7 Theses, In Their Words

Last week, we wrote about the 7 Theses of GESCI-AKE Creative Media Venture for Youth Entrepreneurship: Context matters significantly; Entrepreneurial education needs to be flexible; Everything is entrepreneurial; Both digital and physical platforms matter; Your niche is important; No success without collaboration; and Support should be ongoing.

We asked internal and external experts in the field — of creative industries, media business management, youth start-up incubation, start-up PR, and corporate innovation — what they considered as key drivers of Youth Entrepreneurship. We were thrilled to find that our theses are also theirs.

Our warmest thanks to the contributors!

Now, let us know YOUR thoughts, and theses, as a comment!


1. No One Solution, Or, Context Matters


Gregory Ferrell Lowe, Professor (Media management), University of Tampere, President of the European Media Management Association:

In recent years we’ve seen growing interest in the development of entrepreneurial activities, especially in the creative industries. There are reasons. One hinges on economic growth and development that entrepreneurial activity has produced. A large proportion of new jobs that are also good jobs, and fast-growth firms, are the result of entrepreneurial enterprise. Another reason is the importance of innovation as a new product or service that create new markets. A third reason has to do with the speed, scope and stakes involved with globalised economic competition. Entrepreneurial activities capitalise on the resources and talents of a particular population that produces competitive advantage. Finally, all societies are struggling with a degree of change that is profound. As a result, heritage systems and legacy structures are unable to meet the full range of societal needs today. Entrepreneurial activities increasingly emphasise not only economic development, but also social enterprise and environmental  sustainability.  It is important to understand that all of this is not only important in the West, but equally in the Rest. Actually, it is arguably even more important in the Global South than elsewhere because their populations are growing at an astonishing pace and the infrastructure has been so lacking.

What would be most beneficial for robust development of entrepreneurial activities in the creative industries and beyond? There are specific needs for a particular population, but at least three general needs are crucial everywhere. First, the societal structure must be conducive. This simply means the system of laws, regulations and institutions that govern economic activity must encourage and support entrepreneurship in practice to reap the benefits that can only be realised by taking the risks that are necessary for starting an enterprise. That is not easy because it often means reorienting values and changing bureaucratic systems that have vested interests. But this is perhaps the most significant and an on-going pre-requisite. Second, education and training are essential to prepare people to be successful entrepreneurs. It is essential to understand how business works, what management requires, the consequences of decisions and actions, processes of creative development, laws and regulations, and so forth. Finally, investment capital is an obvious need. Many entrepreneurs have more ideas than money to pursue them. Moreover, entrepreneurial efforts are often stimulated by necessity. People without jobs who need to earn a living to care for themselves and their families pursue opportunities to provide that can good business. But this can’t happen if they lack the capital to get the business started. Of course, all ideas are not equally good and everyone who wants to start a business would not be a good business person. So there must be vetting processes that sift the grain from the chaff. But access to capital is an absolute requirement for entrepreneurial enterprise, and that need is not only at the start but also at latter points when there is opportunity for growth to a achieve a next level of success.


Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

We need to employ action research/Living Lab research or whatever form of research in the creative industry programs so us to generate more narrative about the subject. Africa has no documentation about its creative initiatives compared to its counterparts  as many artist work on informal basis. There are no statistics of how much the industry makes, what makes that kind of money, where and to what level. It makes it difficult to valuate the industry’s worth.


2. Entrepreneurship Cannot Be Cloned:

Education Must Be Flexible


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Tom Manda – GESCI-AKE Master Tutor:

My top three recommendations for boosting youth entrepreneurship are

  • Schools boosting and training students to be entrepreneurs;
  • Schools promoting and developing talents at an early age;
  • Youth taking time to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives and what they can offer.


Eleni Atsikbasis, film-maker, audiovisual entrepreneur, environmental start-up developer:

My top 3 recommendations for boosting Youth Entrepreneurship in organisations:

  • Being open to listen…
  • Being open to engage..
  • Being open to create opportunities for Youth Entrepreneurs to implement solutions and take ownership of challenges as they grasp their role is to take action on a local level.

On an individual level – it’s our duty to be the crank handles, the starter-uppers for sustainable impact that contributes to our collective identity…that has the potential to solve universal challenges!

