. Their unique ability to bridge cultures and facilitate meaningful connections through language is awe-inspiring. I aspire to emulate their skill and contribute to cross-cultural understanding.
In essence, my inspiration emanates from those who embody resilience, innovation, and the ability to make a positive impact in their respective domains.
Mayssa Mrabet – Director of Community, Afrilabs
Q: You have over 12 years of experience in digital transformation and have recently joined the Afrilabs Team with a vision to increase the membership scale to 10,000. How do you intend to leverage your vast experience to achieve this goal?
MAYSSA: I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to leverage my over 12 years of experience in digital transformation to help Afrilabs achieve its goal of increasing membership to 10,000. Digitalization provides us with the invaluable opportunity to implement agile and automated processes, allowing us to exponentially expand our network while efficiently managing with limited resources, thereby unlocking the full potential of our network’s growth.
Our extensive network comprises over 400 technological hubs, and digitalization is our catalyst to continuously create meaningful connections, bridging geographically distant ecosystems to foster impactful collaborations within our network.
During the last AfriLabs Annual Gathering in Kigali, AfriConnect 2.0 platform was launched with an ambitious goal to onboard innovation ecosystems not only from Africa but also from around the world onto this platform, marking a pivotal step in fostering global collaboration and innovation.
Q: What’s your life mantra?
MAYSSA: Work is not a Job, it’s a mission, it’s passion. to have made the choice to embark on a career within NGOs, where the core mission revolves around empowering people. My happiness and energy truly blossomed when I witnessed that my daily work was not only positively impacting the professional journeys of individuals but also enriching their personal lives.
Q: If you could share one tip for effective community engagement, what would it be?
MAYSSA: Identifying and effectively responding to the real needs of the community remains the one tip to focus on to properly generate engagement. But I would add that creating a safe environment for open exchange and continuous learning, and nurturing a sense of ownership among every member is equally important.
Felista Aku is a seasoned professional and Senior Partnerships Manager at AfriLabs; a pan-African innovation-focused organization that works with over 400 innovation hubs in 52 countries and other stakeholders to raise successful startups and entrepreneurs. With extensive experience in Corporate Events Management, Corporate Communications, Project Management, Marketing, Business Development, and Partnerships, she brings a wealth of knowledge to her role.
Q: What are the key drivers for a successful partnership?
FELISTA: Partnerships are a two-way street, based on a wide range of values that demand commitment from both partners. Trust and transparency serve as the bedrock of prosperous partnerships. They foster open communication and a commitment to fulfilling obligations. Shared vision, mission, and objectives bring the partners together and drive them toward a common purpose. Expertise, whether in terms of complementary skills, resources, or access to diverse markets, breathes life into these collaborations, driving innovation and progress. Furthermore, there is accountability at the core of any successful partnership. It promotes trust, reliability, and results-oriented collaboration. Also, effective, open, and honest communication is key and fuels the partnership’s engine.
Given that we are a Pan-African organization, there are times when partnerships may involve organizations or individuals from different cultural backgrounds. We do not only recognize this but also accept these cultural differences because understanding and respecting cultural diversity is essential for the success of our partnership. Ultimately, a successful partnership seeks to make an impact, whether it be through innovative solutions, better products and services, or meaningful solutions to major challenges. Partnership is a journey, and its successes are long-lasting and far-reaching.
Q: With every successful partnership, there are risks. What are some risks associated with the partnership and how does one mitigate them?
FELISTA: Indeed, every partnership comes with its set of risks, and it’s essential to identify and mitigate them to ensure the success of the collaboration. First of all, a lack of trust impedes the decision-making process and hinders cooperation. Trust is built through transparency, credibility, and consistent implementation of commitments. Partners may have different or conflicting objectives. This can lead to conflicts and misalignment. To avoid this, it’s important to set out common goals and objectives within the partnership agreement. It’s also important to maintain regular communication to ensure alignment.
Another possible risk is unrealistic expectations.
It’s imperative to establish practical, attainable expectations. Moreover, resource imbalance can create an uneven distribution of influence when one partner makes a substantially greater contribution. To address this, it’s important to distinctly delineate the resource contributions and underscore the unique value proposition brought by each party.
Other risks and how to mitigate them include;
Cultural and Ethical Differences- Recognize cultural differences and potential ethical disparities. Establish guidelines and principles for handling cultural issues. When in doubt, prioritize ethical considerations and seek common ground.
Legal and Compliance Risks – Consult legal experts to draft a clear partnership agreement that outlines the legal and regulatory aspects of the collaboration. Ensure all partners are aware of and adhere to relevant laws and regulations.
