The growing coworking industry is revitalizing communities in Africa
- The potential for coworking in Africa is limitless and established workspaces are already seeing success.
- Collaboration with start-up companies and local community engagement are two of the main characteristics of the African coworking scene.
- Coworking could revitalize stagnant local communities and deliver benefits with far-reaching and long-term positive implications for African economies.
Coworking across Africa is experiencing rapid growth led by innovative, dynamic and often young entrepreneurs. Local-founded workspaces work alongside some of the largest coworking networks in the world, including IWG/Regus and WeWork. These spaces are emerging in cities across the continent, offering the prospect of socio-economic benefits.
Exciting times ahead for coworking in Africa
Currently, 1,158 coworking spaces operate in Africa (there are 27,000 worldwide). The expansion of the coworking sector appears here alongside the growth of the start-up sector. According Coworking Africaa widely recognized link exists between the two.
Tech giants like Instagram and Uber all have their roots in local coworking spaces. Many start-ups have found that coworking increases productivity and can open the doors to sustainable, profitable growth.
Africa has several characteristics that give it a competitive advantage within the global coworking industry. It is a vast continent comprising 54 countries, with a very diverse population that includes speakers of over 2,000 languages. Africa also has a very young population: 70% of the sub-Saharan population is under 30 years old. Its youth could be its greatest asset – if young Africans receive the education, skills and training needed to ensure future economic growth.
Africa is also one of the most connected populations on the planet—providing opportunities for pan-African productivity and international cooperation. If Africa continues to develop its potential and retain existing talent, the future of coworking on this continent will be assured.
What are the common characteristics of the most innovative African coworking spaces?
Research on the most exciting coworking spaces in Africa revealed some common elements that increase their popularity. Many coworking spaces in Africa are based on a climate of cooperation, and offer opportunities for their members to join a community (several offer co-living spaces).
Value concepts such as collaboration, cooperation and Ubuntu (a Nguni term for humanity) can be found on the websites of many African coworking spaces. The partnerships that exist with start-ups are also crucial for the success of many coworking spaces in Africa.
10 Common Elements of Coworking Spaces Across Africa
- Collaboration with start-ups, start-up hubs and incubators
- An active online presence (including social media, blogs, etc.)
- Flexible Membership Packages
- Modern and high quality office designs
- Green certifications and eco-friendly equipment and practices
- 24/7 access
- Fast and reliable broadband connections
- Access to marketing opportunities and business networking events
- Flexible support for a variety of business needs (beyond start-ups)
- Opportunities for social events (networking, informal meetings, discussions, etc.)
Two additional uncommon features worth mentioning:
- A center of creativity and innovation for children
- A podcast studio for digital businesses
More investment is needed, but the future looks bright for African coworking
Many African coworking spaces have started their journey during the pandemic. These organizations are now in their second stage of development — expanding locations and exploring new strategic partnerships. Technology is driving this growth, but the benefits of technological progress are not shared equally across the continent.
According to World Economic Forum, 92% of technology investment in Africa is in just four countries: Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya. The geographic size and large GDPs of these countries make them more attractive to investors. Investors will also favor countries that offer favorable investment climates. For example, by introducing more flexible regulations, reducing socio-political barriers and using the mechanisms offered by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
Coworking spaces require capital investment, infrastructure, and the availability of resources (including real estate). These conditions are the basic conditions for building a strong coworking sector. Once a thriving coworking sector exists, countries can determine if they want to attract international (as well as local) members.
In April 2022, South Africa became the first country in mainland Africa to introduce a digital nomad visa. The visa will encourage digital nomads (people who travel while working remotely using technology) to experience all that this country has to offer and connect with like-minded people.
Digital visas can boost tourism and support local economies in the process. This is also another reason why Africa needs coworking spaces — they are part of the infrastructure required for this increasingly popular work trend.
A report commissioned by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change — Boosting African startups – revealed that by 2030, a staggering 230 million jobs in Africa will require technological expertise. According to the report, an increased commitment to providing high-quality digital skills training is needed to fill these positions. Policymakers could approach established tech hubs and coworking spaces to help deliver some of this training.
Coworking spaces in Africa are already demonstrating their ability to respond to ever-changing customer demands and adapt to market developments. Why not allow them to grow the digital sector in Africa?
Whatever the future, coworking industries in Africa are already revitalizing communities and creating networks of entrepreneurs across the continent.