Learning from Lagos

Earlier this month I finally got a chance to go to Lagos, Nigeria. It left an indelible mark in my mind. Lagos is a gorgeous city, intoxicating and yes, a little gritty but all in all completely intriguing. Intriguing in its scale, its people, and its location. Free flow of thoughts below on what I learned and observed.

You can either experience the Lagos of possibility or of gridlock. It depends on your mental frame. One of the hosts told me that you can attract your own Lagos. You just need to bring an effortless and authentic personality.

You can either be an Afro-pessimist or an Afro-optimist. Either way, you’d better be hustling.  I see several newcomers in Kenya putting down entrepreneurs and regurgitating old stereotypes, even referring to friends in co-working spaces like iHub as ‘monkeys’. (Whole other story that I won’t even get into right now.)

Being in Lagos, I was quite encouraged and happy to see the forward momentum in service provision, infrastructure and even waste management.
I was part of a small group that was given a tour of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system complete with NFC technology for easy payment. The BRT system moves Lagosians quickly through the city in a very efficient manner. The fleet I saw was impressive, not in the shiny super new kind of way…more so in a functional, well maintained somewhat old fleet, yet orderly kind of way. The investment in infrastructure is continuing, with a new light rail system that is on course to be opened in 2016.
As you make your way around the city, there are people with orange coats emblazoned with LAWMA. This stands for Lagos Waste Management Authority, which is ensuring that the city is cleaned up and waste is processed. Clearly there is order from the chaos you thought Lagos was wrought and overrun with.

Lagosian

 

The infrastructure of the mind: This is a key idea that I encountered when Moji Rhodes gave an overview of the efforts by the state of Lagos to not only improve the lives of Lagosians, but to empower them. As is similar in most parts of Africa, there is no escaping the colonial baggage that saddles culture, inefficient legacy systems, land allocation problems…the list can go on and on. The infrastructure of the mind alludes to the cultural renaissance that I think needs to be fostered even more. It is as essential as economic growth in the betterment of African cities. Lagos is ahead in this regard.

What remained in my mind most of all is the immense potential to leverage technology in the service of citizens. EIE – Enough is Enough Nigeria, Sahara Reporters, CCHub, Wennovation, and so many other examples of initiatives that will be integral to helping Lagos youth to engage, have a say and to give back.
I am reminded of the seminal quote for 2012
The role of citizen does not end with a vote – President Barack Obama during his acceptance speech.
How can we set up end to end systems that help citizens beyond elections?
In the case of Lagos, there is potential of impacting almost 8 million people with information services. I am awe struck by the immense opportunity and hats of to the people already investing their time and energy to doing this.

The larger question that I think many cities are trying to answer is how can cities provide services in order to draw the creative, maker, entrepreneurial class? Small and medium sized businesses still power many economies. In Africa, it becomes even more important to invest in growing this segment of the economy. I saw many MTN Mobile money ads, this is likely to be a major growth area for Lagos.

I am curious about culture based design in African cities. From architecture of technology systems that can provide utility and help tackle the unique problem sets of Lagos and Nairobi. Perhaps just effective design in a global sense needs to be applied to the many problems of a complex, growing, vibrant city like Lagos. There is lots to learn, but more so, I think there is so much more to do to connect innovators globally to the important problem sets on the ground. The hard work is of course the end to end workflow of making sure we do not just think of the tech, but the Technium and the ecosystems of the future. The most famous example of a truly unique, effective and Lagosian ecosystem is ofcourse Nollywood.

Through music and fashion I saw glimpses of even more ecosystems being redefined right now in Lagos.

Pictures: Lagos on Africa Knows
Follow: Moji Rhodes, Teju Cole
Read: Omoluwabi 2.0 A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria by Adewale Ajadi
Monopoly Game: City of Lagos Edition
Jam to: Davido – Dami Duro
Chidinma: Kedike,
D’banj – Oliver Twist

Crowdsourcing and the Tech Hype Cycle

I found this article about the Gartner Tech Hype Cycleto be quite informative. Particularly since Crowdsourcing is included.

