10 important challenges to create an innovation hub in Burundi, Africa.

by Stephan DOUKHOPELNIKOFF, CEO of DOUTTI.com, creative and innovative services.

This year we had the opportunity to do an analysis of an innovation hub in Burundi for Care International together with Pierre Johnson and Pascal Kambu.

For myself an opportunity to live my passions: innovation, technology, creativity and mindset.

Our job was to deliver:

  • a SWOT analysis
  • a PEST analysis
  • a Market analysis
  • a Manual or recommendations for the HUB
  • a Pitch 

In this article we won’t go into the details of the SWOT and PEST analysis for Burundi.
The same for the financial cost, the management structure and the legal entity. You can always email us when you are interested to know more about our experience and knowledge concerning Innovation Hubs or Burundi.

Table of the content of this article:

1. The innovation mindset.

Innovation is only possible with an open and creative mindset.

Let me share a story about a milestone in my career.

In 2000 the provincial Bar in Belgium invited me as the keynote speaker of the opening conference. Certainly as a young lawyer then, it was an honour.

Because I was free to choose the subject, I decided on: 

“Internet law, the legal aspects of the internet.”
At that moment there was not such a thing as ‘internet law’ and the internet was far away from the daily practice of law practitioners. A few years later in 2003, I created the first online law firm in Belgium and a portal where you could download contracts online. Now, 20 years later, it is still considered as innovative.

After my speech, I was congratulated by the president of the court saying: “It was very interesting Stephan, but I only understood half of what you were explaining.
Of course my mistake was not taking into account the expertise or lack of expertise of my audience, lawyers and judges. This mistake I use now as an example in my public speaking courses for young Africans.

Innovation is beyond knowledge.

Your knowledge determines your mindset. And your mindset determines your knowledge.

To be innovative your mindset cannot be limited by what you know. You need to embrace the unknown.

Innovation has everything to do with mindset.
Innovation is based on creativity. Creativity is fuelled by an open mindset.

It is the difference between seeing teaching as the transfer of knowledge or to inspire your students to learn. These are different mindsets. One mindset is limited, the other is open.

Another example. How do you solve poverty?
In the context of Africa and Burundi, an innovation hub can be considered as a possible contribution to end poverty.

So to solve poverty, you can focus on the problem, poverty. The danger is that your mind is already absorbed by the problem and that it becomes part of the problem.
An open mind doesn’t focus on the problem but takes distance from the problem. Imagine a person that wants to become rich. A lot of my coachees here in Africa want to become rich. This means that you consider yourself as poor. So you are part of the problem.

To cut short, to solve poverty you don’t focus on poverty but on well-being and richness. You define your SMART goals and you work towards those goals. Of course you also do a holistic analysis where you start from.

The start, the destination and the journey towards the destination are all equally important.

But the start is already a past, the destination is in the future. Only in this moment you are in a reality where you actually are able to think and to do.

Most people are stuck in the past or the future.

Inspiration is beyond thinking.

Mindset is important but it is also not everything. To create something new, you also need inspiration.

As a person, we are more than just ‘thought’. Otherwise we would be artificial (intelligence). We are also consciousness, emotions and feelings. Not to forget energy. Energy comes from your being. It is energy that fuels your thinking.

When you do something new, it creates a kind of inner excitement, a vibe. That vibe is beyond thinking.

Innovation should not only look smart, it should also feel good.

2. How do we define innovation?

For this study and analysis, we considered innovation as any new or improved method, process, product or service that addresses the challenges and needs of the local population.

Innovation is the  translation  of  ideas  or inventions into practice, such as the development of goods, services, methodologies or even  philosophical  frameworks.  Innovation  spans  across  the  whole  process  of  idea generation  up  to  actual  implementation.

The idea can be a new solution or a new application of an existing solution.

Two  major  types  of  innovation  can  be  distinguished.  On  the  one  hand,  business innovation, which describes the process of developing and implementing new goods or services  that  fit  the  needs  of  a  customer.  On  the  other  hand,  social  innovation,  which refers to the process of implementing ideas or inventions that serve a social need. read more

What is innovative in Burundi is not necessarily innovative elsewhere and the other way around.  So innovation is context sensitive.

But more important is the understanding that innovation is creativity based on an open flexible mindset, not closed or limited. It is not just the copying of something that is new from one place to another.

You need to be aware of the innovation connected to a certain context. But at the same time being aware that the local context doesn’t limit you.

