On 23 October 2022, we arrived in Lusaka, Zambia: Plenty of time to settle in and get ready for the AfriLabs Annual Gathering from 26 to 28 October. Our partner AfriLabs brought together the who is who of the pan-African innovation ecosystem: investors, innovation hubs, government actors, and other ecosystem players. With our colleagues Olaf Seidel and Geoffroy Berson, we were fortunate to experience first-hand the energy and power of the pan-African innovation ecosystem.
We both arrived on Sunday, while for me, Susan, the journey started a little earlier, when I was greeted by an AfriLabs representative at the airport, so my quick and easy journey from Kenya continued to the hotel. There we later met up and made plans for Monday to find a place to work and start our preparations for the event.
On Tuesday, we met with AfriLabs stakeholders for introductions and an insightful exchange of experiences and ideas. So, perfectly prepared by the host, the actual event started with a promising first day: The energy was captivating with so many innovation enablers from all over the continent in one setting. All workingto strengthen the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the continent through collaborating with one another.
Everyone was willing to share their experiences and stories. Since we were all joining forces to grow the African innovation ecosystems, it was the perfect opportunity for us to introduce Make-IT in Africa, which our colleague Olaf, Head of our project in Southern Africa, did on stage sharing our lates news and initiatives.
Which is also the reason why we were not alone in Lusaka: We invited our partners from Female Founders to introduce our new Female Leadership Program "Lead F Africa". It supports African female tech leaders in becoming more resilient and confident. So, our first day ended with a bang: We celebrated the program launch, our live get-together, and the African innovation ecosystem at the colourful African Met Gala.
“Joining the AfriLabs Annual Gathering with Make-IT in Africa was a great opportunity for us. So many ecosystem stakeholders were interested in our common cause and our new program. Especially the Gala was a unique vibrant networking setting, we wouldn’t wanted to have missed”, described Amelia Suda from Female Founders her experience.
In addition to the women of Female Founders, we brought more female power: Lelemba Phiri, PhD, gender lens investor, Principal and Founder of Africa Trust Group. After bringing the gender perspective to the panel “Collaboration and Innovation” on day one, she also hosted our interactive workshop “The Future of your Ecosystem is Female by GIZ” on the second day. Together, we explored challenges in achieving gender parity within innovation hubs and participating cohorts of entrepreneurs and identified opportunities for building hubs with a deliberate gender lens. For a lasting and practical effect, we pointed to quick wins that build momentum towards a longer-term position and strategy for real transformation.
Lelemba shared on stage her perspective that the ecosystem should not only look at women as beneficiaries at the bottom of the pyramid but rather should also be part of the decision-makers, capital allocators, owners of businesses to sthrenghten the innovation ecosystem. This poses a challenge and opportunity to rethink program design in addressing gender inclusion. And we could not agree more.
After a long first day, we were worried, everyone would be exhausted with no energy left for an afternoon workshop. Instead, we got many interested key strategic players together in one room, collaborating and cocreating. Lelemba skillfully brought focus to the female narrative – from the panel discussion to our workshop. We really enjoyed working with her.
The role of women in entrepreneurship and leadership was an important topic not only for us, from our female perspective: We were impressed by the representation of men in our workshop equally taking part on the conversation about the role of women in their local ecosystems and their organizations. We discussed the importance for the African ecosystem and also learned about the challenges and opportunities for our own organizations. The topic has many supporters, which only strengthens our focus.
To our delight, the subject was also mentioned at another Make-IT in Africa session: the launch of the new “Founder's Guide to Fundraising”. With our partner Briter Bridges, innovation enablers, and local experts from nine countries across Africa, we developed guides to fundraising for founders in their local ecosystems. Our host David James Saunders, Director of Strategy and Growth at Briter Bridges, focused on our work with partners and co-host Simunza Muyangana, Co-Founder and Director of BongoHive, the local expert and innovation enabler, who helped bringing the Zambian guide to live.
After such an eventful experience at AfriLabs Annual Gathering our cheeks are still hurting from smiling during the successful launches and all the inspiring conversations at the Make-IT in Africa booth. One of us is especially excited for the next Gathering, as it will be in Aneth’s hometown Kigali. A huge ‘Thank you’ to AfriLabs for organizing this amazing event and to our colleague Valeria Morua, the mastermind behind our great partnership with AfriLabs and all the logistics and planning involved in what thanks to her turned out to be an amazing event for us. And we are sure: The future of the ecosystem is female!
About the authors: Aneth Batamuliza is a Hub Network Community Manager in our team based in Rwanda. Sue Wanjiru is a Digital Ecosystem Advisor in our team, based in Kenya at GIZ´s Digital Transformation Center.