Gartner Tech Hype Cylce 2012 - cc licenced image from Press Release

Gartner Tech Hype Cylce 2012 – cc licenced image from Press Release

The visualization indicates that crowd sourcing is at a time of inflated expectations. That the narrative of possible change coming from the technology is now part of the conversation, triggering various questions around areas of impact, scale, replicability and market growth. I find this chart quite encouraging actually, because when you are knee deep in the mechanics of how crowd sourcing works, pushing to encourage use cases beyond crisis, you can’t help but think hard about the sustainability and how to navigate an organization through the various stages indicated here. More interestingly, how to make the plateau of productivity happen faster. A key insight when I look at this visualization was that achieving productivity in the shortest amount of time is of great importance. The broad range of impact that a certain technology can have is not lost on me either. There is clearly a lot of untapped potential in crowdsourcing, Internet of Things and other technologies shown.

I do feel a tad impatient as these technologies can be even more commonplace than is the case today, and part of every day life. The key questions around monetization, adoption, user experience and scale continue to be a part of business strategy, with the fundamental view of community as the bedrock of it all. As we at Ushahidi run various experiments and revamp products like Crowdmap, I am still deeply curious as to how everything pans out in the next 3-5 years for the industry.

Would love your take on the tech hype cycle, particularly when you consider crowd sourcing, the internet of things and big data. What stood out for you? How is it informing your outlook and plans?

Want to compare 2012 to 2011? Here is the breakdown of the tech hype cycle report from 2011

Jargon Watch: Idle Sourcing ala’ Streebump and Waze. Both companies that i find quite interesting, hinting at how much more utility we can get from our networked devices. More here from Trendwatching.

Africa Related: Ella Mbewe of The Asikana network in Lusaka Zambia is crowdsourcing all technology initiatives by Africa’s women. Join her and the BongoHive here.

Africa popping up in Trend Watch

Now this is positively surprising, though not to many Africa-watchers…
Africa is hot for business now, and its popping up in Time Mag’s trend watch. Great to see that ideas espoused at TEDGlobal Arusha 2007 are reaching the ‘center’ from the fringes.

It’s great to see Time magazine present some trends that are not obvious, well-worn, are already over. They take a chance in this list of ‘10 Ideas Changing The World Right Now.‘ The line up includes not your usual suspects. With any list like this, there is no telling which are likely, but they are at least plausible. Two extra points for a positive African scenario. The ten trends are featured in the pic below; details at the link.

Picture 38

(Via KK Lifestream.)

In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but wonder…what of the global economic crisis? Wouldn’t that put a dent in this positive outlook? Oz has a great run down of how the global crisis affects Africa.

Blurb:

1. A slump in external demand affects exports and remittances.
2. A slump in external demand lowers commodity prices. Oil producing nations such as Nigeria are particularly vulnerable.
3. Lack of credit is stifling capital inflows and trade finance in the more advanced markets like Nigeria, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
4 The region is not immune to financial problems of its own. Credit has ballooned in many countries. Banks’ loan books are often concentrated in commodity-related industries.
5. Some retail investors borrowed heavily to punt on local stock markets.

You can also follow OZ on twitter.

TED 2009 – Reboot: Juan Enriquez

JEnriquez.png

Juan has a research and investment firm called Biotechonomy, which invests in new genomics firms.
From TED
“Juan Enriquez thinks and writes about the profound changes that genomics and other life sciences will cause in business, technology, politics and society”

Juan gives an update on lifesciences advances that have lead to tissue regrowth, molars, ears and even bladders to replace catheter bags.
He mentions advances in robotics such as Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog robot. (check you tube for a video of Big Dog’s amazing capabilities. It can carry loads, and self corrects if it is destablized e.g by kicking it – hard)

He touches on evolution and thinks we will advance into Homo Evolutis that takes all the trends in lifesciences, robotics and evolution into something quite…well futuristic.