Duncan Onyango – GESCI-AKE Master Tutor:

At the individual level developers or creators should start building innovative solutions that are applicable to real world problems. I think some of the problems we have can easily be solved by innovative solutions that do not require government intervention.


3. Everything is Entrepreneurial:

Teach [Social] Business and Communication



Liam Caffrey – GESCI-AKE Master Tutor, Music Producer & Technologist:

My top 3 recommendations for boosting youth entrepreneurship

Young entrepreneurs should be encouraged to…

1) Be original and creative by being themselves and having a ‘can do’ attitude

  • First-time entrepreneurs should focus on what they are passionate about and stick to what they know best. If your heart isn’t in it then the chances are you won’t be a success.

2) Be clear about what the focus of their business is.

  • Be able to explain the key idea of your business in less than 30 seconds to capitalise on a chance meeting with a potential investor or customer.

2) Strictly manage their financial situation

  • Act like a startup and manage your cashflow. Make your business idea achievable and affordable to start off with and grow from there while managing all costs closely. Find ways to improve your business idea while expanding.


Keoni DeFranco, Founder & CEO of the startup Lua: Secure Messaging for Healthcare:

Incentivize young entrepreneurs to build: Offer a hack-a-thon with a price or have the state propose a current problem they are facing that can be solved with innovative technology (ie infrastructure) and hold a contest for the local community to come together and pitch ideas to solve it. Award the top 3 ideas and give them resources ($, facilities, mentors) to pursue these ideas and present them at a present time. Make the “demo day” publicly accessible so you inspire more people to engage next time around. Pick a winner, fund them and eventually give them access to test their new product with real users in the field.



Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

There  is need for a mandatory pre-training and upskilling for all potential startups prior to issuance of startup funds. This should be a minimum requirement by venture capitalist and startup funders.


4. Digital Matters, But So Does Physical Space



Keoni DeFranco, Founder & CEO of the startup Lua: Secure Messaging for Healthcare:

Give access to facilities (workspaces) and mentors so these youth can gather somewhere to meet other like minded individuals to brainstorm on ideas and take them to the next level. Give them close mentorship so they can learn how to iterate their ideas on the fly.


Lee-Anne Ragan, President, Rock.Paper.Scissors Inc., Corporate Training

In my experience it’s critical to ‘walk our talk’ – that is weave ICTs into all of our learning materials, pedagogies, pre & post engagement strategies for learners, transfer of learning strategies, and so on. We often talk about ICTs as a discreet, siloed pieces of work – that is for use in marketing, for teaching etc, but we don’t have a holistic, integrated approach, which I recommend for using ICTs for:

  1. Listening & research; using ICTs to listen to our stakeholders and efficiently do our homework aka research;
  1. Learning & communication; using ICTs in a way that matches what we know about learning and engagement, rather than outdated pedagogies that are top down, expert driven and ineffective (for example, “watch this video and answer these 3 questions”);
  1. Ease & efficiency; the world is a constantly changing place where information overload is rampant.  Strategies for using ICTs to bring ease and efficiency is critical, in order to do more of #1 & #2.


Miroslav Polzer, IAAI-GloCha, Executive Director, Social Entrepreneur in technology and youth employment

  1. Provide an easily accessible networking and capacity building space (Innovation Hub, Living Lab…) where young people can meet peers and learn about the combination of social design, technology and business solutions for meeting individual needs or solving social challenges  
  2. Create a (ideally globally coordinated) local enabling ecosystem (in combination with 1.)  which provides access to internet, technology, funding and potential customers
  3. Mentor youth!


Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

I agree: Physical space is essential. It does not matter whether it is in a closed location/hub like the GESCI’s AKE or iHub, but it could also be created by provision of physical internet access infrastructure such as the wide area coverage as witnessed in Uganda’s digital drums for the off-grid communities and through Kenya’s rugged innovative BRCK technology. These technologies allows provision of enriched Entrepreneurial training and access of online support tools.


5. Find a Niche



Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

There is need of community outreach and awareness campaign amongst the community of web users about the availability of certain web based and mobile based products. This will spur the growth of demands for these products. The awareness campaigns would also connect the relevance of  an innovation to a community problem.


