A few weeks ago, I wondered on this blog why it is that the Kenyan ICT industry, advanced as it is, is based in the city of Nairobi. I suggested an initiative to begin to develop ICT communities in other parts of Kenya – so that we can widen the demographic net of innovators, developers and other ICT professionals, and I called it, Tech2Shags.
My hypothesis is based on two key points:
- That there exists a significant difference in perspective and outlook between middle class urban young people (as is the predominant demographic of the Kenyan ICT industry based in Nairobi) and rural or peri-urban based young people in other parts of the country.
- Given the above, and given that these rural and peri-urban based young people have more access and understanding of localized challenges that face their communities – both social and economic, these young people in other parts of Kenya may be able to develop technology based solutions for their communities that can be replicated in others in much more sound ways.
I think this because I believe that they understand nuances of such issues as water and agriculture, business and labour, domestic energy, girls and boys education etc. in their communities more than anyone who thinks of issues in a macro sort of way.
Therefore I set out to begin to inspire the creation of these communities through an initiative I call, Tech2Shags. Shags is a local slang word for rural areas. The goal here is to stimulate innovation and technology-based solution building by starting tech communities in rural areas in Africa (starting with Kenya).
How? My model is a simple one at this point:
- Find a champion or champions in the local community – someone who is passionate about technology and someone who has access to the local ICT industry in whichever form that it is.
- Organise with them a meeting where I go (with anyone who cares to join me) and sell the idea of them building a community that shares knowledge, ideas and experiences and that motivates each of them to continue to grow in the industry.
- Support them to continue to grow by finding opportunities for them to be mentored, to be exposed and to get new knowledge that can propel them to even greater heights.
- Learn from the experiences of each group and set up exchange meetings between them.
Using this model, I called out on Twitter to find out what ICT communities exist and I found that there was not much anyone knew about. So I set out to find champions.
The new Kilifi County ICT Community
The first place in which I found champions was in hometown, Malindi, Kilifi County in the North Coast of Kenya. Wilson Kibaki (right), a close friend from my childhood is currently a basic computer tutor at the Catholic Institute in Malindi. Through his hard work, we were able to find 12 young men who are in the industry at various levels – as students, as web designers (basic) and there were 2 developers. Interestingly there were no women – but I am confident that will change in a short while.
The Catholic Institute graciously allowed us to use Wilson’s class room for the meeting. The institute has excellent conference facilities and some rooms where people can stay – I look forward to doing a hackerthon there some time in 2013.
I was able to get my friend and colleague, Kepha Ngito (left) from Map Kibera Trust, who is himself a strong community engagement expert to come and share his own experiences building a community in Kibera, as well as the ways that his community used technology to actively participate in their governance.
The gathered young people in the room listened raptly as we explained what opportunities they could forge out of technology, what other developers are doing, walking them through such innovations as Ushahidi, PesaPal, GotToVote and many others.
They particularly enjoyed listening to Kepha, as he told them the Map Kibera story and marveled when he said that when the Kibera residents checked with the city council why Kibera receives no services, they learnt that Kibera was designated as a forest as far as the city map was concerned and therefore no services could be budgeted for. “… And yet they sent police and there was administration centres there.” And so the residents decided to map their informal neighbourhood and map Kibera was born.
We had a good time covering:
- Why build a community
- The simple structures that the community could adopt to keep in touch (in Malindi they will build a Facebook Group and meet once a month)
- Their fears and aspirations, which included,
- Lack of knowledge (the more advanced of them will provide mentorship to the novices in the group and we promised to support them as well by providing mentors etc.)
- Lack of equipment (Wilson offered the use of the old PCs in his class as a start and we shall later look for better computers that they can use to start developing)
- Need for better understanding of how technology can change social environments and lives.
- The Map Kibera Story
- The AfroDream.com story – AfroDream is a website built by Tom Ogutu who taught himself how to build a web shop where he sells beaded sandals and accessories. Tom is an informal tourism practitioner in Malindi.
I am happy with the progress that we have made thus far.
Next step in Malindi?
HTML5 & PHP 101 Bootcamp in January (curriculum to include the basic developer knowledge and tips) – I’m hoping that there will be enough developers who will volunteer to support this as mentors.
Next Step for Tech2Shags?
We are going to another town in January for the first meeting just like this one – and we hope to have conceptual meetings like this in a different town every month for the whole of 2013.
What can you do to help?
- Please sign up and be a mentor for these young folks who are making the first steps to being developers.
- Please help us locate local champions in your hometown and help us start setting up an ICT Community in your neighbourhood
- Please support the initiative in whichever way you feel you can. Can you give some good PCs for use by the Malindi chaps? A GPS tool for them to Map their communities?
For Malindi, Thank you to:
- The Catholic Institute in Malindi
- Kepha Ngito and Map Kibera Trust
- Ali Hussein and 3Mice –for his support
- Athman Mohamed of Trademark East Africa
- Tom Ogutu of AfroDream.com, Malindi
- Paul Kukubo and Mbugua Njihia, who motivated me to get moving on this
- Wayne Burke of the Open Forum Foundation with whom I first shared the idea in Washington, DC a few months and who provided very sound advice.