Updated:
Here is a video of Big Dog

Some notes on the DEMO video (long)

Well, when I started blogging I never thought a video of me talking at a panel was part of the deal, its quite strange watching yourself and getting self conscious about the whole thing. OMG mom! I am on the equivalent of TV! Lame lines aside; Erik has the video, I cant get myself to embed the video on my blog yet. I feel like Mike, that i could have done more. Some of the things I mentioned might seem a bit esoteric, so i will add some links and mention a few things i think i should have included at the panel.

OLPC: This computer has been the subject of discussions with Erik, Steve, JKE, Maitha and others for awhile now, several years actually. Erik’s post in 2005, my post in 2006 and even more recently regarding the keyboard design. It seems like we have lived through the project since it was a concept to its current reality. My thoughts on it have fluctuated, from the posts I wrote in the past, I was really gung ho about the thing. I still am on some level, as I do appreciate that I wouldn’t be where I am, were it not for access to computers (and power actually) during my formative years. This is what i wanted to say…

I was listening to the digital planet podcast (11/26) where they had a correspondent attend the launch of the OLPC in Abuja, Nigeria. You could hear the excitement and enthusiasm in the children’s voices as they spoke of what they would do with the OLPC. It was a great moment. Now to the questions that started popping into my head like Orville Redenbachers microwave popcorn. When Gareth Mitchell was talking to Bill Thompson, they mentioned how they attended the OLPC launch in Tunis and how a child was crying because they’d been given an OLPC to play with for a time, then it was taken away. That was not a good moment, rather sad really, that kid is probably traumatized right now wherever he or she may be. I mean isn’t that just a little cruel? I know i would wail like a banshee if i was in her shoes. The discussion segued into what it would mean for the children to have a laptop that they would call their own. This got me wondering, that perhaps one of the unintended consequences of the OLPC project is that it would enhance the idea of ‘mine’ rather than ‘ours’. In modern Africa do the age old African values of community and sharing still apply? Would the OLPC idea chip away at the ‘utu’, that is a societal benchmark? Is the Ndiyo project a better thought out model for computer literacy, what with the idea of USB thin clients that I am already a fan of?

I should add that I think the Ndiyo model of networked computing could be well suited for school situations. This is because of two reasons.
1. Cost – The class sizes in Kenya increased owing to the free primary schooling offered by the government. Having a networked model enables more students to get basic computer literacy, as they can share the computer lab resources. This is particularly apt i think because the OLPC project was geared towards schools in the developing world.
2. This i already mentioned above…the idea of ‘my laptop’. The OLPC can be shared between students…but if you have a class of 30 children and 28 OLPC’s someone will undoubtedly get disappointed.On the other hand, as Steve mentioned in the post on OLPC Keyboard..i will reiterate his comment here, because i think its very important.

Some thoughts: you ask “Maybe I am looking at this all wrong, Is Negroponte pimping the â??education projectâ?? in pursuit ofâ?¦what?”. Well, maybe the answer is indeed in plain sight. Maybe he just wants to provide technology access to the masses like he keeps telling us he wants to.
And here is another thought for you: if the OLPC team did indeed go to Nigeria to look for inspiration for the design of the product, it is heartening that they are looking to the populations that will actually use these products for design and usability clues instead of sitting in Boston or LA or wherever and saying “hey, thats what the kids/world/users/consumers need”.
I have in the last month or so found myself increasingly frustrated with this attitude to design and product creation when I have to “fix” my computer for my 4 year old who wants to use it but cannot understand why in the world Windows keeps doing stuff and getting in his way.
Find out what your users need and want and give it to them. End of story.

Though i haven’t had a chance to play with the OLPC, I am sure its a fine product. From Steve’s comment i think the OLPC should just be marketed as a low cost computer for those interested to buy for their children/themselves, and not specifically geared towards governments purchasing them for schools. The Give one Get one campaign was nice…but how were the ‘given’ laptops distributed? What rationale? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but I think that at a price like $100 how about seeing some free-market action going on in Africa? That is a whole other AID Vs TRADE debate right there.

