Framings of an Innovation Hot-zone in the GBA

March 16, 2021

Map of the Greater Banjul Area

Since the launching of UNDP in The Gambia’s Accelerator Lab (AccLabGM) in November 2019, four other technology or creative labs have come into existence locally or rebranded themselves. What’s their objective, you might wonder: to provide an enabling environment for budding entrepreneurs to co-work and network. The test of whether or not their solutions have contributed to the spread of innovations in The Gambia is still ongoing. Even then, asking whether these spaces are the right fit for our own local landscape is too soon to answer, but certainly not too soon to reflect upon. Since they are here though, AcclabGM being in its overarching omnipotent umbrella position, has the unique opportunity to provide a platform for that conversation.

The four labs are all located in the heart of the Greater Banjul Area (GBA) in urban Gambia. With over 10,000 registered businesses, perhaps this comes as no surprise. They are all within a four-mile radius of each other, enclosed in what one can consider an innovation hot-zone in all but name. The Kanifing Municipal council recognizes this fact and in 2020, hosted its first ever Innovation Challenge in partnership with the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), and the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). Both the winner and runner up in the challenge are housed at the Disruptive Lab – one of the four spaces.

These labs all came into being within one year of each other, with the exception of JokkoLabs (Co-Work Lab). Various characteristics such as location, programmatic areas, and funding source, separate these labs but they are all bound by their target demographic besides the neighborhood that they share. An innovation ecosystem in The Gambia can hugely benefit from the labs existing in the local landscape. This real-time experimentation with technology or creative labs has already tied in the public sector (with the National Youth Council Lab), an international network (with JokkoLabs), the private sector with both an internationally financed (through Innovate Gambia), and a domestically financed venture (in The Hub) vying for the same market of 320,000 residents within the Kanifing municipality. AccLabGM also brings the presence of an international organization in the United Nations (UN), and UNDP in particular.

Considering the landscape actors, the missing engagement of academia, mainly the national University of the Gambia (UTG), is sorely needed in this space. It is perhaps only a matter of time before the innovation landscape players entice this center of learning into its midst. If this is realized and a similar space is created within an academic setting, it will usher in a different iteration of the ‘labs experiment’ wherein The Gambia will be well positioned to really explore what it means to develop an innovation ecosystem. The move would also provide a blueprint that would facilitate the creation of another innovation hot-zone given the sparsely spread UTG campus throughout the GBA with its main campus in Faraba (a city in another area council).

Meanwhile within the existing hot-zone, opening up support to several pillars can truly nurture it for the anticipated scaling out to other areas. Besides the creative and technology labs or spaces for innovation (Pillar One), other pillars include data accessibility; data affordability; and programme and events (including competitions, challenges, and networking events). Collectively, these four pillars are centrally reinforced by a dynamic and creative up-and-coming labor force. Once performance in each of these areas is optimized to create the coveted enabling environment for the benefit of the entrepreneurs, a next set of pillars will become apparent for the ecosystem to tackle and build together as part of a new iteration of the ‘labs experiment.’ Although at that level, the desired output would be for the benefit of the entire economy. Overtime, the unharnessed potential of the new labor force entrants could also prove to be transformative.

This is precisely why the ongoing AccLabGM experiment to promote business continuity during crises and the sharing of digital technology platforms that can support that process, is important. The 13-part High Tech Show is a series airing on the major television stations with advertisements of ongoing and planned AccLabGM projects or experiments. One of the advertisements showcases all four creative technology labs or spaces in a bid to entice the hidden gems of the country to step forward and utilize them in their business operations. The series is also a collective experience in solutions mapping.

Join the viewing and catch an episode this weekend.  

A separate set of issues have also been identified stemming from the low occupancy rate of these spaces. Part 2 of this series explores how that can be tacked differently.