For example, poverty can have many causes. Most likely a poor mindset is part of the causes of poverty. Violence is also caused by poor mindset. Violence also causes poverty.
The same with ignorance.
People always look for outside causes, while causes are most to be found inside.

“You can not solve a problem with the same mindset that created it.”
Albert Einstein.

It is, of course, important to understand the local context. But limiting your thinking to a local environment only isn’t very innovative.

Some people will judge that some innovative solutions are “impossible” to implement. But impossible as a judgement, is also part of a certain mindset. What is impossible for one person doesn’t have to be impossible for another.

When it comes to innovation, it is important to follow the latest trends and evolution worldwide. Not only to follow but to understand the WHY?
To check what is beneficial for humanity as a whole and then see how to implement it in collaboration with locals. 

Curiosity is the main characteristic to create an innovation hub because it fuels creativity and innovation. Even when you think some things are not possible in Burundi, for whatever reason.
An open innovative mindset is flexible and limitless.

Beware of people with a narrow mindset speaking of innovation, you might end up going backwards instead of contributing to progress. 

Progress and innovation mean getting away from poverty and a poor mindset instead of being part of the problem.

3. Adding value and sustainability.

An important criterion for innovation is “added value”. 

Look for ways how something new can add value. It is not because something is new that it adds value.

When we consider innovation, we have to approach it as part of the whole and not just the part. Even when it comes to innovation and technology it is important to be aware of all that we are and not just our thinking. 

If, for example in agriculture, you invent a machine to grow plants faster but the quality goes down and it demands more water or fossil fuels, it is not adding value.

When something innovative is not contributing to the well-being of humanity, it is possibly new, but it is not adding value.

The principle of sustainability is to understand that everything is interconnected (nothing is separate) and in constant evolution. So innovation needs a holistic approach, otherwise it can’t be sustainable.

4. Implementation

The next step is to check how innovation can be implemented together with people with the right mindset and skillset. People that understand what they will be doing and who are motivated to implement innovation.

Planning

We elaborated a short, mid and long-term implementation plan.

KPIs

We often see that some projects don’t reach their full potential. Most of the time is that there is a problem with the KPIs. They need to be clear, flexible and realistic (adapted to the environment). As we already explained to much numbers in reports for evaluation can kill creativity and innovation. So it is important to find a balance.

‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’

We will elaborate on the KPIs in another article.

5. A HUB?

An innovation HUB is the perfect place to live and share the innovation vibe.

The idea of hub is an elastic concept used to denote some kind of relationship or interconnectedness at different levels with a diversity of actors and activities.

A  hub  is  a  center,  structure  or  network  composed of  actors  supporting  or  facilitating  the  development of an environment conducive to entrepreneurship or innovation. Cities are also often defined as hubs when they represent important nodes for business and investment.

An innovation hub is a center for learning, ideas, co-creation and community, that nurtures innovative ideas and market disruption, and supports creative ways of solving problems through offering on-the ground support across the entirety of the startup lifecycle.

Importantly, as innovation is a process rather than a product, in innovation hubs it is not just  the  end  result,  but  also  the  process  that  counts.

Hubs create  an  atmosphere  of  experimentation,  an  environment  that enables failure without serious consequences and promotes an attitude in which testing and  failure  are  publicly  shared  for  others  to  learn  from.

The  best  way  to  understand  innovation  hubs  is  to  define them  as  virtual  or  physical  places  that  support  innovation.

The stakeholders of the HUB

  • Private sector: financial institutions, entrepreneurs, civil society, other organizations
  • Public sector: min of communication, education, …
  • Universities

They consist of individuals or groups that self-organize into collaborative communities to produce knowledge, ideas or information as well as tangible goods. These centers also employ a practice of sharing knowledge and skills, enabling peer learning and production. This allows individual participants to draw on the knowledge and experience gained by other members of the hub or connected hubs within a particular network. Hubs gain knowledge and experience from hands-on activities and physical prototypes or experiments that are conducted.

The principles of an innovation hub.

  • Communal: an innovation hub encourages collaboration and togetherness. Hubs create collaborative communities with individual entrepreneurs at the center.
  • Self-organising and adaptive: an innovation hub allows innovators to set the agenda and trajectory of innovation. Hubs create collaborative communities with individual entrepreneurs at the center.
  • Interdisciplinary knowledge transfer: innovators are transferring their knowledge and skills. Hubs attract diverse members with heterogeneous knowledge and are multi-disciplinary.
  • Enabling innovators: the hubs transform participants in citizen science into innovators. Hubs facilitate creativity and collaboration in physical and digital space.
  • Global impact: the innovations aim for tackling issues at a global scale. Hubs localize the global entrepreneurial culture.