6. No Success Without Collaboration



Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE Manager:

Establishment of a creative media alliance focusing on three key areas of Knowledge provision (as played by GESCI), Products and service provision as provided by our industry partners like Tsunami Studio and Environment as taken care of by policy partners like the government and INGO (International Nongovernmental Organizations).

Curriculum and training content to be modeled with the help of the existing industry partners who answer to a particular trade or market niche. 


7. Support Should Continue “Forever”



Keoni DeFranco, Founder & CEO of the startup Lua: Secure Messaging for Healthcare:

Give access for entrepreneurs to share their past and current experiences. Nothing exciting the youth more than hearing success stories and the struggles it took to become successful. Host panel discussions or fire side chats (even if these have to be remotely) but allow startup stories to be shared and allow the youth to engage and ask questions.



In the News: 13 March

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  • Research:
    Youths perceive lack of capital, lack of skill, lack of support, lack of market opportunities and risk as the main obstacles to entrepreneurial intention in South Africa
    Fatoki, O., & Chindoga, L. (2011). An investigation into the obstacles to youth entrepreneurship in South Africa. International Business Research, 4(2), 161.


Lessons from GESCI-AKE: 7 Theses about Youth Entrepreneurship


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GESCI-AKE participants: Word cloud on their thoughts on entrepreneurship and development.

GESCI is pioneering an innovative training and enterprise program model combining culture and digital media technology dubbed ‘African Knowledge Exchange (AKE) – Creative Media Venture’.


The program addresses the changing global jobs and employment environment driven by new technologies in the context of growing youth unemployment.

  • Jerome Morrissey, GESCI CEO

This post is based on the GESCI-AKE projects: The Sound of the City (2014-2015), and GESCI-AKE Creative Media Venture (2016-2017). Both have been rooted in the ongoing, urgent, and increasingly global, concern of sustainable future of work for the world’s youth.

GESCI-AKE’s training and enterprise model is in line with the trend that believes in local entrepreneurship as one of the most empowering, and cost-effective, solutions local systemic problems of youth employment. Compared to 14 major, established innovation and training labs/hubs in Eastern and Southern Africa, GESCI’s approach has been unique in three ways:

  1. It has captured participants who are motivated and already working on their art and creative digital media endeavors, but who need more concrete skills, elevated understanding of the field, as well as tools to become independent entrepreneurs in the field of creative industries;
  2. It has focused on local culture as a competitive edge (while bringing in international influence and tutors); and
  3. It has allowed for multi-field training and innovation.

GESCI-AKE programs have from the start combined two aspects: understanding the marketplace but listening to the individual, for bringing big concepts into the practical pedagogy and training.

The programs have sought to capture the processes of learning and innovation in the day-to-day, micro-level of the training and entrepreneurial incubation. This has been done through a method of Living Lab. Solution-oriented, participatory models such as Living Lab have become common in product innovations, but also in curriculum development, policy-making, communication campaigning, and international development.

The GESCI-AKE program has been using the method since 2014. The research, conducted by questionnaires, interviews, and formal and informal observations and participation by practitioners, instructors, and industry representatives, has studied both content and needs of both the participants and the industry, as well as documented the implementation and modeling of such training.  

You can find the concrete process and progress of the Living Lab in this blog.

The Living Lab research (2016-17) has also transferred the actual training-incubation process into a model that can be used for skills-entrepreneurship training in fields of creative products and services. Details of the model, and related best practices and tools, are documented in an extensive Final Model Report.

This post documents the key findings regarding youth entrepreneurship, as documented in detail in a separate Policy Brief. (Both documents will be available from GESCI at the end of March 2017.)


Jerome Morrissey congratulating AKE graduates.

Thesis #1: No One Solution, Or, Context Matters

While the 7 theses from GESCI-AKE are quite generalizable, the first lesson learned is that a successful training and start-up incubation needs to understand the specific marketplace first. There is no one solution, or model.

