In recent years, Burkina Faso has made headlines not for political or economic reasons, but for its burgeoning innovation landscape. Anchoring this transformation is the rise of Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Labs) and a plethora of Innovation hubs sprouting across the country. This growing movement has been gaining momentum, offering promising avenues for creativity, entrepreneurship, and socio-economic development.
Fab labs, short for Fabrication Laboratories, are community-oriented spaces equipped with state-of-the-art digital fabrication tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC machines. They provide individuals with the means to design, prototype, and manufacture a wide range of products, encouraging hands-on learning and collaboration.
Innovation buds, on the other hand, are local ecosystems that cultivate innovation, entrepreneurship, and knowledge sharing, nurturing the growth of budding entrepreneurs and inventors. These dynamic spaces are proving to be instrumental in driving change, fostering collaboration, and promoting economic growth in the country. By providing access to cutting-edge tools, resources, and mentorship, fab labs and innovation buds are empowering individuals and communities to transform their ideas into reality and catalyzing a culture of innovation.
The emergence of Fab Labs and Innovation buds in Burkina Faso is deeply rooted in the country’s history of social and economic challenges. Burkina Faso, like many other African nations, has long struggled with limited resources and access to advanced technologies. However, the seeds of innovation were sown in the early 2000s when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) initiated the global fab lab movement. The concept quickly gained traction and found its way to Burkina Faso, where the first fab lab was established in 2012 at the 2iE (International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering) campus in Ouagadougou.
The impact of these hubs in Burkina Faso is multifaceted; they represent a significant shift towards a future of localized innovation. For a nation that has historically been reliant on imports for many of its technological and industrial needs, these spaces offer an opportunity to design and produce solutions tailored to local challenges.
Moreover, they are becoming centers of employment and skill development. With youth unemployment being a pressing issue in many African nations, these labs and hubs offer young Burkinabè a chance to acquire skills in fields like 3D printing, robotics, software development, and more. Beyond just technology, these spaces foster a sense of community and collaboration, enabling knowledge-sharing and team-driven problem-solving.
Experts in the field believe that these spaces can be transformative. (Mikhak et al., 2002) opines that at the heart of the fab lab concept is the belief that the most sustainable way to bring the deepest results of the digital revolution to developing communities is to enable them to participate in creating their own technological tools for finding solutions to their own problems.
A Peek into Burkina Faso’s Fab Labs
Burkina Faso’s Fab Labs, such as OuagaLab, InViis Lab, and La Fabrique, have become epicenters for local innovators. They serve as a ground where individuals can prototype inventions, learn new skills, and convert their ideas into tangible products. For instance, OuagaLab, Burkina Faso’s first Fab Lab, has been monumental in driving local innovation. With projects ranging from creating drones to promoting eco-friendly technologies, OuagaLab embodies the spirit of grassroots innovation
Challenges and Partnerships as an evolving solution
While Fab Labs and innovation hubs in Burkina Faso hold great promise, they face several hindrances that must be overcome. Limited access to reliable electricity and internet connectivity poses a significant challenge. According to the World Bank, only 20% of the population in Burkina Faso has access to electricity. This lack of infrastructure hampers the effective functioning of Fab Labs and innovation hubs, restricting their reach and impact on a larger scale.
In addition to infrastructure challenges, funding remains a crucial issue. Establishing and sustaining Fab Labs and innovation hubs require significant investments in equipment, maintenance, and skilled personnel. While some international organizations and NGOs provide support, more funding sources are needed to ensure the long-term viability of these initiatives. Collaboration between the government, private sector, and international stakeholders is crucial in securing financial backing and creating sustainable business models.
In Burkina Faso, efforts are being made to address these challenges and provide financial support to Fab Labs and innovation hubs. The African Development Bank’s « Boost Africa » initiative aims to empower innovative startups across the continent by providing funding and technical assistance. By investing in capacity building and infrastructure development, the initiative supports the growth of Fab Labs and innovation hubs, fostering an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship in Burkina Faso. In addition, Fondazione Aurora recently launched a collaboration with InViis Lab with the aim of developing the ICT sector and decreasing the digital divide and youth unemployment in Burkina Faso.
However, the silver lining lies in the collaborative spirit of West Africa. Countries with more mature tech ecosystems, like Nigeria and Ghana, can lend their expertise, aiding Burkina Faso in overcoming these hurdles. It is crucial to understand that Burkina Faso’s innovation journey doesn’t exist in isolation. Instead, it forms a nexus with the broader West African tech scene.
Looking to the future, Fab Labs and innovation hubs hold tremendous potential in driving Burkina Faso’s innovation ecosystem. The government’s commitment to technology and innovation, coupled with increased collaboration with international organizations and the private sector, can help overcome existing challenges. By addressing infrastructure gaps, securing sustainable funding, and fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, Burkina Faso can more than ever, position itself as a hub for creativity, economic growth, and social development. As Burkina Faso intertwines its fate with the broader West African tech ecosystem, it’s evident that the future of innovation in West Africa is not just about individual countries shining, but about the entire region rising in tandem.