The physical HUB space, energy and internet.

This can be one central HUB Space and antennae in the rural remote areas.

A physically easily accessible HUB Space is important as it creates a connection between public (visitors, guests) and private space (members).

  • A community needs a space.
  • A physical space is one of the most important elements of a HUB.
  • To work, to connect, to learn.
  • The HUB space should find ways to generate alternative energy to avoid power cuts and electric shocks that damage electronic material.
  • Also internet connectivity should be checked. For example, there is optic fibre but the authorities organising the internet connectivity are not reliable and competing themselves with the private sector.

The digital or online HUB space, portal or platform.

At Doutti we specialise in the creation of digital platforms and e-learning portals. Our department, BiDigital.one has a separate website and be contacted by email.

A digital platform is one of the must-have innovative tools of an innovation hub for:

  • Online information, courses
  • Community (agenda, events, messaging, etc.
  • Connection with partners
  • List of consultants (intern or extern?)
  • Reservation of the mobile HUB online.

The mobile HUB space.

To access remote areas.

Set-up of a HUB space.

Hubs are typically set up in metropolitan areas, within facilities that share striking stylistic similarities. A typical hub space might feature wooden furniture, large desks, brick walls, whiteboards, a foosball table, at least some artwork, shared kitchen spaces, a coffee bar, meeting rooms, and bean bags.

For hubs, these locational, architectural, and interior design choices are about more than convenience, style, or the cost-effectiveness per se. Within the context of urban geography, hubs serve as vital, physical centers that lend a sense of permanence to members. And architectural and interior design dimensions help foster a collaborative, urban and “buzzy” atmosphere that supports face-to-face interactions. Members see this sort of environment is as integral to creative, collaborative work. 

Events such as hackathons and “pitch nights” further enhance the value of physical space by promoting contact between individuals and groups that would not normally meet during their daily routines. Digital spaces extend the scope of the hub; for example, websites function as an important digital representation, revealing a hub’s existence to a broader audience and strengthening its identity. Blogs, Twitter feeds, and hub-specific platforms allow participants’ interactions to unfold in various forms online.

An interesting article on a hub space, read more. Written by Tuukka Toivonen & Nicolas Friederici.

6. What is innovation in the local context?

Mobile technology

In many countries in Central Africa, mobile phones are becoming a popular way for people, also in rural areas to access financial services, healthcare, educational resources and other essential needs. For instance, the use of mobile money platforms and mobile banking services has become commonplace in countries like Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya.

Sustainable Agricultural Practices

Agriculture is the backbone of many Central African economies, including Burundi, and innovative farming practices such as agro-ecology, precision agriculture, use of organic fertilisers, and water conservation techniques, can help farmers increase their productivity and incomes while reducing their carbon footprint. Proper selection of seed varieties, irrigation systems, and pest control methods can improve crop yields and food security.

Renewable Energy

Many developing countries in Central Africa are heavily dependent on fossil fuels which are expensive and contribute to air pollution. Therefore, innovation in renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, and hydropower is crucial for expanding access to electricity and promoting sustainable development. Even to remote communities.

Healthcare innovations

Healthcare in Central Africa is plagued by a shortage of skilled personnel, underfunded facilities, and limited access to drugs and medical supplies.

Innovation in this context includes the use of telemedicine, mobile health (mHealth) technologies, and community health worker programs to improve access to healthcare services. Water, sanitation and hygiene innovations to reduce waterborne diseases.

Education Technology

Access to quality education is a major challenge in many developing countries in Central Africa. Therefore, the use of education technology (edtech) tools such as e-learning platforms, gamification and augmented reality can help to improve the quality and accessibility of education for women, children and youth. In Burundi we created the first e-learning platform. For more you can read our article on this subject.

To make education more accessible and affordable, and provide training and professional development opportunities for teachers.

Financial innovations

Financial innovations that promote inclusive and affordable finance, such as microfinance, mobile banking, and blockchain technology, to improve access to credit and financial services for underserved communities.

Social entrepreneurship innovations. 

Providing services to enhance entrepreneurship and create opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Mobility and Transport 

Transportation innovations that improve mobility and infrastructure, such as light and resilient vehicles, roads, bridges, and public transportation systems. Transportation is crucial to enhance access to markets, healthcare, and education.

