Harambee

Kenya has been drawing my attention for the last couple of months. The country is a breeding ground for social entrepreneurs both indigenous and from outside. All this is part of a plan to create a middle class economy by the year 2030.

I believe the country is in good shape to achieve this goal. My personal experience with these leaders has been in a field of passion – clean energy. Very soon it will extend to include primary education. There are other passionate folks who are tackling challenges in health, agriculture, water, and tech.

Some facts to chew on in the Kenyan context:

The country is pushing renewable energy adoption not for PR but for the tangible benefits the tech offers and also because of on-the-ground realities of the grid. There are more folks off-grid and this means distributed systems have an advantage. 3rd party firms like KMR Infra are unlocking this opportunity as I type this piece. The government is also working in lock step by providing incentives like the FiT (Feed-in-Tariff). Solar and biomass have been vetted for maximum impact.

Open data is helping and empowering citizens to ensure transparency in services administered by the government. Small groups of students who are tech savvy are creating tools to aid this process. For example, M-Maji and MajiVoice (Maji means Water) are two services which help citizens track the nearest water dispensing location as well as lodge complaints if the services provided are sub-par.

The other piece of tech that is driving this change is the mobile phone. Safaricom via its M-Pesa service has basically created a branch-less bank for Kenyans. Users conduct instant peer-to-peer money transfers, using phone numbers as identifiers. Cash enters and leaves the system through M-Pesa agents or traditional ATMs. More than 70% of Kenyan adults use the service. And to think this is before the smartphone has even entered the country!

Women in Kenya are creating their own geek culture, so to speak. A ladies only IT club calls itself Akirachix, inspired from Akira a Japanese movie which means energy and intelligence. Of which these women have plenty. Kenya has laid hundreds of miles of fiber optic cable. Google and IBM set up shop here. The city even has plans for a $7 billion technology hub just outside the capital, Nairobi. With the infra in place all you need is for these clubs like Akirachix to bring in more and more girls; importantly, catch them young. One such inspired club member started a service M-Farm to help farmers with market info and weather updates.

The Kenyan motto is called Harambee which means “Let’s all pull together”, and by my observation, they sure are. This is the germination of a brilliant ecosystem that tackles very fundamental challenges in an economy namely, energy, health, finance, agriculture/water, and education. The common denominator being tech, both hard and soft. So Harambee!

 

 

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