Lead, Co-creation Hub Pre-incubation and Research, Tunji Elesho, spoke with Ojo Maduekwe on the idea behind the technology hub, achievements so far, and plans to transform Yaba-Lagos into an innovation headquarters.
What is the idea behind the Co-creation Hub?
Started in October 2010, it is an organisation with the goal to identify and support talents to innovate. We recognised that we face several local issues, and so the question was how we can bring the collective intelligence of Nigerians together and deploy technology as a tool to then solve these problems. We’ve been able to achieve this objective in three different ways, namely Building a Community; Open Innovation and Pre-incubation.
For the first, in building a community, we look for people interested and passionate about technology. As at today, we have over 1,500 individuals and organisations that are part of the Co-Creation Hub community. Second is recognising that it is not enough to have a community, but how to make that community focus on specific issues, with the goal to solve them. This is where the open innovation comes in.
So we use open innovation as a model, which essentially means involving the end-users in the design of new products and services. In the last 18 months we’ve had seven open living lab (our own phrase for open innovations) events, where we brought stakeholders together to try and address the challenges we face, using web and mobile technology.
The last part is what we call pre-incubation. Here, the solutions that are developed at each of the open innovations, we provide ways of support to them by building a robust prototype which is tested in the market to get feedback from real users. These in many ways are the beginning of software application developers having a start-up.
What are some of the social problems Co-Creation Hub have tried solving?
In March 2011, we had an open living lab around governance, just before the election. We recognised the need to bridge the gap between citizens and government, since governance doesn’t end with the elections but begins after it. We invited ideas from across the country on web and mobile technologies that can bridge that gap between the citizens and governance.
We invited people in the academia, parents, and politicians, in addition to software developers and graphic artists to come together and create tools to bridge that gap. In February 2012 we then had another open living lab around education. The challenge was how to stem the failure rate that we see in WAEC. We had a stakeholder’s session with parents, teachers and educationists, technology entrepreneurs and software developers on the main challenges students are facing.
Part of the things we realised during the session was that learning was not fun, and the available tools students used in learning were out-dated and didn’t appeal to today’s student. Based on these, we had an open call for people to submit ideas on how they think this could be addressed. On the basis of this, the Efiko application was born.
From what you’ve explained, it means Co-Creation Hub will be around for a long time. Maybe to underscore that point, you recently partnered with Microsoft in the 9jApps Contest. What’s the partnership about?
The goal is to encourage and harness a lot of the innovative minds we have in the country. Working with Microsoft on this project, the idea is to bring these talents and get them to showcase same to the world. Training will be given developers on how to use existing tools to create interesting applications.
The contest will run for three months, and it allows developers to develop applications in whatever areas they are interested in, be it entertainment, education, healthcare, and the likes. It is in two-fold, one for Windows 8 category and Windows phone category.
Whose initiative is this, Co-Creation Hub or Microsoft?
The contest is a Microsoft initiative, but they came to us realising the role we play in the ecosystem and the fact that we have experience with such competitions. If you look at the work we do, right now we have the major OEMs on our community like Nokia, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Samsung, Tecno. These are all members of the community.
Getting comprehensive data on the use of technology in Nigeria is difficult. Is Co-Creation Hub working to help address this challenge?
It is good you asked. This idea is something we have been toying with since we started. For us it’s not just important to influence what is going on, but in more ways to provide information and knowledge to the market. One major area we’ve always found challenging is around data. We always hit a roadblock when we try to ask people questions like what type of devices people use on their website.
This is something digital businesses need to make decisions on what they should be developing. Co-Creation Hub is looking at launching something soon that will collect information about people’s behaviour on the internet. This would be able to inform people and provide valuable information about the market for technology entrepreneurs in the future.
Some say you cannot cause social change using technology. Would you say your idea of creating change through social applications has been working?
In as much as we have people who are beginning to understand the power of technology, I will say it is working. But there is a lot more that can be done, especially offline. There’s a lot of room for mediums outside online, to get the news out and appeal directly to people on the ground. More efforts in partnerships are needed to permeate the offline market. For the products that are created out of this place, what we always preach is that developers should make sure they get feedback from the real market.
That market is not only online, it is also offline. What we have begun to see is that interaction with the real market is critical. If you go back to our methodology, which is open innovation, we always involve end users in the design of our products. So to us, the offline market is very critical, it is still the larger market, and so the goal is to continue to partner with people and organizations that can give us the leverage to reach that market.
What major idea are we expecting from Co-creation Hub in the near future?
One big project we are working on is what we call the i-HQ. This idea came about from another project we worked on, called Lagos Innovation Hub Spot. The project was to map clusters of innovation around the entire Lagos State. We discovered that there’s been an increased use of Yaba (especially Herbert Macaulay) for technology start-ups.
This led us to the i-HQ project, which is to essentially turn Yaba into the innovation headquarters of Lagos and Nigeria. This involves three things: One is having a centre of excellence, which is the building currently housing Co-Creation Hub. This is supposed to give more start-up opportunities room to collaborate, share resources and build more opportunities together.
Second is to lay fibre optic cable across the whole of Yaba such that we can then appreciate the true power of technology with internet that is largely affordable. This would increase the use of technology and bring more businesses into the area.
The third aspect of phase one of the project, is to gather empirical data as to what’s causing traffic in the area, with the goal of solving it. This entails having cameras across the whole of Herbert Macaulay way to study traffic patterns over a specific period. We are working with the Lagos State government on this, also the Ministry of Communication Technology, and other industry stakeholders to make this project a huge success.