The Engineer Africa Journey — Discovery and Alignment

Nov. 20, 2020 5 min read

Engineer Africa was officially founded on December 27, 2018, and we’ve been in a state of constant evolution ever since. Initially, the organization’s focus was solely on alleviating challenges faced by startups in African markets, which I’ve written about in detail here. After many discoveries and challenges, our scope of activity has expanded, and today we are mobilizing engineering professionals to develop engineering solutions throughout Africa.

The Beginning: Connecting with African Startups

When we started out, one of our main objectives was to build dialogue about roadblocks facing entrepreneurs in African markets and form communities to share best practices. We strategically selected 12 cities with budding startup ecosystems and reached out to professionals to organize virtual meetups and events.

Our experiences with the meetups were overwhelmingly positive, and we were flooded with messages by people wanting to help or be part of what we were doing. Many participants also reached out to express their appreciation and gratitude. The enthusiasm around the meetups was so strong, we were unable to respond to everyone, and had to draft interaction scripts to handle responses. After two months and a half of organizing meetups, we had organically attracted over 1,200 community members.

Based on the level of interest, we realized we were on to something big.

Broadening the Scope of Activities

Our early meetups provided a lot of insight into the challenges of innovating and doing business in Africa. During this time, we listened to the perspectives of numerous African entrepreneurs, and we realized that there are fundamental problems that need to be addressed before the climate for startups in Africa can significantly improve. It also became clear that direct engagement in development projects could have a much bigger impact than sharing information and best practices alone.

We concluded that truly improving the situation for startups in Africa will require building networks of committed agents of change to target quantifiable development goals in various countries across the continent.

At this point, it became clear that a more formal structure was needed, and we started organizing participants from the meetups into chapters. We recognized that we needed a cohesive strategy that could be implemented and scaled quickly, and that we would need a dedicated team to brainstorm solutions. From May 2, 2019 until September 5, 2019, we paused events to concentrate on organization and formulating our strategy.

Maximizing Community Engagement

A large community had formed around our initial events, but we needed to make sure we maintained that momentum by sustaining and maximizing engagement. The professionals who participated in our events had jobs, families, and side-businesses, so the question was: How can we get the most possible involvement from participants given these constraints? We began building profiles of our community members to better understand how they could contribute to our common goals.

During this time, we also interacted more and more with African professionals from the diaspora, and we realized there is a lot of enthusiasm among the diaspora for contributing to Africa’s development. Many professionals are willing to provide consulting services for free, but we also found that being recognized and appreciated was a major motivating factor for contributors.

We recently conducted a survey of African professionals in the diaspora on this topic for a book we just released, and the results were striking. The book is available for download here, and you can view the details of the survey on page 22.

Insight from Other Organizations

Before operationalizing our strategy, we looked for other organizations involved in similar activities. We found that organizations are attempting to deliver value to Africa and African communities in isolation, resulting in fragmented efforts. Many organizations are constrained in what they can achieve by limited resources and low commitment levels, and many of the goals being pursued are difficult to quantify. These insights gave us a clearer picture of the gaps Engineer Africa needs to fill.

Building a Platform for our Community

To address all of the needs we had identified so far, we needed a system designed to ensure consistent progress toward well-defined, quantifiable goals. This system needed to be tailored to the profiles of our community members so that it would be easy for them to engage with our activities and stay committed. Work would need to be organized into projects, and those projects would need to have adequate resources committed before they commenced. Individuals also needed to take ownership over projects.

To pursue these goals, we built a projects platform with the help of Kissi & Co., our primary sponsor. This platform is intended to democratize efforts to develop solutions for Africa by enabling our members and local community members to participate in projects. It also increases accountability by ensuring that projects are overseen by qualified project managers.

Conclusion: Laying the Foundation

In starting Engineer Africa, a lot of great connections were made, many lessons were learned, and we now have a much better idea of the challenges ahead. We have also developed the organizational capacity and some of the tools and resources we will need in order to focus the potential of our community on bringing solutions to Africa. It has been a great journey so far, and we are excited to see what the future holds for Engineer Africa.

If you want to find out more, check out our new book here.

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