ICT Hubs growth across Africa has so far been seen as a nexus point for economic growth and ‘techprenuership’ development in Africa. In addition, these innovation spaces can be viewed as a catalyst for socio-economic development through creation of technology-led entrepreneurs and youth employment.
In Kenya, it is evident that majority of the ICT Hubs are concentrated in the capital city, Nairobi, where we currently have at least 16 innovation spaces ranging from; business incubators, pre-incubation spaces, hubs located in university institutions, knowledge centers, incubation spaces, maker labs and investments hubs. On the other hand, in the 2 other capital cities, Mombasa and Kisumu, we only have virtual spaces in each, Mombasa tech community hub and Lake hub respectively.However, it does not look like it will stop there, just recently,ICEAddis in Ethiopia saw an opportunity and are currently in the process of setting up an ICENakuru that focuses on training youthful entrepreneurs in leadership, technical and soft skills to solve problems in Nakuru county through innovative solutions.
It is clear that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have the potential to change old and new forms of economic activity. This can result in e-literate groups and unemployed youths having access to resources to develop solutions centered towards their community problems. Such groups would also be able to gain skills and knowledge through exchange of ideas and events and workshops. Therefore there is need for ICT Hubs based in the urban areas to start evaluating potential opportunities to extend their services and support beyond the city. The first step is to identify the factors, needs and challenges faced in setting up a Hub in the rural areas as well as learn from the past failures of existing local initiatives, e.g. Pasha centers.
Pasha centers, a public private partnership initiative that was expected to deepen use of ICT in rural areas by providing host of services to the public via computers connected to the internet, or by using and marketing other ICT-enabled applications has been termed as a failure. This is because of various reasons that include but not limited to:
- A recent report commissioned by the Kenya ICT Board noted that more than half of the about 60 entrepreneurs that had been advanced loans are unable to service their loans and the many licence fees that the centers have to pay as well as the structuring of the loan that entrepreneurs received to start of the digital villages has been crippling to the project.
- The entrepreneurs that received loans from the digital villages (Pasha centers) say the project failed due to misunderstood nature of the centers by the local authorities that subjected Pasha Centre owners to constant harassment.
Tech entrepreneurs in rural areas face a myriad of challenges including: lack of Internet access, lack of business support, lack of business expertise and skills and lack of training. These challenges have hindered their growth and sometimes forced entrepreneurs to relocate to Nairobi to access some of these resources. ICT hubs could play a major role in curbing some of these challenges experienced by rural tech communities,in order to ensure the development and growth of their ventures.
There is potential for an ICT hub model implementation in rural cities to help in addressing most of these issues by identifying services and functions needed by communities. Most importantly, urban ICT Hubs need to understand that contexts of different communities vary based on their needs, therefore services and functions may differ from one community to another.
It is on this note, that iHub Research will be further investigating the potential of setting up an ICT hub model in the rural areas in Kenya as well as comparing different factors to consider while scaling to different counties and assessing potential application areas where rural tech entrepreneurs could create innovations based on county needs in enhancing socio economic development.This investigation will be conducted under iHub Research's local Research Fellows program and will be an extension of the ongoing ICT Hubs research study that aims to understand the unique factors that make up ICT Hub models across Africa.