It is not about Technology, it is about People

I am still thinking about Riyaad Minty’s reminder about people. One that I would like to share with you here with his permission

All this talk on the role of social media in times of crisis really gets to

me. We’re not living in 2008 anymore folks. Yes, governments and people use twitter and facebook [and others. Thanks for pointing it out… again. Every news story is about PEOPLE. Real people. Who are impacted by something that most of us can never really understand. We sit and go through a ton of unedited footage of the
direct impact a bomb blast has on community, on a family. It’s shocking. It’s horrific. It’s real. Stop talking about the technology. Talk about the people and the issues – this applies to every story, from war to protests to natural disasters. And I say this as someone who runs the Social Media for one of the largest news organisations in the world.

It is particularly apt for technologists and a very important thing to remember when we talk about the systems that we make. It is just as important to focus on the people behind the stories, the report behind the red dot. A reminder to empathize, and whenever possible to assist in the alleviation of suffering. As humans we seriously need to be reminded what it means to have your life suddenly turned upside down. Whatever form that might be. Be it from poverty, war or natural disaster. We’ve seen so many affected, from Haiti, Cuba, North Eastern America, to Palestine and Israel and in my current location – Kenya. We need to zoom in, care and assist someone. Start somewhere…and as Jen Pahlka of CodeforAmerica recently told me. Lets work on the hard stuff.

Ubuntu

I am getting increasingly interested in Complex systems science, not just to understand our complex world, but also to learn what can be done in terms of collaborative problem solving. The pre-eminent organization NECSI that studies this makes a point that I think bears repeating, and points as to why we should exceedingly care about individuals when systems start breaking.

“Losing pieces indiscriminately from a highly complex system is very dangerous,” said Dr. Bar-Yam. “One of the most profound results of complex systems research is that when systems are highly complex, individuals matter.” According to Bar-Yam, understanding the weaknesses of civilization is critical to our ongoing existence. “Complexity leads to higher vulnerability in some ways,” he said. “This is not widely understood.”

Other resources:
Book: Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron Cohen
Map: War on Gaza by AlJazeera
Follow Red Cross Kenya in covering the grenade attacks in Kenya, Javin Ochieng too

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.

On Africa, Growth and Transformation

Below are some thoughts I wanted to share today at the closing plenary of the World Economic Forum on Africa. Many thanks to Mike Macharia, Bill Hoffman, Lorna Irungu-Macharia and Paul Cohen for their thoughts. [More edits later when I get time!]

With population growth of < 30 who could be disaffected, unemployed uneducated or we could be investing in this generation to make them innovative entrepreneurs who are participants in shaping a better future. Africa is at an inflection point of engaging and training the future. From Large corp, Civil Society, innovation hubs like iHub. We should engage on transforming Africa, or we give up a century.

McKinsey estimates Africa’s gross domestic product at about US $2.6 trillion, with US $1.4 in consumer spending. Africa’s population growth and urbanization rates are among the highest in the world and these are the statistics generating demand for innovative new ways to handle the problems they raise

Be careful not to confuse growth with transformation. Growth statistics can provide confidence to invest and a willingness to change. Change cannot be orchestrated, sometimes it happens often from the bottom up. Tolerance for this change and actually support for these changes. One of those positive changes is the growth of innovation and business hubs like the iHub in Nairobi, Bongohive in Tanzania and IceAddis here in Ethiopia. e.g Tax Breaks and incentives for innovation hubs Africa wide. Connect, Invest and scale the work happening here.

A connected world has different velocities, power structures, different risks but transformative opportunities. We are in a hyper connected century of not just consumers, but producers, diverse micro economies and We cannot be afraid of complexity, diversity and gender equity. Empowerment of women and education. Although only 1 in 5 women is a legislator it is higher than the global rate.

Solutions need to be Demand based From my perspective: We can learn from Technology adoption worldwide can provide near term benefits in areas in Agriculture, a woman with a mobile phone and access to an Ushahidi system to get information about appropriate plant disease in Argentina. Adoption of these kinds of systems in Africa can help. The best uses of open source technology is often not under our control. We can provide a great skeleton on which various stakeholders can flesh out appropriate, local solutions. In addition there are homegrown startups like Mfarm and iCow in Kenya. These are young tech women creating solutions for the agricultural sector. We need to support and scale what they are doing to other parts of Africa.

Illusion of a nexus between education, entrepreneurship and innovation. There are real gaps that need to be filled. Focus needs to be on bridging these gaps in a real way and not just in talk. Digital and financial literacy need to be embedded into education systems. Nevertheless, In a nation of 34 million, over 28 million Kenyans own a mobile phone, representing 71.3% of the total population. There is an opportunity to do more to impact more people with the technology they have in their pockets.

Unbelievable paucity of intra-african trade, cost of a 40% of US trade is within NAFTA, 60% of European trade is within Europe, 12% of African Trade is within Africa. The cost of a phone call from Kenya to the US is 10kes, India and China 18kes, and within Africa, 30. Clearly there is more to do here from infrastructure perspective to even internet access where only 13% of Africans have internet access.

