Yaba – the Nigerian Tech Cluster Success Story
I have followed with keen interest a growing yet varying opinion on the validity of Yaba as a technology cluster over the last weeks. While my initial reaction was to allow the conversations evolve before contributing, I have been reflecting on the narrative, my role in seeding the cluster and potential risk of perpetuating the growing lack of clarity.
I won’t bother going into the details of how CcHUB decided to settle in Yaba as against the option back in 2011; Marina. However, I’ll shed light on a vision I shared with then CommTech Minister; Omobola Johnson, Tomi Davies and Funke Opeke of Mainone back in December 2012/January 2013. To help communicate the vision, CcHUB engaged Clive Anyonye in designing this 2min web tour: http://cchubnigeria.com/i-HQ/. The vision was simple, “We are stronger together”. Yaba wasn’t a model of any other location, just an initiative based on the principle of clustering.
The driver of the vision was simply rooted in the fact that the new and emerging technology industry requires a strong root to allow it attract resources and build strength. This was to be a long and intentional exercise with multiple players independently and collectively driving the growth of the industry.
Without much argument, Yaba has been a success and perhaps the only organic technology cluster on the continent. The vision started around the same time as Konza (Kenya) and Hope City (Ghana). Yaba is the ONLY active cluster amongst the three that has been rooted and alive. Over the years, Yaba has attracted interests, resources and commanded respect for technology & start-ups in Nigeria. From about 6 active technology players in the cluster in 2011/2012 to over 50, we’ll be wasteful to discard the strides we have made as an industry.
In our quest for change and result, we should be careful not to be destructive. Yaba needs further investment, strategic input and engagement; and a lack of it shouldn’t be mistaken for “failure”. As against efforts like Tinapa, no other location in Nigeria and perhaps Africa, can boast of the qualities that make Yaba a unique destination. From proximity to Unilag, YabaTech (Nigeria’s first higher institution), a Vocational Training School, Medical Research Institute and several primary and secondary schools (largest education cluster in Lagos state), close proximity to the Central Business Districts in Ikeja and on the Island…and many more, you won’t find many Yabas.
The below infographics produced after the successful execution of the fibre initiative by MainOne Cable Company, which was led by CcHUB & TechnoVision with immense support from LASG, sheds some light on possible next steps and some key considerations.
The fibre project alone is one we should actively celebrate and leverage to drive missing ingredients to strengthen the cluster. For an organic cluster, which came to life just about 4 years ago, I am seriously saddened to see how many of us think ‘short-term’. Yaba needs more players stepping up to improve it and we don’t need to do so by first declaring it a failure. A lot is going good for Yaba and the seemingly strong case for the failure of the cluster is unfounded. Konga and Andela left Yaba for the same reason, ‘Bigger Office Space’ — this should be a strong business case for smart people to build real estate portfolio in the area. The quality of real estate in the neighbourhood is weak but there is hardly any single affordable neighbourhood in Lagos that meets that same need.
We anticipated this challenge long ago and started conversations at different levels and with different organisations to build solutions to it. Andela — led by Iyin Aboyeji worked extensively on the possibility of a campus in Yaba, CcHUB is still actively putting together a deal for its 10 storey innovation centre to cater for some of the real estate challenges but also inspire others to invest in the neighbourhood. LASG to the best of my knowledge is also working on one while Federal Government also just converted a part of the Library to support the growth of the cluster. Space is not the challenge; it is the investment in real estate, that needs to happen. This investment needs to be approached as a multi-stakeholder effort for it to be sustainable and achievable considering the uniqueness of Yaba.
Yaba is a community initiative that requires effort from diverse stakeholders. The more organisations like Cafe Neo and EasyWash we attract to the neighbourhood, the stronger it becomes. This however isn’t a 4 year project but a lifetime endeavour we should all be proud to contribute to.
I have been intentional about how much information I included in this post to allow us engage through a more constructive platform. It is an important conversation and on behalf of CcHUB, I’d like to invite you to a town hall meeting on the 26th of June to discuss Yaba and how best to move it forward. Invitation will be going out shortly to key players in the cluster including those with strong opinion on its future. The outcome will be for us to collectively agree actions to accelerate the growth of the sector/cluster. In addition, this will be a celebration of the strides we’ve made with barbecue and live performance.
You’re invited! RSVP Here.