On the power to charge OLPC: There is a larger question of power in Africa, which i won’t get into right now (though i will in the coming weeks) For a glimpse of the opportunity, Idris Mohammed mentioned the great opportunity in power generation during last years’ TEDGlobal. More here, and whenever his talk is posted, it will be on the TED site here. Erik did mention that there is a cranking device that can be used to power the OLPC, and browsing the power supply tab on OLPC news shows some novel and innovative approaches to solving the power problem. From a cow dynamo to something i like…the OLPC solar mesh repeater.
olpc-repeater.jpg
OUTSOURCING:
The company i referred to in the video is called Verviant. It is based in Nairobi and helps small to medium sized businesses in the East Coast of US to maximize on limited IT budgets. In speaking with Onesmus Kamau of Verviant, he indicated that the company was able to deploy a video management system that will save their client $500,000. It is but one example of the opportunity in outsourcing web development, database management, and software development in general. This infoworld article (albeit a few months old) mentions the hot spots for this being Ghana, Egypt, South Africa and Rwanda. I would also recommend watching Carol Pineau’s movie ‘Africa Open for Business’ if you haven’t already. The blogger Nii Simmonds, who will be speaking at SXSW writes about business in Africa,including outsourcing. His blog ‘Nubian Cheetah’ is a good resource, as is Emeka Okafor’s Timbuktu Chronicles. The PSD blog is also another good resource…(links to other outsourcing references are quite welcome, do chime in on the comments)

Mobile Phone Tech: I think between Mike, and Erik we covered this o.k. A sim card/chip costs less than a dollar…and the phone with a flashlight that I was referring to in the video looks like this.
Picture 3.png
On cell phone reach, here is one example of celtel’s reach illustrated in a post from a Zambian economist. My little screed last year about the iphone hints at the fact that i totally love the fact that you can choose whichever carrier you like when in Kenya/most parts of Africa. Its just a matter of switching sim cards and not having to worry about whether your phone will work or not. Most if not all the handsets in Kenya are unlocked.

On the parting shot: Customization and allowing for grassroots creativity. I wanted to mention that this idea is illustrated best by Chris Nikolson,in an NYT article, and context was added by one of my favourite bloggers ‘African Uptimist. Please see this post. It has some great examples that show how the idea (a strategic one at that) is implemented in the field. I felt like my brain had some speedbumps and for some reason Chris Nikolson’s name completely disappeared from my head. I think his quote is so important, let me amplify it again here if I may…

The best results are achieved when you move with the natural flow of grassroots creativity. Often, this means abandoning or suppressing preconceived notions, and building on spontaneous and creative adaptations of the new technology by local people to meet their needs.

One more link…Guy Lundy’s ‘Future Fit’ – An African futurist to watch.

Of Interest to Diaspora

MONEY
Last week i happened to catch a great report on NPR about Latin American immigrants preferring to move to Spain instead of the US. Why? Because…

Experts say one of the main reasons is the emergence of an entire industry of financial services catering to immigrants.

Ecuadorians are the biggest group of Latin Americans in Spain. And in Madrid and Barcelona, there are shops where they can pay for appliances and have them delivered to an address in Ecuador. One company is test-marketing ATMs that allow users to pay for grocery purchases, medical treatment or cell phones in Ecuador.

Lucia Jimenez recently visited a branch of Mundocredit, an immigrant bank set up by one of Spain’s largest banks. It offers no-commission money transfers and the option of getting a mortgage in Spain for a home in Latin America.

Jimenez said that she is thinking about getting life insurance that she can eventually take back to her native country, Paraguay.

I found this very instructive to Diaspora because remittances to developing countries are constituting a growing percentage of GDP, as evidenced by figures from around the world. Specifically about kenya, from Next billion, some stats

Kenyans in the diaspora are contributing an equivalent of 3.8 per cent of national income through remittances.

