November 17, 2015
Fábrica de Sabão - turning Luanda’s defunct industrial space into a creative locus of growth, innovation and opportunity for Angolans
It has been six years since I founded the African Innovation Foundation (AIF), and four years since the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) was launched across the continent. My convictions that Africans possess an inborn dexterity towards innovation have been long confirmed for I have seen firsthand the sheer ingenuousness of innovative business, social and lifestyle ideas being brought to the table. Each year, the IPA sees incredible innovations coming out of many, many countries in Africa. I was also incredible proud to learn that of the 700 entries, Angolan inventors walked away with nine medals, including a gold medal, for presenting some of the most innovative ideas at the 65th Fair of Ideas, Innovations and New Products (IENA) event in Germany recently.
As an innovation enthusiast, I have been wanting to do more in my country to enable young Angolans to pursue innovative ideas that could not only launch them as new-age entrepreneurs but also help transform the country socio-economically. Having visited many innovation hubs and creative spaces in other parts of Africa as well as in the West, I wanted to see a similar type of platform in Angola, which is one of the few larger African economies without such facilities.
The idea was further inspired when I learned of an old, abandoned soap factory in Hoje Ya Henda em Luanda. The area is home to the largest slum in the country, with some 800,000 people and a population density of 23,000 people per square kilometer. Slum dwellers, as we all know, are amongst the most creative, innovative and enterprising folk simply by virtue of necessity. What they lack however are opportunities and nurturing environments to give them scale, sustainability and know how.
Fábrica de Sabão Infographic
I reached out to my network of innovators to plant the idea and just like that Fábrica de Sabão was born. A hybrid of an incubator and accelerator hub, as well as coworking and maker space, the old soap factory, once completed in the next few months, will act as an ecosystem to foster innovation and entrepreneurship amongst Angolans. Comprising of a suite of repurposed shipping containers dedicated to business development, creative explorations, cultural connections and urban manufacturing, Fábrica de Sabão will bring together key influencers from around the world to share knowledge, harness creative ideas into tangible outcomes and help launch sustainable businesses. It will also be a place for locals to create art, music and crafts in an environment led principally by innovation.
For Angola, this will be transformational, the perfect antidote to propel a deeper Angolan innovation spirit where it is most needed – at the heart a community that has not been able to fully participate in the formal economic sector and benefit from the country’s remarkable growth. It is an opportunity for Angolan youth to leapfrog challenges in the current education system and embrace new ways of learning that will launch them into the formal economy whilst nurturing their authenticity and creativity.
Already, incredible developments are taking place at the old soap factory. The clearing of mountains of waste and construction of the premises are well underway, the right influencers have been mobilized to bring the place to life and meetings have been held with local community leaders to obtain buy in and support. Organizations from various sectors such as human resources, mobile technology, manufacturing, infrastructure and agriculture have expressed interest to set up shop at Fábrica de Sabão. Just imagine the impact this ecosystem will have on surrounding communities over the coming years as they begin to learn to formulate business ideas and enjoy peer-to-peer mentorship within such a collaborative environment?
I have visited the site on several occasions and am blown away by the infectious levels of enthusiasm, belief, and inspiration that is radiating out of what was once a mere soap factory. I truly believe that we all have great ideas but rarely act on them. Often all it takes is to act on an idea by sharing it with others. When people believe in an idea, they will go all out not only to support it but to make it happen. This is exactly how the old soap factory has gotten its new avatar, and the reason why my vision for this ecosystem has begun to take hold.
Africa has everything it needs to become an innovation-led industrialized nation that the world will look up to, and I for one am eager to see these developments in Angola. All it takes is to create conducive environments for local ingenuity and enterprise to flourish. These types of social incubator platforms work best when it goes where the need as it enables the informal economy to become part of the fabric of enterprise, thereby fostering a culture inclusion and spurring socioeconomic development.