Conflict and Dispute Rise – Develop a conflict resolution mechanism within the partnership agreement. This mechanism should include steps for addressing disputes and a pathway for mediation or arbitration if necessary.
Intellectual Property Risks – Clearly define intellectual property rights and ownership in the partnership agreement. Ensure that all partners respect and protect each other’s intellectual property.
Q: What are some successful Afrilabs partnerships that you would say have contributed to the growth of the larger tech and innovation ecosystem and why?
FELISTA: Over the last decade, AfriLabs has played a pivotal role in nurturing and advancing hubs and startups within Africa’s dynamic tech and innovation ecosystem. We’ve achieved this by establishing various strategic partnerships and designing impactful programs that address the unique needs of our ecosystem. Here are a few notable examples:
AfriLabs collaboration with French Development Agency (AFD) and Digital Africa: AfriLabs partnered with AFD and Digital Africa to launch the AfriLabs Capacity Building Programme; a 36-month intensive program designed to bolster the capabilities of innovation hubs. By enhancing their capacity, we help them attract investments and run impactful local and regional programs that support entrepreneurs and startups. This, in turn, leads to the growth and development of the African innovation ecosystem.
AfriLabs Collaboration with Visa Foundation: AfriLabs entered into a partnership with the Visa Foundation to launch ‘ The RevUp Women Programme’; an enterprise development intervention for early-stage women-led African startups and SMEs Its primary objective is to empower these businesses to accelerate their growth. Through a combination of capacity-building training, mentorship, and financial support, we aim to transform these enterprises into profitable and sustainable ventures that will create jobs. The programme is carried out in 5 countries – Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, South Africa, and DRC/
AfriLabs collaboration with Intel Corporation: AfriLabs collaborated with Intel Corporation to carry out research on “Evaluating the deep tech ecosystem in Africa”, The result of the research showed that the lack of tailored or specialized support to deep-techs is a major challenge to the growth of startups in this sector. To this end, Intel and AfriLabs rolled out a ‘Train the Trainers’ Sessions for hubs and institutions focused on supporting deep tech startups in South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, and Nigeria.
AfriLabs collaboration with African Development Bank (AfDB), Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), and Climate Investment Funds (CIF): AfriLabs partnered with AfDB, GCA, and CIF to implement The Youth Adaptation SolutionsChallenge(YouthADAPT); an annual competition and awards program for youth-led enterprises (50% women-led). This challenge seeks to boost sustainable job creation through support for entrepreneurship and youth-led innovation in climate change adaptation and resilience across Africa.
Our approach to ecosystem growth goes beyond program design. We also provide various entry points for different stakeholders, enabling them to overcome the unique challenges they face on their journey to success. For instance, we’ve introduced digital platforms like AfriLabs Academy and the AfriLabs Connect as well as investment matching platforms like Catalytic Africa.
AfriLabs Academy is an initiative under the AfriLabs Capacity Building Programme which equips African hub managers and staff with the necessary training and management skills, enhancing their ability to support the increasing number of startups and MSMEs within their communities.
AfriLabs with support from the Blue Heaven Initiative and FMO Ventures launched the AfriLabs Connect; a digital ecosystem engagement platform created to empower the African innovation ecosystem to thrive, accelerate, and transform the continent. This platform brings together the largest community of innovation enablers and stakeholders in Africa, fostering data-driven collaboration. This digital platform facilitates valuable interactions and connections that further strengthen the African tech and innovation ecosystem
Catalytic Africa is a matching fund by the African Business Angels Network (ABAN) and AfriLabs that aims to strengthen African startups, innovation hubs, and angel investors while delivering impact results to institutional funders.
Nanko Madu is a seasoned entrepreneur and innovation ecosystem builder with ~13 years’ of progressive experience in managing programmes on economic development, innovation, and entrepreneurship on the African continent. She is currently the Director of Programmes at AfriLabs, where she leads the design and implementation of the organization’s programmes targeted at the deployment of capacity building and improvement strategies targeted at startups, innovators and SMEs as well as hubs, women, youths, and talents within the pan-African innovation ecosystem.
Q: Could you please briefly outline your three top priorities as Afrilabs’ Director of Programs?
NANKO: 1) Design and implement high-impact programmes that are targeted at further building the innovation and tech ecosystem. 2) Expand our sector focus to the current trends within the ecosystem; climate action, education, health, and gender inclusion as an intercession. 3) Raise a strong team that has the capacity and ability to achieve the goals of the organisation.
Q: What programs are you currently working on that you believe we should be aware of?