In the year 2004, for instance, Kenyans living and working abroad remitted about Ksh35 billion ($464 million), which overshadows the net foreign direct investment (FDI) of Ksh3.6 billion ($50.4 million), which accounted for 0.41 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Point is, there is an opportunity to cater for immigrants in the financial services like the Spanish government is doing for the Ecuadorian immigrants. Its a powerful incentive to bank with a specific bank over another if a line of credit specifically for investment in one’s home country, and portable life insurance is available. There are myriad financial products for sending money but i am not aware of similar products for purchase of homes, cars etc in one’s home country. I have heard of people accessing the equity in their houses and using that to purchase homes in Kenya. I am not a finance wonk, but would appreciate input from those in the know.

COMMUNICATION
mama mikes
As noted by KP, Mama Mikes is running a campaign where you send airtime for $2.49 to Celtel, Safaricom and Telkom Wireless too. You can also pay for an electricity bill right on the website. It cost $9.99 – Decent price in my opinion.

CIVIC PARTICIPATION
If you aren’t checking mzalendo.com for information regarding your constituency, i am tempted to call you a bootleg Kenyan. I am just kidding of course, but seriously, there is lots of information there to stay informed even if you are miles away.

The Kenya Community Abroad issued a press release regarding the issue of Dual Citizenship and absentee voting, which you can read more about here. The world as we know (sorry to extend the much used cliche’) is increasingly flat. Dual citizenship and absentee voting IMO would be beneficial if not integral to Kenya. The inflow of remittance shouldn’t be the only welcome development, civic participation should be too. Mid last year I do recall Kalonzo Musyoka saying that if he were to become president of Kenya, that he would pass a presidential decree to allow for Dual citizenship. He even joked that if the Artur’s had Kenyan passports in addition to their Armenian ones, then really, isn’t it about time Kenyans got dual citizenship?

MUSIC, BOOKS AND ART.
There are still concerts happening around the US by African musicians, you can check if there is one near your city here. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is touring in September and Hugh Masekela’s remaining dates are:
Aug 31 2007 Tanglewood Festival, Lennox, Massachusetts
Sep 1 2007 Planet Arlington Festival, Arlington, Virginia
Sep 2 2007 African Festival of the Arts, Chicago, Illinois

Chris Abani, whose TED Talk is posted and highlighted by Hash, has several upcoming events in NY, Chicago, Vegas, DC, Minneapolis, Vermont, Miami etc. Check here if there is an event near you. I am hoping to read one of his books before i go for one of his events. His talk was very powerful. I recall just being transfixed by him when i listened to him in Arusha and again online. Particularly the part where he says that we as Africans need to explore what it really means to be African. I am simplifying a bit, but what i got from his talk is that we Africans also need to read our own literature in our exploration of who we are. I recall a post by David Seruyange about how some, if not most of us are mashups (David Seruyange has moved websites btw, so if you are a fan of his writing like I am, this is his new home), there is so much competing for our attention, but i think in order to be fully African (if there is such a thing) African arts, books and music help reconnect your being to that which is immutably you.

Move over Lion King! The Invincible Lions are the new game in town (scratch that…jungle).
Invincible Lions by Pictoon
Some great animations from Africa, click here for a post by Mweshi, highlighting some cool ones in the pipeline. I can’t wait to see these!

AIDS and the abstinence debate in Uganda – Video

We truly live in a small world. Its no wonder Frontline on PBS has a tag line of ‘stories from a small planet’. This short video [8:35] is one that explores how religion,
priest
sex,
Abstinence billboard
AID, and politics interplay between Uganda and the US.
The strategy of ABC – Abstinence, Be Faithful and Condoms had been successful in reducing the AIDs infection rate, but a reversal of that strategy by President Yoweri Museveni perhaps directly or indirectly due to the strings that came with the aid money to combat aids appears to be counter productive. 1/3 of the 15 billion dollars allocated in PEPFAR – President’s [GW Bush] Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief be used to promote abstinence only programs around the world. That is 5 billion bucks.
You can join the discussion on the frontline page for the video. Particularly welcome are thoughts from the Ugandan blogosphere.

