Nairobi rises as the innovation lab for East Africa
The current developments in Nairobi are remarkable. The city is rushing with energy in what is increasingly becoming an important focal point in the global information society. The presence of the ICANN meeting, that saw the launch of the .af domain name campaign, is only one small sign of Nairobi’s increasing global/Africa status and for good reason. There are entrepreneurs everywhere. New companies, innovative initiatives and a growing community of people eager to literally put themselves on the map!
The past two weeks were remarkable for me and the experience was highlighted by the opening of the iHub, otherwise a needed nexus point for the tech community (and public/private stakeholders) to come together and just collaborate. That Ushahidi takes the lead in this process seems fitting. After all, the project was born out of the Kenya Election crisis at the start of 2008 and is now an application being used successfully around the world. It is actually the Kenya context at that time that forced the creative thinking that makes the project so relevant now. It also shows us that innovation today is probably more likely to come from the streets of Nairobi than Paris or London. By helping establish the iHub, Ushahidi sets a clear example for what kind of thinking might emerge from this space.
Larry Madowo from KTN was at the iHub launch on Wednesday. Here’s his video piece with a lot of good soundbites from the attendees:
Needless to say, the iHub gives the community a viable platform in which to come together and profile its potential to innovate locally. The need for such a space was further made apparent when three days later we had Tandaa, a symposium looking at the need for local digital content and the different models entrepreneurs might consider. More specifically, how can content be translated into viable revenue streams needed to stimulate further developments in these areas and make them sustainable. To do this we have to look deeper into user habits and further our understanding of local information needs. This extends well beyond the busy streets of Nairobi and into rural Kenya where a genuine interest for information is growing. The event was hosted by the Kenya ICT Board and sponsored by Google Kenya. This was only one of hopefully many partnerships that will come together in a common interest to promote a genuine African information society.
These developments also reach deep into the streets of Kibera. The Map Kibera project is working with volunteer mappers from the thirteen different Kibera towns. They are busy putting Kibera’s key infrastructure and points of interest online and via their handheld gps units. Considerable data has already been collected and a basic data collecting/processing infrastructure is being put into place. A two pronged strategy is now in the works in which both government and citizen would come closer together. On one side, a network of monitors would be engaged in an effort to track development efforts in the different parts of Kibera. These locally generated reports will be aggregated at the Kibera Journal/Kcoda, and also Pamoja FM. Also aggregation can occur on specific websites for each topic or through Voice of Kibera, the Ushahidi instance dedicated to the project. From this point the reports would be compared with collected data and budgets from various gov. sources for budget data. This approach is now being expanded as GIS volunteers work to add layers of data i.e. mapping electrical infrastructure and then making comparisons to say location based crime reports. Once these initial foundations are in place it is via Kcoda and their local networks (as well as a presentation to city government reps or other key influencers) that Map Kibera and partners plan to engage policy making efforts, further influencing the decision process through fact based reporting.
On the other hand, the same information is being disseminated again amongst the Kibera population. The only newspaper has already published an article about the project with a small map image and they are now working on a two page fold out citizens could hang on their wall. At the same time they are planning workshops with the 13 districts in which the mappers go out and engage citizens in conversations around the maps and the information they present. At the same time this work is being linked to the community radio station Pamoja FM in which the content can be leveraged for radio talk shows and programming. Finally all of the information is being presented on the web and in the interest to connect local issues with the rest of the world.
See here the walk to Pamoja FM
It’s clear to me that the developments now underway in Nairobi are leading for the region. Moving forward it is in our interest to support these developments and to find ways in which we can disseminate the emerging knowledge, tools and strategies.