As noted, the GESCI-AKE approach to innovation in youth entrepreneurship is twofold – markets and individuals – and understanding one’s context is thus the foundation of success. This may seem self-evident, but in the rapidly-changing digital landscape and globalizing markets, coupled with local conditions, this means constant analysis of societal and market needs. A commonly used method is the strategic planning tool, SWOT analysis: Strengths, Weaknesses (existing situation), Opportunities, and Threats (future scenario). As an example, a recent SWOT on East African Creative Industries posits the following:


  • Rapid growth of especially mobile communications means rapidly growing market.
  • Cultural distinctiveness, very strong traditions, and real flair across creative sectors including music, crafts, fashion, visual arts, film, define the centrality for creative industries for the economy in the region.  rapid urbanisation re-creates cities as centers for talent and creativity.  
  • Digitalization resulting in proliferation of straight-to-digital business models across the region.
  • Digitalization fostering a culture of collaboration across different sectors, disciplines and technologies.
  • A sense of an emergent new world order and growing confidence in African creative industries marks the field.


  • Some cultural conservatism = an aversion to risk.
  • Weak creative education.
  • Low levels of entrepreneurialism, management and leadership (education needed).
  • Growing (digital) literacy across the wider population is needed to unleash the market potential.
  • Tendency of replication over innovation.
  • Lack of policy support in the field of education + inconsistent approaches to copyright.

Opportunities to take (Threats =if opportunities not taken):

  • Build capacity and confidence across the creative workforce.
  • Create  digitally-enabled platforms which showcase and trade creative goods and services.
  • Nurture domestic and international markets for creative products and services. Even small growth creates many jobs.
  • Establish a set of high profile networks of creative industries for information exchange.
  • Position the creative industries as value-adders across the economy in order to lift the quality and innovation potential of other sectors.
  • Improve the policy and regulatory landscape through capacity-building and guidance.

Such a macro-level analysis as the above has understandably direct consequences on the organizational foci for training. For instance, GESCI has recognized the need for education in the field, including demands for entrepreneurial skills and “confidence-building”; the need for networks; the role of creative industries as collaborating and supporting other industries, and so on.


Thesis #2: Entrepreneurship Cannot Be Cloned. Education Must Be Flexible

The second thesis pertains to flexibility required of innovation and training models of youth entrepreneurship. The demand for flexibility comes from both opportunities in the changing markets and technology, as well as from the individual participants. In other words, entrepreneurship cannot be cloned. This requirement influences curriculum as well as product/innovation development, ways of learning and working; as well as the entire outlook of what is being learned and developed beyond the obvious practical skills.

It is also good to remember that not everyone is entrepreneurial. The flexibility of any training or support mechanism should allow some participants, who may need more skills and experience, or who might discover that they are not entrepreneurial enough to launch their own startup, still get relevant training that will lead to meaningful job opportunities in the industry.

Another aspect of flexibility is that innovation may require a broad talent and skill-set — and staying relevant as an entrepreneur may mean encompassing several fields. This is obvious to GESCI-AKE participants: They  defined themselves often along a continuum that included several areas (“I am not only a musician, but musician- sound designer -producer”). In addition, entrepreneurship requires more than skills and innovation. Participants have been encouraged to think about their skills and learning more holistically, by not only developing practical skills but rather “an attitude to our work, and ourselves”.


Thesis #3: Everything is Entrepreneurial

The third thesis is closely connected to the second, but warrants its own discussion. While it may seem that micro and small-sized enterprises (the kinds of startups that young people are likely to have) can easily run and market themselves due to their size, knowing business skills to do so is not a given — quite the contrary. Beyond specific issues such as accounting and copyright, there are basic business practices and principles that need fostering.

UNIDO research on start-ups shows that the biggest challenge in continuity seems to come after the initial incubation and first projects, when first hardships are faced (financial or other challenges).  This requires strong leadership skills, confidence, and self-reliance — traits that can be practiced. At the same time, one of the main causes of failure is that there is no market for the product offered, and because their business model was not viable. This points to the urgent need for innovations and youth entrepreneurs to understand their market and be able to systematically plan their revenue sources.

GESCI-AKE model curriculum for developing entrepreneurial competences relies on a behavioral approach to entrepreneurship. This is a practical approach that help participants develop Personal Entrepreneurial Competencies (PEC) while doing, as opposed to attending lectures. The GESCI-AKE model works to develop the following attitudes: Opportunity-seeking behavior, Taking calculated risks, Persistence, Demand for efficiency and quality, Fulfilling commitments, Information seeking, Goal-setting and Self-confidence.