Images courtesy of Frontline World.

On July 26 there will be a video about baseball in Ghana – so do keep frontline world bookmarked.
(Thanks Charlotte for the heads up).

Wireless in Laisamis – Remote Cell Phone Base Stations by WinAfrique

Cross posted on Afrigadget

Coolest picture of the month! (IMO)
Safaricom in Laisamis uses wind powered cell phone stations.

Photo courtesy of Bergey. Oct 26 2006 Dedication of the cell phone base station site in Laisamis, Kenya Africa.
The company WinAfrique designs and builds hybrid wind and diesel turbine systems for powering cell phone base stations, and it also offers solar solutions for off grid power generation. Kenya’s biggest wireless companies Safaricom and Celtel have contracted with WinAfrique.

In 2005 Safaricom contracted with Winafrique Technologies in Nairobi to design and supply pilot wind/diesel hybrid systems at three very remote base stations. The systems consisted of a Bergey 7.5 kW turbine on a 24 m (80 ft) SSV tower, sealed batteries, and an inverter. These sites were installed and monitored for one year. The results showed excellent reliability and diesel fuel savings of 70-95%. Based on these positive results, Safaricom has contracted for six more sites, and has many other wind/diesel sites in the planning stage.

Where is Laisamis? click here for a google earth placemark.

Be sure to check out Russell Southwood’s modest proposition – Africa: Power to the Base Stations. In it he presents the opportunity for an independent power producer to supply the energy needs of telecoms, energy hogging hotels and he did not mention this…but i am sure African telecentres of the future. Hat Tip Bankelele.

Bottom Up Vs Top Down, a lesson in Solar Implementation from Senegal.

In the post on Electranets, the idea of top down development, something synonymous with the Hippos (including the misguided hippo cheerleaders at Economist ;)) clashes with the idea of bottom -up development. For an example of just how these top-down initiatives can go awry, lets go to Senegal.

Thanks Emeka for the story.
This piece from IRIN news is instructive, especially since its a solar energy project. It describes an ambitious rural electrification project that was funded by the Japanese and Spanish governments in the form of grants and loans to the Senegalese government to set up Photo voltaic systems for a rural area far from the electricity grid.

Hut and Solar panel

The project had good intentions it appears, what with the powerful image of a hut with a solar panel on its roof. As reported on the article, the project is devolving into an unsustainable mess, with only 30% of the people paying the fees for the photovoltaic systems, and ongoing maintenance problems due to lack of money to change the batteries and keep the parts working properly. The article then goes on to describe other problems such as the high cost of fees for the PV systems. The contractors hired by the Senegalese government left in 2005 after their contract ended and the new contractor has 1 technician to service 10,000 home systems. 1. It becomes clear quite quickly that the development model that this project was based on was flawed. Not the technology behind it. I think that the project did not fully involve the community, these guys came in, ‘saved’ the village by installing the PV systems, but they did not think it through. Is the community involved in the maintenance? Nope.

The sad part is that the Senegalese government did not steer the project in a sustainable direction. There can be a partnership between governments that result in great projects (rural electrification using solar is still a superb idea), but the local government on the receiving end of the aid needs to tailor the aid to meet the needs of its people. Take the bottom up approach of training and equipping the community with the skills and this IMO is the most important part. It needs to be a market driven approach. Why would would anyone take ownership of maintaining a system if there wasn’t something in it for them? Rural development could use a few Gordon Gekko’s no? He’d probably shriek at stepping on cow dung and ruining his Johnston and murphy shoes…I am kidding! (filmmakers out there feel free to make a movie about him going to rural Africa to do his ‘greed is good’ speech. I know I would watch that, just invite me to the premiere) That aside, the idea of capitalism needs to be injected into a lot the development models if they are to be sustainable.

So how could this project have been done better? There are great models to follow. The first one that comes to the fore is the Barefoot College in India. Senegal and other countries in Africa can look at other developing countries such as India for models on how to use renewable energy in a viable manner.