Culture: Reimagining “This is Africa” When faced with Process and resource efficiencies, we need to be impatient and demand better. It is not enough to have 600 million mobile subscribers we have answer the question of access to what. Do people have access to healthcare, education, finance and agriculture information and services via those mobile phones or do we have another digital divide emerging. What needs to happen is to figure out the economics for provision of services everywhere even in rural areas. In 10 years Europer could look to Africa on how to crack this.

Linking the digital and physical world in a coordinated way can provide efficiencies. The Transportation sector could benefit greatly transnational communications.
The African opportunity is not just theoretical, given the right opportunity; people can make incredible contributions; as we have seen with several African business leaders from Africa and this year’s Social Entrepenuers. Talent is universal opportunity is not. In order to transform Africa, we need to create opportunities. I was greatly encouraged to see Bethhelem’s sole rebels workshop. She is creating opportunities and is already transforming Ethiopia with a global business. Mxit is an instant messaging and social network platform that processes over 500 million transactions every single day. Fantastic contributions.

The transparency we see with the open data movement, presents opportunity in creating a new asset class. When governments provide data that is accessible, relevant and useful. Many government agencies have fantastic information on historical weather patterns, water levels in rivers and even consumer protection information. Providing that data in an accessible and meaningful way could lead to a new data economy where entrepreneurs leverage that data to reduce inefficiencies.

Hyper local innovation that can make a difference on a village level. It matters and we need open platforms to support these kinds of innovations.

Innovative ideas? Draw on the open source culture that helped grow Ushahidi. global entrepreneurship index is at 2.49: Kenya is at 2.63, second only to Nigeria at 2.7 in Africa among others like the US at 2.8. This number clearly depicts the great potential for Kenya to become a globally- recognized ICT center and more so, an environment for nurturing entrepreneurs talent to a higher level.

Making the case for open source technology as an investment not only by ministries, to invest in the youth in a truly concerted way to build future businesses. What if the national innovation ecosystem is not driven by local needs and culture, its great to partner with multinationals in clusters, but that needs to happen in partnership with local firms. To enable knowledge and skill transfer. That is key in various industries.

One Maker Space Per Village?

I feel very fortunate to have met Dipesh Pabari. Years ago, before Ushahidi, we crossed paths when we were both interested in environmental issues and conservation. When I met him again this year, I found that we are still tree huggers just with more responsibilities, smartphones and more hectic lives.

Dipesh near the gray water treatment area

Dipesh is an inspiring man with a mission to help a village develop. When I visited his family in the South Coast of Kenya, I had no idea just how much he had continued to champion re-use and recycling. In Kenya we used to have a very efficient deposit system for soda, where you had to either have the bottle/case of empty bottles to purchase soda and beer. It worked very well. Current situation? A mess. So many plastic bottles litter the city, and you’d be hard pressed to find recycling bins anywhere. There are bins for trash, but as far as I know there are no formal recycling services. Informal systems of collecting plastics for reuse do exist, but not at a scale that takes care of the current problem. Kenya’s cities have a trash handling problem to say the least.

Seeing these problems in Kenya, Dipesh decided to do something. Through his work with Camps International, he has continued to champion reuse and recycling.
Taking discarded flip flops (what Kenyan’s call Pati Pati in Swahili) and turning them into beautiful, functional pieces like key rings, pencil holders, bangles, desk art and more.
He has found ways to use discarded plastic bottles as building materials for everything from water tanks, sky lights and many more.
What was most inspiring is that he is using plastic bottles to build out a polytechnic in Muhaka, a small village of about 3000 inhabitants. It is quite remote, beautiful but very very poor with few options for creation of wealth.

This is what he has been able to do so far.

Water Tank

Water tank made with plastic bottles, cement and other materials.

Vertical gardening with used tyres

Vertical gardening with used tyres

Muhaka Polytechnic

Plastic bottles as decorative building material at Muhaka Polytechnic

Untitled

This is a skylight. Made out of what?

Reuse. Reclaiming. Ingenious. Impactful

Find out…

Glass bottle Re-use

Decorative wall that lets in light, made out of glass bottles

Untitled

Fun items made from recycled flip flops

Muhaka is an outpost of creativity, dare I say innovation and a possible node in the global network of people interested in learning, making and solving problems. Many of you who read this blog likely work in one such place, be it 1871 in Chicago, The Media Lab in Boston or even iHub in Nairobi. I am curious about the idea of making, with highly contextualized problem sets. Like those to be found in this small village, in urban spaces like Detroit, struggling towns in the midwest and Appalachia. I could not help but think, what if we networked these initiatives and learned from each other? perhaps at first virtually, but then mix fun safaris with actual world changing work and learning? Makers meeting makers, sharing, learning, inspiring… Transnationally, is it possible?
Inspiration