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In My View

March 31, 2016

Allies in Innovation for Angola’s Social Good

The Angolan innovation landscape might be fledgling, but I am heartened by the fact that there is movement and support towards its development. In economically challenged times, Angola needs to open itself to new ideas, prospects and possibilities. I truly believe that economic challenges breed opportunities to diversify…to diversify our economy, our mindset and our lives.

Contrary to how foreign media frequently portray Angola, there are many interesting developments taking place in the country that are focused primarily on driving social inclusion and bridging the gap between the formal and informal economy. In the innovation space, Angola’s public sector is taking steps to support private entities in establishing capacity-building environments for its citizens.

Take Fábrica de Sabão, a hybrid innovation hub that is being built on land that belongs to Kijinga, the social impact development company owned by the Fundo Soberano de Angola (FSDEA). With the land given on lease to me through my company Cabaza, I am able to bring my vision for an Angolan innovation ecosystem to life. The hub is currently being constructed in the heart of Hoje Ya Henda em Luanda, home to the largest slum in the country, containing some 800,000 people.

Fábrica de Sabão, although still in development, is a model innovation hub designed to include marginalized communities in Angola. While many African innovation hubs are focused on incubating and accelerating startups, and often mostly technology-focused, Fábrica de Sabão is an ecosystem to foster innovation-led education, creativity and entrepreneurship amongst all sects of Angolans. When completed, it will comprise of incubator and accelerator hubs, co-working and maker spaces, a cultural exchange platform, local radio station and a residence program for visiting mentors and artists.

Already, the hub is turning out to serve its purpose. Just recently, Fábrica de Sabão hosted a creative workshop for a group of children and teens from Cazenga. In the hub’s MakerSpace, the young children learned to create art and structures with recycled material while the teenagers were taught to draw in perspective, preparing them to create their own designs using 3D printing technology. Rather than being preached to, they were educated on environmental preservation by watching, WALL-E, the animated film about a robot programed to clean up a waste-covered Earth in the future.

Children attending a creative workshop in the MakerSpace of Fábrica de Sabão

Children attending a creative workshop in the MakerSpace of Fábrica de Sabão

Making art from plastic was one of the activities during the workshop

Making art from plastic was one of the activities during the workshop

Projects like Fábrica de Sabão are a great example of how public entities can collaborate with the private sector to develop a nation’s innovation ecosystem and leapfrog education challenges with the common goal of driving socioeconomic inclusion and growth. Children, especially those from the slums, are not only hungry for knowledge but highly receptive and resourceful. These innovation ecosystems are ideal avenues to apply creative knowledge transfer methods to marginalized children.

I believe that entrepreneurs who are socially engaged and committed absolutely need support from the private and public sector in order to create strong innovation ecosystems that can drive economic opportunity for all sects of the community. The support that Fabrica de Sabao is receiving from Angola’s public sector is an important milestone, and only serves to strengthen my personal commitment towards the project. I am looking forward to motivating other entrepreneurs to join me.

Sadly, such alliances are frequently subject to unfounded criticism in news reports, with accusations of nepotism, lack of transparency and opaque dealings cropping up unnecessarily to affront efforts to drive innovation-led progress. All I can say is that it makes no real difference. Angola needs its innovation allies and I for one will continue to remain committed to African innovation. My reverence for my home, Angola, will not be compromised and I hope to foster even greater collaborations between Angola’s innovation leaders, believers and influencers to drive the nation’s economic diversification.