RevUp Women Initiative: RevUp Women is an enterprise development intervention for early-stage women-led African startups and SMEs. It is designed to accelerate female-led businesses into profitable & sustainable ventures that can stimulate the creation of jobs on the continent. At the end of the pilot stage, 500 women business owners would have received capacity-building training and mentoring while 10 women business owners will be funded with 10,000 dollars grant each through the Catalytic Africa matching fund to grow their businesses. The initiative is funded by The Visa Foundation and aligns with AfriLabs’ inclusion strategy.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation AI Startup Mapping and AI Ethical Policy- AI Startup Mapping: The aim of the project is to create a comprehensive mapping of AI startups in Africa by utilising proprietary vocabulary and leveraging AfriLabs’ extensive datasets. The project will involve conducting primary research through desk research and targeted outreach to investors, hubs, and startup communities to gather information about relevant stakeholders. Various methods such as WhatsApp Groups, social media, email lists, and newsletters will be employed to crowdsource data. Additionally, approaches like desk research, online surveys, webinars, and engagement with hubs and startup support networks will be utilised. The ultimate goal is to extract and identify qualified AI startups from AfriLabs’ datasets, ensuring a thorough understanding of the African AI startup ecosystem.
AI Ethical Policy: The study is expected to provide insights into the implications of AI ethical policies on African innovators and entrepreneurs, which can inform policymakers, organisations, and institutions about the potential challenges and opportunities associated with these policies. The study is also expected to provide recommendations on how innovators and entrepreneurs can comply with AI ethical policies while still promoting innovation and competitiveness.
LEAP-RE: LEAP-RE is a Long-Term Joint Research and Innovation Partnership on Renewable Energy between the European Union and the African Union. The LEAP-RE programme seeks to create a long-term partnership of African and Europeanstakeholders in a quadruple helix approach involving government (programme owners and funding agencies), research and academia, private sector, and civil society by empowering local research through Europe-Africa cooperation while fostering the. So far 100+ ideas on mini-grid and renewable energy have been identified and updated in the Leap–Re database. Also, the LEAP-RE Open Innovation Ideathon was recently concluded, it was a gathering of creative and innovative young minds across the African continent. The primary goal was to foster the generation of innovative ideas and solutions for addressing Africa’s energy challenges in the mini-grid and renewable energy sectors. This initiative aims to set the continent on a sustainable energy path by harnessing the ingenuity of its youth. The Ideathon was a hybrid event that took place in Kigali, Rwanda. 3 ideas emerged as winners and will also be included in the database.
GCA Youth Adaptation Solutions Challenge: The YouthADAPT Challenge is an annual competition and awards program jointly organised by GCA and the African Development Bank (AFDB). It aims to strengthen inclusive growth and broaden investment and economic opportunities for African youth. Winners of the YouthADAPT Challenge receive up to $100,000 in business grants and participate in a 12-month business accelerator program to help them scale up their businesses, deepen their impact, and create decent jobs. Fifteen winners were selected in the Challenge’s first edition, launched in September 2021. Eighteen winners were selected in the second edition of the Challenge. 23 winners are undergoing specialized capacity building through training and mentoring 500, 000 USD + disbursed in grant funds
AU Digital and Innovation Fellowship Program: AfriLabs deployed tech fellows to the African Union to co-create and build innovative tech products. Highly competent tech innovators from the African continent were deployed to the units and organs within the African Union headquarters as resident fellows to understand the system within those units, identify data management challenges within the systems, and solve the challenges identified by co-creating and building innovative tailor-made products and processes that improve data management processes and the overall work of the African Union. So far 13+ products have been built to solve various challenges in the targeted AU units/organs and 6 of the fellows received a 6-month contract extension to pilot their products.
UNFPA Incubation Programme – AfriLabs, through its innovation hubs has supported the development of sustainable solutions to combat FGM, EUP, ASRHR, and Mental Health across the continent. Some of the notable achievements are:
- 100,000 adolescents reached with FGM awareness information
- Afyatoon (a startup incubated secured over 100k USD extra funding)
- 4 SGBV social impact businesses have generated over 3k USD between (August – September 2023)
- 2 startups have signed functional partnerships with their country health ministries (Nigeria & Kenya)
AEDIB|NET: The objective is to strengthen a common African-European digital innovation ecosystem by supporting local digital innovation and start-up ecosystems in Africa and facilitating the collaboration between European and African DIHs. Some notable achievements are:
12 African hubs strengthened to become Digital Innovation Hubs
40 women and youth capacity built to become innovation champions across the ecosystem
22 countries have been covered through project activities
Q: Tell us about the RevUp Women Initiative and your organization’s goal of building 50,000 capacity. Will the numbers be increased once this goal is met?