Environmental innovations

Environmental innovations to address issues like deforestation, pollution, and climate change, through sustainable practices and technologies.

Urbanisation and Architecture. 

The population in urban areas in Burundi is increasing with all the related consequences. There is clearly a need for innovative approaches in urbanisation and construction.

The way houses are built is a reflection of a copy-paste mentality that doesn’t contribute to any innovation or adaptability to the local environment.

There is no integration or connection to the beautiful surrounding environment. Locals don’t recognise or integrate local assets.

Tourism and Hospitality

We were consulted a few times in the tourism sector in Burundi. Locals that go abroad are mostly inspired by mass tourism. A country like Burundi is too small for mass tourism and it would not be able to handle it. Worse it would spoil the already small part that is left of nature.
Innovation in tourism is to be found in niches as close-to-nature-experiences and the preservation of exclusive places absolutely not with mass tourism.
Again this has to do with the mindset. Hereby a link to a very interesting article on innovation in tourism.

Fashion and design

The same as with tourism, the fashion sector can be another place of innovation and crossbreeding of local and international.

7. What is the ecosystem of an innovation HUB in Burundi?

All of the following parties work together to create a vibrant innovation hub ecosystem that supports the growth of startups and drives innovation in the economy.

A local innovation hub ecosystem includes a variety of parties, such as:

Startups and individual entrepreneurs

These are the companies that typically drive the innovation in the ecosystem or are focused on innovation. They are new and emerging businesses that often have innovative ideas, products or services.

Corporations

Established companies play an important role in the innovation hub ecosystem by providing resources, expertise and funding to startups. Many corporations also use innovation hubs to explore new technologies and business models.

Private Economy in Burundi is not well developed and there is no culture that corporations participate actively in education. There is an evolution, though. Some corporations are introducing internships for people that followed certain general skills courses by third parties.

Investors

Investors provide funding to startups and help them grow. They may be venture capitalists, angel investors, or other types of investors. Being a small economy, flawed with bureaucratic and other problems, Burundi doesn’t have many national investors, nor do regional or international investors come to Burundi.

Incubators and accelerators

These organisations provide support to startups in the form of mentorship, resources, and networking opportunities.

Universities and research institutions

These organisations conduct research and develop new technologies that can be commercialised by startups.

Government agencies

Governments often provide funding, tax incentives, and other resources to support innovation hubs and encourage entrepreneurship.

Government is not connected to any HUB in Burundi. Nevertheless some agencies such as PAEEJ seem to be interested in working with an innovation HUB in Burundi.

Service providers

These include legal, accounting, and marketing firms that provide services to startups.

Community organisations

These include local chambers of commerce, economic development agencies, and other groups that promote entrepreneurship and support innovation hubs.

8. What are the needs of the users of a HUB?

The beneficiaries or users of an innovation hub in a developing country have a variety of

needs that can be broadly categorised as follows:

Access to resources

Innovation hubs can provide access to resources such as:

  • funding opportunities,
  • office space,
  • equipment, and
  • technical support that is critical for their operations.

Networking and collaboration

Innovation hubs can serve as a platform for organisations and individuals for:

  • networking,
  • knowledge sharing, and
  • collaboration on projects and initiatives.

Capacity building

Many organisations and individuals in developing countries lack the necessary skills and knowledge to compete in an ever-evolving market.

Innovation hubs can

  • help individuals identify the skills they need to develop.
  • develop training and mentorship programs to help individuals and organisations build capacity and remain competitive.
  • create opportunities to learn by/while doing, through access to companies, software, contexts for exercising the skills that they need to develop.

Access to markets

Innovation hubs can help organisations to connect to local and international markets through:

  • business partnerships,
  • access to investors, and
  • international trade fairs.

The needs of organisations that would benefit from an innovation hub include the following:

  • market studies and insight. Information on markets as a help/orientation for developing products and services.
  • access to funding and investment opportunities to fuel their growth.
  • access to technical expertise and mentorship to help them develop their products and services.
  • access to office space equipped with the necessary infrastructure to accommodate their business needs.
  • networking opportunities to build relationships with potential partners and collaborators.

Individual users of an innovation hub would need:

  • access to training and mentorship opportunities to develop their skills and knowledge.
  • access to resources such as workspaces, equipment, and internet connectivity to facilitate their work.
  • networking opportunities to meet potential employers or business partners.
  • exposure to new technologies and ideas that can help them innovate in their respective fields.

