Nigeria has experienced significant flows of people from rural to urban areas, where opportunities to continue traditional livelihoods, such as agriculture, are limited. Alternatives are limited in urban areas of the Niger Delta, where a dependence upon the burgeoning oil and gas industry has stunted the growth of other industries. Without creating viable, alternative livelihoods, unemployment and poverty will undermine the potential for socioeconomic progress in these expanding cities. SDN therefore partnered with the Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation to create the Ken Saro-Wiwa Innovation Hub (KSIH) in Port Harcourt—the largest city in the Niger Delta and capital of Rivers State. The KSIH is a physical space intended to test and support the growth of livelihood opportunities in digital and online technology, through providing training, infrastructure, and mentorship. Since its inception in August 2017, the KSIH has hosted hundreds of workshops with thousands of attendees on subjects ranging from green technology through to coding HTML. It has also provided free office-space and mentoring to socially minded start-up companies in the city. The KSIH has also experienced some external challenges such as an intermittent electricity supply from the central grid, poor network signal, and safety concerns over the area around the KSIH that reportedly deters some would-be participants. These challenges are being addressed, and sustainable sources of funding to continue supporting the KSIH are being sought—it has already been approached for partnerships by several international organisations, including Facebook, Inc.
In the shadow of the burgeoning oil and gas industry that permeates the Niger Delta, the growth of other industries have been limited and rural livelihoods are mostly limited to small-holder agriculture and aquaculture. Opportunities in agriculture and aquaculture are scarce for people moving from rural to urban areas. Training and investment to support livelihood strategies that are viable for the swelling urban, and peri-urban, populations are, and will continue to become, increasingly important to socioeconomic progress in these expanding cities. Access to start-up capital from bank loans for a new business is beyond the reach of most people. Launching web-based or digital livelihoods requires little in the way of initial investment beyond access to a computer, and therefore circumvents some of the barriers to other livelihoods. Unfortunately, teaching on digital technology in schools is generally limited, so training is needed to create the specialised skillsets to participate in web-based and digital livelihoods.
Women experience additional barriers to participating in the digital technology sector, and are underrepresented in the industry. Cursory research by the KSIH indicates gender stereotypes, by both men and women, heavily contribute to this skew in participation. Eliminating these stereotypes, and the barriers they create, requires highlighting women’s achievements in digital technology, mentoring, and training focused on women.
Exploring a solution
With a focus on young people and women living in the Niger Delta, the KSIH provides training and advice on a range of web-based and digital skills from website design through to building mobile phone apps, from beginner to expert level, and from mixed to female-focused sessions. The KSIH provides free hosting space for local and peer-led tech groups to meet up and develop their skills with one another. Lastly, the KSIH supports business ideas to solve local social challenges via technological innovations. Business ideas are competitively pitched to a panel of judges with the top four given the Ken Jr Award of all-inclusive rent-free office space, teleconferencing, and mentoring to support the winning business ideas to become viable businesses and livelihoods.
The KSIH has experienced a number of external challenges – from intermittent electricity supply through to disrupting noise levels from outside, and concerns over personal safety in the area of the KSIH. As these challenges are external, they can be difficult to address. However, there are plans to create a secure reception area for the KSIH that would alleviate some security concerns, and a solar panel and new back-up generator will be installed for a more reliable and consistent electricity supply.
The progress the KSIH has already made in Port Harcourt, and its potential to impact the lives of young people living there, has been noticed by Facebook, Inc. who recently entered into a partnership with the KSIH. The KSIH is progressing a strategy towards becoming increasingly self-financed so it can continue to build on the reputation it has established, and its role in supporting a fledgling but thriving tech community in the capital of the Niger Delta.