Building Social Capital Through Tech Labs in Ethiopia

After our online conversation at New Tactics, we’ve begun publishing a series of posts about how physical spaces can jump start online participation. In Ethiopia, we see how the presence of one physical space can impact not only on the local “tech ecosystem,” but civil society as well.

Reporting for this post was contributed by GV writer Abel Asrat.

In 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a group of four entrepreneurs began a project to promote local innovation and technology.

Described as a coworking space + innovation hub + digital fabrication lab, iceaddis it is part of Afrilabs, a “network organisation” building Africa's technology sector through tech labs and apps development.



Iceaddis is also a home for “Social Innovation Mentors,” a group of young women working for a stronger Ethiopian society. Working within the iceaddis space gets women into a technology-based space – a space dominated by men around the world – and exposes them to new tech-oriented ideas.

ICE : Innovation, Collaboration, and Entrepreneurship

According to their website,

The aim of iceaddis is to establish a national network of collaboration and a home of Ethiopian made innovations. The network provides spaces where appropriate and value-added technologies will be developed and put into use for communities be it in business or education sectors in Ethiopia…. Its purpose is to encourage collaboration and to be a physical nexus point between investors, academia, the technology communities, technology companies, and the wider private sector.


iceaddis runs a variety of events, facilitating mentoring networks, organising training programs for start-ups, and special events including Barcamp. Markos Lemma, co-founder, said this about barcamp:

Barcamp is meant to share ideas in a very open platform. Most Ethiopians are not getting used to sharing ideas. In the same time, there is no physical sphere to discuss and share important ideas. Barcamp doesn't include religion and politics. And our community take barcamp positively. We are slowly influencing people to open up, to question, to share.

Their business model exists under creative commons, and has sister hubs in: Egypt (icecairo and icealex), Germany (icebauhaus), and there is another “ice” in the works for Kenya.
The co-founders of iceaddis “observed a missing ‘entrepreneurial ecosystem’ in Addis Ababa says Oliver Petzolt, co-founder and “Entrepreneurship and Education Advisor”. They wanted to “start creating an environment that fosters the shift towards a ‘Sharing Economy’… for Addis Ababa’s emerging middle class.” Which it has begun to do, alongside a group of young mentors…

The SIMs

“Social Innovation Mentors,” or SIMs, are 26 university women running social programs and teaching the values of volunteering to local girls.

Recruited by the project designers, The Center for Creative Leadership, the SIMs are part of a movement to develop a group of young female leaders. They are students of building and urban design at the EiABC, the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction, and City Development. The SIM project acts twofold: mentoring younger girls sets the stage for a more empowered younger generation, while simultaneously helping the SIMs learn about about civic values and boosting their own self-confidence.
Nadja Shashe, who works on women's empowerment programs with CCL, says that

“In Ethiopia young women frequently experience social stratification and challenges that distort their self­-perception and deter them from reaching their full potential.”

The SIMs participate in and run a variety of activities, using their university skills as well as their social skills. They have worked with a local NGO to design a public shower and toilet project for senior citizens, are mentoring students at local high schools and girls clubs, and volunteering as camp counselors at a program run by the Peace Corps.

The SIMs at iceaddis

The SIMs at iceaddis

For the SIMs, iceaddis functions as a base for to access technology and the internet when necessary. But in addition, this link to the physical space allows the SIMs gain exposure  to special tech-oriented activities like barcamp and a google mapping event. Nadja from CCL says,

“Barcamp was a good way to get them connected to other participants who work more tech focused… [enabling some to] become more versatile in regards to technology. Altogether, they gathered so many skills (presentation, use of architecture planning tools) that their self esteem was much heightened at the end of the first phase.”


The SIM group at Google Sub-Saharan Africa's mapping event, held at iceaddis

The SIM group at Google Sub-Saharan Africa's mapping event, held at iceaddis

Iceaddis was designed as a space which would encourage innovation and leadership in Ethiopia; through interactions with programs like SIM, iceaddis can provide the space to bring global perspectives to local university students, boostin confidence and increasing local skills through digital engagement.


You can keep track of iceaddis on TwitterFacebook, and their blog. You can also follow SIM on Twitter and Facebook.

All photographs of iceaddis are licensed under creative commons and published with their permission. Photographs from SIM are republished with permission from their Facebook account.



Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.