The IRIN article points to the unnecessary perception that solar energy is not a viable solution for rural electrification, and that the ‘Donors are watching closely’

Individual and communal solar systems have brought electricity to over 170,000 people in Sine Saloum which lies south of Dakar near the border with The Gambia. The project is the largest of its kind in Senegal and experts say donors are watching it closely to gauge whether solar energy could be a practical means of electrifying other rural areas.

The point that the donors might be missing is, there is a red herring to watch out for. Simon Mwacharo pointed out at TED that solar and wind power systems got a bad rap in the past because the systems were not set up correctly. It appears from the situation in Senegal, that the follow-up plan to maintain the project was severely lacking. Confusing implementation and project model problems with the effectiveness of solar technology in providing power would be a mistake. A detailed article from refocus magazine, showing the obstacles and success conditions in developing countries is helpful in summarizing some of the issues in renewable energy. Projects such as the one in Senegal do require a different type of strategy.

So what practical things can we learn from all this?

From a consumer perspective, if you are out there looking for a solar powered solution for your energy needs, don’t skimp. i came across some good tips in Wired Mag January issue. Specifically

Choose the right system. Want a house that produces all of its own electricity? Opt for monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels. They’re the most efficient â?? and the most expensive. Amorphous photovoltaics are roughly half the price but only about half as efficient. If you can’t bear the appearance of those big black roof slabs, go with building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). Your normal-looking roof and windows become solar catchers.

From a larger country-type perspective, again,

  • Don’t skimp on setting up a good quality system.
  • Include a bottom-up strategy of involving entrepreneurs and invest in training for the people who will manage the systems.

In the Refocus magazine June Issue, there is a great interview by David Hopwood. In it he interviews Christoph Paradeis and Andrea Ocker of Solar Fabrik, they were discussing the future of solar as a viable market driven technology. In this bit they were talking about SA and its embracing of wind power. Specifically relating to this post (and the dont skimp bit)…

reFOCUS: South Africa appears to be on the verge of embracing windpower at least…

CP: They also started with solar in 2001, just after I joined the organization, but this project failed. They installed solar systems of course but the quality of them was so poor that many failed after two to three years. One of the requirements was that the systems be really cheap, but this caused problems with reliability. Yes, some of those regions are poor, but they should invest in good systems so that they don’t have to change them after several years; this is a false economy.

AO: And besides, people don’t trust the technology any longer if they first experience poor quality.

This post is getting too long so i shall stop here. Thank you for reading this far. How about we go listen to some Ghanaian highlife music over at Museke, or listen to Vusi Mahlasela, Habib Koite and Dobet Gnahore on Afropop?

TED Global 2007 – Tales of Invention

Bola Olabisi:

Founder of GWIIN – Global Women Inventors and Innovators Network: An organization that spotlights and supports women inventors.

In 1998, Bola decided to go for a free international inventors fair since she was expecting her 4th child and was not working at the time. Where she noticed that there was diversity in terms of the attendees and people at the booths; in talking to the people there, she found that though the inventors were male, the women were either wives, sisters or partners. Seeing this chasm, she set out to find the one woman inventor. She never found one on that day in the UK. She went to the organizers and asked if they could point one out. They had never had one as part of the inventors fair and told here that if she found one, she should contact them. She then did a program on BBC, seeking out women inventors. She got an overwhelming response to her appeal.

On Africa:-She did not begin here first, she started in Asia PAC,finding, supporting and recognizing the women inventors there. For Africa she started with visiting universities. Whenever she asked, people could barely name 3 women inventors. She discovered that there was a dearth of information on African women inventors in current textbooks. The African inventors who were featured were written about by Americans. She also found that it wasn’t just African women inventors, it was about women inventors as a whole not being acknowledged.

She faced lots of naysayers, wondering if she had this right when she wanted to have a conference for women innovators. In 2005 the first Pan African conference for women innovators was held – it was clear she was on to something because every seat was taken. Her work continues since, with a centre for innovation in Africa being opened in December. She noted something that we all know in Africa, women are very active participants in the marketplace, they are traders and sellers.She also gave examples of people honored by her organization: – Simi Bola who made a new wig that had braids, it is now on sale around the world. To see more of the women honored by her org, please click here.

