Viva Technology 2018 placed Africa Tech high under the spotlight. The continent that leapfrogged home telephones to mobile banking Africa Tech is the new digital frontier today.
For the first time the most promising 100 African startups from 4 sectors marked their presence with local incubators and accelerators with selected startups pitching their solutions.
To take the pulse of the African digital revolution we met with one of the top movers and shakers of the Africa Tech transformation, Karim Sy, Founder & Chief Catalyst of Jokkolabs, a unique open innovation ecosystem and a learning community for social good.
Karim Sy, Founder & Chief Catalyst of Jokkolabs
In a nutshell can you tell us about Jokkolabs?
Jokkolabs is an open innovation ecosystem and a learning community for shared prosperity. After almost 8 years after creation we have a strong multi-local footprint today – mainly in Africa – with a network of 12 hubs (3 more coming up in Ivory Coast) in 9 countries. Jokkolabs helps small entrepreneurs to emerge with innovative solutions in a caring environment to create positive impact for good worldwide. That will depend on our capacity to think creatively with limited resources and to be in action mode as we are already in the “era of adverse consequences” (climate change, demographic issues, etc.). We agreed on the definition of entrepreneurship of Pr Stevenson (Harvard): “the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled”. That’s why Africa is important for us as the continent has demonstrated the capacity to innovate in a context of scarcity for mobile adoption or fintech for example.
What’s unique about the Jokkolab concept?
We believe that the world is facing unprecented issues (climate change, demography, etc.) that will need response at a global scale, we need to adopt new approach: disruptive ones. Humanity has a shared destiny, to quote Edgar Morin. That’s why our DNA is global and we implement our hubs in a local context.
Jokkolabs is unique, because firstly we are a network of entrepreneurs, made by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs who have the same values of openness and sharing. Even if nowadays we have more and more government involvement as well as different types of organisations, universities and NGOs that are joining the network. We strongly believe in the empowering nature of technology to organize an ecosystem instead of just a value chain.
Nonetheless, as a non-profit with a hybrid model, we aim to build an ecosystem that is caring for the startup and the entrepreneurs. Our aim is not to just find and support the new unicorn – even if we have some big success stories and can contribute to emerging ones – but rather help to share the knowledge in a learning community of entrepreneurs who will replicate local community solutions that work well in other places.
What are your main ambition and goals for the future?
Einstein says that we can’t find a solution to problem with the same level of thinking that created them! Our ambition is to change the mindset of entrepreneurs (or intrapreneurs) to challenge the status quo. For today’s global challenges, we need to find a new way to innovate and we want Jokkolabs to be the place where innovation will emerge to create impact in all sectors such as agriculture, food security (how to feed 9 billion people in 2050 with sustainable agriculture?) health, education or energy.
Everybody should engage and join forces – resources and knowledge – organize partenerships to find solutions in a community open innovation approach as we do at Jokkolabs: civil society, private sector (small and corporate), researchers, NGOs, citizens. That’s why we are exploring the common goods approach for Jokkolabs towards the future.
What is the key message you shared with participants at Viva Tech?
Jokko means connection and communication in the wolof language (of Senegal). We cannot solve today’s complex multi-dimensional challenges just by foreign aid, by public services, by corporate (even for good!) or by philanthropy alone even if you are Bill Gates! No one actor has all the answers or the monopoly of good ideas. Cross-sector cooperation — working with the public, private and non-profit sectors — is more critical now than ever before. So take action when and where you can. Ask yourself which global issue you personally care most about. You can do it as a corporate organisation, a non-profit, a government, an academic leader, an entrepreneur or as an individual! Join Jokkolabs and let’s find together how we can organize partnerships to test and accelerate your solutions at a larger scale.
Jokkolabs also chose France to set up its social hub in the Parisian region. And, the lab just recently launched a co-working space in association with the startup Maarch specialized in electronic archiving. These shared offices are made available to anyone seeking to develop their network, meet new employees, discuss their practices and develop their professional projects, personal or associative. Nice!