In addition, the rise of social entrepreneurship and social innovation as a business model may be a very attractive alternative for young entrepreneurs in creative medial. There is clearly a political trend to favor and support activities, big or small, that position themselves as innovators of social value.


Mary Hooker of GESCI facilitating a brainstorming workshop.

Thesis #4. Physical Space Matters for Innovation

In entrepreneurial training, online tools and platforms are widely used. Even the location-based GESCI-AKE utilized this blog, informal email lists, Dropbox folders, Google Drive folders, Youtube channel, Facebook page, Whatsapp groups, Trello boards, Slack channel, and two Twitter accounts. Many of these tools are attractive as they are open access, and also widely used in professional contexts. Getting familiar with them is important.

Still, a strong thesis of the GESCI-AKE programs is that a physical space is essential for fostering youth entrepreneurship, especially among young people with limited resources and experience.

To be sure, a hub is a tested framework: The rise of numerous entrepreneurial education projects, start-up incubators, innovation centers, and the like, is evident in the region. East and South Africa are prominent hosts of such hubs. (In general, the number of technology hubs has doubled in Africa in less than a year, from 2015 to mid 2016.)

Also, as organizations, innovation hubs, programs, and training projects are creating value beyond their start-ups and products in multiple ways:

  • Through building a network for “collaborative knowledge exchange and research activities”, innovation hubs can help their stakeholders solve problems that they have defined, increasing the opportunities of co-creation innovation.
  • In order to maximize the benefits for those involved, innovation hubs should play a role in accelerating the communication between academia and industries and encourage highly interactive “two way knowledge exchange”.
  • By offering an environment to enhance the collaboration among people, innovation hubs would be able to support the economic, cultural and sustainable development for future generations.
  • Innovation hubs can not only create communicating channels but also simplify the process of innovation by efficiently adopting existing knowledge, expertise and support from various stakeholders in order to make knowledge transfer spread widely.

Thesis #5: Find a Niche

The fifth thesis on fostering innovation in youth entrepreneurship is: Find a niche. As illustrated in Thesis 4., ICT innovation hubs are multiplying and related activities seem to be considered as priority. But innovation that can utilize digital tools is happening in every field. Supporting an under-supported field, or group may be most effective and important than replicating an existing innovation model. For GESCI-AKE, this niche has been local culture and cultural competence:

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Thesis #6: No Success Without Collaboration

The sixth thesis seems self-evident in theory but is a challenge in practice: How to create mechanisms of collaboration and knowledge exchange so that youth entrepreneurship innovation is reflecting, and contributing to, the needs of the relevant stakeholders? Vice versa: how can stakeholders help in guaranteeing the success of young entrepreneurs?

The GESCI-AKE programs, and the emerging model, rely on supporting a collaborative continuum approach that includes simple and complex forms of partnership. These relationships are created with-in, with the hosting organization (e.g. GESCI) and with external partners (community, industry, educational representatives, etc) via mentoring and networking partnerships and through follow up actions. As the figure below illustrates (with the case of GESCI), the network of stakeholder can be a surprisingly complex one, and every stakeholder needs to feel a certain ownership/connection to the project and benefit from it in order to commit.

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Some concrete ways to enhance collaboration include:

  • Policy forums and networking events for knowledge exchange and innovation
  • Lectures, issue roundtables
  • Site visits
  • Industry mentors
  • Internships
  • Commissioned projects as a part of the curriculum
  • Pitching / project evaluation / showcases
  • Community outreach and events
  • Stakeholders involved in participant selection
  • Job fairs

Pitching to an industry partner.

Thesis #7: Support Should Continue “Forever”

Entrepreneurship is a life-long journey and learning experience. Especially young entrepreneurs need support, not only training.

As noted by UNIDO, based on its start-up programmes in the Global South: Ideas are plentiful but the absence of actual technical and business development support often stops innovative projects and startups after their initial seed funding ends. Research shows that not only is the lack of education or seed funding a challenge, but societal attitudes, and support services were found to be barriers for youth entrepreneurship in Africa.