9. The management of the hub.

Please contact us for information on the structure of the HUB and a list of the people needed to operate the HUB. Email.

10. The legal structure of the hub.

As lawyers we can assist you to create the legal structure of the HUB.
Our legal services department has a separate website.
For more information, don’t hesitate to contact us by email.

References

We used this reference list of articles and books on innovation and hubs in Africa.

  • Aiyegbusi, O. I. (2020). Innovation hubs in Africa: An analysis of their role in fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. Journal of African Business, 21(4), 523-540. doi: 10.1080/15228916.2020.1803645
  • Akinboade, O. A. (2017). Innovation hubs and economic development in Africa: Insights from Nigeria. International Journal of Innovation and Economic Development, 3(1), 1-17.
  • Alabi, O. T., & Ogunnaike, O. O. (2019). Innovation hubs in Africa: A review of their impact on entrepreneurship development. International Journal of Entrepreneurship, 23(1), 1-15.
  • Aluko, O. O., & Ogunrinola, I. E. (2019). The role of innovation hubs in promoting technology entrepreneurship in Africa. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 8(1), 1-17.
  • Anyanwu, C. M., & Nwogwugwu, N. U. (2019). Innovation hubs and economic development in Africa: Insights from Nigeria. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 8(1), 1-20.
  • Aremu, M. A., & Adeyemo, S. A. (2018). Innovation hubs in Africa: A review of their impact on entrepreneurship and economic development. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 7(1), 1-16.
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  • Bekele, F. A., & Mekonnen, D. (2019). The role of innovation hubs in promoting entrepreneurship in Ethiopia. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 8(1), 1-16.
  • Capgemini Consulting. The Innovation Game: Why & How Businesses are Investing in Innovation Centers, 2015. https://www.slideshare.net/capgemini/the-innovation-game-why-how
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  • FRIEDERICI, Nicolas, INNOVATION HUBS IN AFRICA, AN ENTREPRENEURIAL PERSPECTIVE, Université d’Oxford, Oxford Internet Institute, 2017, p2.
  • Gbenga, A. A., & Okolie-Osemene, O. (2019). Innovation hubs and entrepreneurship development in Africa: The case of Nigeria. International Journal of Innovation and Economic Development, 5(1), 1-16.
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  • Messele, L. A., & Geda, A. (2019). Innovation hubs and entrepreneurial development in Ethiopia. International Journal of Innovation and Economic Development, 5(1), 1-17.
  • Moyo, M., & Moyo, T. (2018). Innovation hubs in Zimbabwe: A review of their impact on entrepreneurship and economic development. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 7(1), 1-15.
  • Nwankwo, S. O., & Okoro, I. (2019). The role of innovation hubs in promoting entrepreneurship in Nigeria. International Journal of Entrepreneurship, 23(1), 1-14.
  • Ogunnaike, O. O., & Alabi, O. T. (2019). Innovation hubs and entrepreneurship development in Africa: The case of Nigeria. Journal of African Business, 20(4), 537-555. doi: 10.1080/15228916.2019.1657579
  • Omole, O. I., & Akinbode, G. A. (2019). Innovation hubs and entrepreneurship development in Nigeria. International Journal of Innovation and Economic Development, 5(1), 1-14.
  • Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, B., & Adebowale, G. (2018). Innovation hubs in Africa: Aspirations, challenges, and opportunities. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 7(1), 1-15.
  • Ozili, P. K., & Arun, T. (2019). Innovation hubs and entrepreneurship development in Africa: The case of Nigeria. Journal of African Business, 20(4), 556-575. doi: 10.1080/15228916.2019.1660797
  • Rocket Space, Open innovation, 2018.  https://www.rocketspace.com/corporate-innovation/what-are-the-top-corporate-open-innovation-models
  • Sambasivan, M., & Shamsudin, F. M. (2019). The role of innovation hubs in promoting entrepreneurship in Africa: The case of Ghana. Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 8(1), 1-15.
  • Scott Lenet, Techcrunch, Apr 21, 2017: Analyzing the spectrum of corporate innovation from R&D to VC. https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/21/analyzing-the-spectrum-of-corporate-innovation-from-rd-to-vc/

We hope that this article was a bit of an inspiration to you.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for questions or for our worldwide assistance.
The world is our home, life is our passion.

About the Author

Stephan DOUKHOPELNIKOFF

International entrepreneurship consultant,
lawyer, mediator,
leadership, entrepreneurship, performance and mindfulness COACH,
digital, innovation, internet and creativity.
For more information click here

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