Hers was a very inspiring talk because she exemplifies action. She saw something that wasn’t being done and just got on with making change happen.

Next, there was an excellent 3 minute presentation by Erik Hersman of Afrigadget the slides showcased some of the stories covered by afrigadget team, demonstrating how Africans solve problems every day by making tools and using local materials. The main idea he shared is that – Ingenuity born of necessity. The quotable from him is that **Where others see trash, africa recycles** He presented a soccer ball made of twine and paper bags to Emeka Okafor one of the organizers of TED Global. A wonderful gesture, because as most people may not know, Emeka is the pre-eminent online chronicler of African innovation and business. His blog is Timbuktu Chronicles.

The Next speaker was Dr. Moses Makayoto – Chemical Engineer from Kenya: Africa has stopped talking, its now about action.
Innovations he has been working on :

Bacillus thuringiensis -filth flies control using bio pesticides made out of 100% local materials such as cowdung, molasses and other ingredients.
Artemisinin – Drug for malaria, there is a $10 million plant in Nairobi processing artemisinin. It is possible that he is referring to the plant mentioned in TED global day 1.
“sungrupot”- Nutritive immune booster (for AIDS patients) -current research is still going on though it has been patented in Kenya. He pointed out that there are other diseases such as cholera and typhoid that are still killing people and solutions to these issues are still needed.
Quotable – There isn’t the notion of African science, science is science – Look at it in the context of science being needed to solve Africa’s problems.

Challenges: Lack of prototype development, lack of intellectual property policy. There is a question of what belongs to who – some herbs are part of tribal heritage. Not much R&D is done locally. There is also a lack of marketing skills for new products. There is also a myth that innovations are too complex and thus cannot be tackled.

The choices for kenyan scientists are often to publish or perish, patent or perish , produce or perish. In the African context the last option of producing or perishing is even more pronounce because the diseases mentioned above do cost lives every day.

The way forward

  • R&D must go on but include prototype dev and reverse engineering to see if the product can be made locally.
  • Patent filing for existing science
  • Incubation systems for innovative ideas Market driven tech should be emphasized in order to realise the real market ROI that is more empowering than AID.
  • Africa must industrialize in whole not in part.

Q:Any clinical trials [for Arteminisin based drugs]?

A: Yes the work will be published soon.

Short Break: Video of making of CAN TV – Keita Moussa of Zirasun. Check out mali.geekcorps.org

Joe FOSS for dev of software for use in hospitals and as a mode of secure communication between patient and doctor. Dr. Seyi Olesola: Healthcare in Africa: Beyond malaria and Aids. He left from the diaspora and moved to the Nigeria to work there. For many common ailments like trauma, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, people go to hospitals or dispensaries that are are ill equipped. A simple thing like an x ray can be a challenge. He showed pictures of an earthen floor and old equipment like a very old anesthisiology machine. It really does look like a relic.Dr. Oyesola pointed out that the machines are still in use currently. Its a real challenge to do open heart surgery in Nigeria. From the pics, it doesnt seem like this is possible at all because of old equipment. He showed slides of an open heart surgery where they had to ship in everything, and he had to be inventive to prop up a patient by sliding a plastic chair under the matress, buttressing the top part of the mattress to create a makeshift reclined hospital bed. The invention: Hospital in a box. Its is a wheeled piece of equipment that looks like a steel cupboard with sliding cabinets. It has a defibrillator a light and can be charged using a truck battery or a solar panel. He didnt spend too much time on the invention itself, but pointed out that there is more to be done in Healthcare in Africa.

William Kamkwamba, previously featured on afrigadget – Home made wind mill. Download his powerpoint presentation here.
Mohammed Bah Abba – Sahel region south of sahara: Preserving fruit using evaporation of water from sand that creates a cooling effect.