Africa: The Next Coworking Frontier

Part One in an on going series recapping the first ever Coworking Africa Conference.

Coworking in first world countries has reached a point that some may call Coworking2.0 – the idea that sharing space to share ideas within a community is no longer just a hipster trend, but how people will work in the future. With a $10B valuation, WeWork has begun to bring this concept to the mainstream. Niche markets have begun to form with spaces focusing on specific industries or even different models (renting space by the hour only, versus traditional monthly memberships). Spaces that have been open for 5 or more years are now facing problems like renewing leases, managing growing pains or securing funding.

If only the coworking space owners and operators in Africa were so lucky. Imagine having to deal with load shedding. What’s that you say? Oh, just 2-3 hour windows of rolling electricity and internet black outs. And, that’s if you’re fortunate enough to have access to affordable or reliable internet, which is sort of a sad, running joke here in South Africa and within other pockets throughout the rest of the continent. The challenges faced here are similar to those forging coworking paths in other third world countries, just with all the added issues one faces when living in Africa: endless poverty and corrupt governments on top of poor to no basic infrastructure.

So, why Coworking Africa Conference? What would draw attendees from a handfull of African countries, various European nations and the United States, not to mention noteworthy sponsors such as TechStars and Uber? The answer is simple: Opportunity. Below, find some of the research on Africa and Coworking as presented by conference organizer and Founder of Global Enterprise, Jean-Yves Huwart.

Africa is on the move. In numerous categories, the continent outpaces most if not all others. First off, there are more mobile users than in the US and Europe. 7 out of 10 of the fastest growing economies will be in Africa by the end of this year. Africa is also a staggeringly young continent; 70% of all Africans are under the age of 25, and 100+ million of them are active (monthly) on Facebook.

Out of the five measurable regions throughout the world, Africa is the only one set to see an increase in both urban and rural population trends. With a rise in mobile connectivity, a new generation of rural inhabitants will have access to internet without having to travel distances for a connection.

With demand for space increasing throughout the continent, prices have skyrocketed, making it almost necessary to share space in order to have access to workspace. Coworking is more of a reality than a choice here.

Africa ranks lowest overall in the most recent GEDI Global Entreprenuership Index. While some might look at that as a sad truth, the owners and operators in Africa view this as a hotbed of opportunity. Looking to create epicenters of innovation and learning within their towns and cities.

When looking at numbers of spaces in Africa in 2014/2015, the continent most compares to that of Europe in 2004/2005, meaning an almost untouched market still exists. Several operators have taken notice to that similarity and the opening of new spaces with roots in Europe and the Middle East have already begun.

Tackling a challenge such as organizing an industry for the first time is no easy task, and made even more difficult when done from abroad. From the sense of energy in the room, connections made and ideas shared, the hard work of the organizers certainly paid off. Topics discussed included the importance of forming an industry association, the need for market education and increased awareness and the desire to diversify revenue streams to allow for expanision. While the 2016 conference has not yet been set, many eagerly await for the next opportunity to gather the African coworking community.

Coworking Africa Conference 2015 took place July 23-24, 2015 at Workshop17 at the world famous V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa. Workshop17 is part of Open, an innovative network of shared workspace locations.

The Coworking Africa team was led by Jean-Yves Huwart of Global Enterprise and assisted by Vanessa Sans of Coworking Spain, with Lizelle van Rhyn of Cape Town Office heading up the local organizing committee.

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