Since 2013 Impact Hub and Siemens Stiftung have been collaborating on the Africa Seed Program with the aim of developing new Impact Hubs across the continent. Siemens has contributed to building locally driven, globally connected communities of social entrepreneurs and supportive infrastructure across Africa that may also serve as a delivery platform for Siemens Stiftung’s key programs in the region.
The Africa Seed Program has been very successful so much that we are now exploring both the long-term vision and the short-term focus of our partnership. Impact Hub Accra, one of the first Impact Hubs to emerge from the Africa Seed Program, has a growing membership of over 100 and a broader community of nearly 7,000. The US government (through BBG) works with Impact Hub Accra on the development of Ghana’s first digital design and innovation lab, which support initiatives give voice to local communities and innovators across the region. As it stands, we have cultivated a mutually beneficial partnership that has resulted in Impact Hub cementing its role as a pipeline of innovations and ventures for Siemens Stiftung’s empowering people initiative.
The long-term opportunities that have stemmed from our relationship with Siemens Stiftung include providing more targeted and active support to entrepreneurs developing solutions to basic needs in their communities via early stage incubation programs in selected countries. Impact Hub has also assumed the role of custodian for Siemens Stiftung awardees, grantees and beneficiaries. By offering ongoing support, we are helping these entrepreneurs in further developing their solutions and/or in bringing them to scale. We have also identified potential to expand our partnership beyond Africa with additional focus on Latin America with 11 Impact Hub communities already thriving in the region and another 4-5 more to open in developing Latin American markets in the coming years. Our current focus in Latin America is on incubating early-stage social ventures and scaling proven social innovations with our other partners. In terms of areas of collaboration , we have also added impact measurement, which is a key part of Siemens Stiftung’s and Impact Hub’s work.
Our next phase for Impact Hub in Africa is to provide valuable support and access to technology to social entrepreneurs who develop and prototype physical products, create new opportunities for further programing and collaboration within the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the selected cities, increase the value proposition of Impact Hubs in Africa to entrepreneurs and more established social enterprises who provide physical products and create a number of synergies with Siemens Stiftung in supporting entrepreneurs to develop products and innovations that address basic human needs across Africa. One such project is the Makerspace project.
A makerspace is a 21st-century digitally-connected community workshop and lab open to entrepreneurs and people in general who are interested in learning, designing and making together in a collaborative environment. Typical equipment ranges from low- to high-tech, but spans 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines (e.g. routers, mills, lathes), sewing machines, soldering irons and electronics tool kits. Makerspaces help people gain skills through learning-by-doing: using CAD/CAM software to apply 3D modeling, 3D printing, coding, robotics, carpentry, metalwork and other tools for rapid prototyping of physical objects and hardware. Makerspaces complement Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) fields and support entrepreneurship through new product development.
Our prototype Makerspace has been created at Impact Hub Accra and it serves to demonstrate both the facility and community that a makerspace offers to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem. It aims to provide in-house capacity for hardware development, rapid prototyping, digital design and fabrication and applying design thinking to solve local problems. Our goal is to support not only design and development of new products using digital technology, but also prototyping a range of locally-made tools and equipment for digital fabrication. The focus is not to make generic 3D-printed plastic toys and trinkets, but rather to create jobs as a dynamic innovation engine—grounded in Ghana’s existing design, arts and crafts and manufacturing landscape, while leveraging indigenous interclass innovation to build a maker community empowered to build Africa’s future.