NANKO: RevUp Women is an enterprise development intervention for early-stage women-led African startups and SMEs. It is designed to accelerate female-led businesses into profitable & sustainable ventures that can stimulate the creation of jobs on the continent. The goal of the initiative is that by 2026, 50,000 women are trained across all 54 African countries; 152,000 jobs are created through these women; 100 of these women are directly funded with 10,000 dollars each, 54 national mentor networks are created to provide tailored mentoring to women in these countries; unlock 100 million dollars through investment vehicles across Africa. The pilot stage is currently ongoing and is funded by The Visa Foundation. At the end of the pilot stage, 500 women business owners would have received capacity-building training and mentoring while 10 women business owners will be funded with 10,000 dollars grant each through the Catalytic Africa matching fund to grow their businesses. The initiative is funded by The Visa Foundation and aligns with AfriLabs’ inclusion strategy.
Omone Tessy Okolo is the People Management Lead at AfriLabs. A pan-African, innovation-centric organisation that supports over 400 innovation hubs across 52 African countries, alongside other stakeholders. The primary objective is to nurture successful startups and visionary entrepreneurs who leverage groundbreaking technologies to address African challenges with innovative solutions.
Q: What support mechanisms are in place for the growth and development of entrepreneurs and start-ups who leverage ground-breaking technologies to address African Innovations?
TESSY: AfriLabs is uniquely positioned to support the best of our resources and reach the entrepreneurs and startups in our ecosystem ready to address African problems. Our dream is to have all African solutions to the challenges we face across all regions, by Africans. How do we do this? We identify the needs of these innovators, entrepreneurs and startups and find viable solutions to help them thrive beyond their expectations and goals. Over the years we have developed some initiatives to create and sustain an enabling and thriving environment.
Access to Funding: Through various programmes and initiatives AfriLabs has ensured it has supported innovators across Africa with direct and indirect access to funds in different sectors, in the past year AfriLabs through over 20 projects has supported innovators and startups with access to $2.5million through over 300 hubs and 450+ startups. Through Catalytic Africa, a matching fund initiative from Angel investors in the ABAN (Africa Business Angel Network) network to startups under the AfriLabs hub network has successfully Invested € 1,155,794 by local angel investors in innovation hub-affiliated startups.
Networking and Partnerships: AfriLabs provides opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs to connect with other like-minded individuals, industry experts, and potential partners through a series of virtual and physical events such as workshops and the AfriLabs Annual Gathering. This year the Gathering was held in Kigali with almost 1000 participants. Also, we have the AfriLabs Connect a social platform that allows for interactions, learning and forging new partnerships.
Training, Learning and Development: AfriLabs has an interactive learning platform called the AfriLabs Academy, where different modules are taught to anyone ready to learn, this training is free, and after successfully completing a module and passing the exams, a certificate is issued this is in partnership with an African university.
Q: As a people management lead, please share three strategies you have deployed to ensure the organisation’s culture, thrives.
TESSY: Mental Wellness: We live in very interesting times, balancing work and our personal lives can be overwhelming so I implemented the Mental wellness package for employees, through the help of a mental wellness agency, they provide every team member therapy sessions, we have workshops lined up and monthly meditation session.
Employee engagement: I started the cadre listening tour, to better understand the challenges and needs of the team at their level, this was done without the presence of their manager and management. It was really insightful.
Reinforce values: At recruitment and onboarding, AfiLabs values are emphasized with new recruits to enable us to keep the purpose and soul of the organisation running. Also, we like to align ourselves with people who have or share similar values to the organisation, so then it is easier to be productive and innovative in your role and position.
Q: What’s the most exciting aspect of your job and why?
TESSY: Growing up I have always wanted to help people in whatever form it was, and that was why I studied Law. However, law practice was not giving me the satisfaction I needed. I was at the bank some years ago, and I met a boy begging to withdraw his money from his account he didn’t have his withdrawal booklet, and the bank refused to attend to him without him paying for the new booklet, he said the money in the account was the exact money for his project in school. I finished my business and was about to leave, but he was still begging, then I gave him the money for the booklet, about 1000 naira, and walked away, he followed to tank me profusely it was almost embarrassing, I saw the relief in his eyes and gratitude.
In my role as the People Management Lead at AfriLabs, the most exciting part of my job is seeing I genuinely helped someone overcome their struggles, seeing I came up with an initiative that would better help or support the team, which gives me comfort!
AfriLabs is a dynamic innovation-focused organization empowering and building a community around innovation hubs and other stakeholders across various African countries since 2011. These hubs serve as physical co-working spaces and dedicated offices, offering comprehensive training and invaluable support in areas such as business, legalities, and finance to African entrepreneurs, innovators, developers, and young individuals. Through active involvement with these hubs and their communities, Afrilabs actively contribute to cultivating innovators and entrepreneurs, ultimately driving economic growth and social development throughout Africa.