This raises a question as to what role should an innovation-training model-hub play. Is training and short incubation enough of a competitive edge?  Or, is such a hub a meeting place for alumni, a pitching and networking, center, a facility for continuing education, even employment agency or match-maker, a community center, and so on?

These are questions that GESCI-AKE is only now experimenting with, given that is its currently finalizing the training of the first incubation-start-up cohort. Activities and strategies are placed to follow up on the trajectories of all those involved in any GESCI-AKE cohort. This facilitates transitions of roles: For instance, previous participants to become mentors or tutors, mentors that might become investors, attendants to an event to become partners (by commissioning work), and so on.

The strong consensus among GESCI-AKE staff and participants is that continuing support has several benefits:

  • Networking for jobs, contacts, and skills.
  • Alumni can utilize the technology  if in need.
  • GESCI-AKE as a brand that provides peer-to-peer marketing for its participants and alumni, and vice versa.

Continuous support by Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKE manager.

Report from the field and the lab: Challenges and opportunities developing AKE ventures

The last phase of AKE program is in full swing and participants are busy building their own ventures (start-ups), fine tuning their offerings and value propositions.

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AKE Pitching session in 8.3.2017

Yesterday they pitch their ideas to an invited panel that gave them feedback. All these activities are helping AKE developed the curriculum and objectives for this last phase.

Today we want to share some of the props we have been receiving from AKE start ups:

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Images of Boisch jewels and cards prototypes.

Nancy and Olipha comment: “it is challenging making them, however the biggest challenge so far for us is building our customer base” (Boisch team).

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Images of Artari team member visiting children to gather feedback for their prototypes and screenshots of Artari’s current projects.

Maurice comments: “we (Artari Kreations) discovered the necessity for digitizing our curriculum and i decided to engage kindergarten kids to collect suggestions on what they could require to interact with and learn from, when it comes to digital learning.” (Artari Kreations Team)

Kahama comments: [Referring to the comments they leave to each other in the code]: “commenting is good when done well, it makes work easy for every body in the team”  (Artari Kreations Team)

Also GESCI’s team in charge of AKE has been reflecting on the opportunities and challenges of the program itself. Victos. AKE’s manager also shares some insights:


Working together with the start ups in the AKE lab

Victor when talking about the most challenging thing so far: “I still manage to have fun with all the work… but would have done with an assistant” and when prompted to point out at the most inspiring “when the start up groups are working on projects in a team”.

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AKE participants from IonicCode working on their start-up projects

Thanks !!

In the News: Week of 3 March

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Cape Town Animation Festival Lays Out Global Ambitions for African Industry

Can You Help One Another? 4 Ways a Graphic Designer Can Help Musicians 

African startups to take on Silicon Valley

From the legal perspective: Cisac, the world’s largest association of collection societies and performance rights organisations, has entered into a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (Aripo) aimed at strengthening copyright and promoting creative-sector growth in Africa.







In the News: Week of 27 February

This week, we feature one of our own! That, and other news, have been curated by Victor Omondi, GESCI-AKEs manager.

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What are we learning ?- In two images

The whole AKE team wants to learn more about the things that you are working on and how you are preparing to develop your ventures. To get a peak into what is happening in Nairobi we are asking you to send us a probe of how is life over there for each start-up, in the form of pictures.

THE TASKS for each start up:

1) Take a picture (or draw and take a pic of the drawing) of anything that represents an interesting insight, an inspiring observation or something you have learn as a team working on your venture.  Write a few sentences of how that image represents what you learned.

2) Take a picture (or draw and take a pic of the drawing) of anything that represents a challenge you have identified for your venture.  Write a few sentences of how that image illustrates the challenge.

Remember we are not searching for pretty pictures nor we want to evaluate you as photographers. We will be happy to have a glimpse of the kinds of things that are important right now in a very concrete way. Remeber that learning takes place not only around the things you do at AKE, so feel free to point out also unexpected observations from the everyday life challenges and opportunities of your ventures

Send your snapshots to Andrea (via email) before next Tuesday 28th of February. We will share them back in the blog next week.

For inspiration check what we did almost 9 months ago