Human Resources

Mark Warburton (UK) - Kenya, Pioneer of a Vibrant Tech Culture (Part 2)

There has to be a rich tech culture in place for the degree of invention shown once the data sets were made available to the public. Spearheading such developments in Kenya was a non-profit company called Ushahidi.The company specializes in developing free and Open Source software for information collection and visualization. It was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after post-election tumult early 2008. To fully realize community engagement within Kenya, Ushahidi developed iHub; a discussion space where people log-on to the Internet and exchange ideas with fellow community members offline.

iHub's philosophy covers five key principles; innovation, community, entrepreneurship, business mentoring, and research. iHub is primarily funded by the latter and corporate entities. iHub is now the center point of discourse on technology in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. It has become a communication node that connects its community of programmers and humanitarians with businesses, the government and academia.

Ushahidi and its projects, then, are seen as the benchmark of African tech development. Utilizing the positive power of the Internet, it has created stepping stones to development and transparency for local communities by teaching them how to utilize local, regional, and global information, thus making them more suited for an online work world.

The success of other tech hubs across Africa will depend not just on securing funding, but as seen already, the ability to engage their community. New hubs across the continent are learning from Kenyan endeavors; developing organically via the enthusiasm and innovation of communities of phone savvy Africans. Such a mentality can be found in the birth of Afrinnovator, for instance.
Will Mutua Moria, a regular contributor to IDG Connect, has previously discussed his motivations behind

Affrinovator. Part of the reason he put the site together was because there were not enough African success stories present online. Will believed that a ‘snow ball effect' would take hold: with Africans seeing tech making a major difference economically, tech startups would sprout regardless of the lack of initial capital, inspiration would be found from these success stories. In turn, what has happened in the Kenyan tech startup scene would extend to other African countries.

Kenya has been pivotal then; and it continues to be so. There have been significant advancements in the country since the initial tech startup surge. For example, The Next Web has listed the app, MedAfrica (formerly MedKenya), from Shimba technologies as one of its top 10 favorite startups from DEMO 2011. This real-time public health tool has the potential to be massive if it is to be adopted across the developing world.

2011 has seen more activity in the Kenyan tech scene than its breakthrough year in 2010. Next year is set to be even more vibrant. The startup culture is growing and becoming more and more influential. So much so that corporate interests are looking to fund Kenyan tech and thought leaders with corporate initiatives like open door. The future is looking bright for the ‘dark continent'.

By Mark Warburton

Read part 1 of this post here.



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