Posts filed under ‘Kenya’
There is no shortage of articles documenting Africa’s position on the cusp of global development, with Kenya as a particular harbinger of those expectations. The Economist has reneged on writing off Africa as a “Hopeless Continent” several times since it featured the headline a decade ago. In 2011 it published “Africa Rising,” in which it identified 6 of the fastest growing countries in the world as African, with GDP growth surpassing East Asia. Last August, it dubbed Kenya Africa’s “Silicon Savannah,” bringing an onslaught of attention to the burgeoning technology scene here. Its March 2nd issue includes the article “Aspiring Africa,” that describes the continent as the fastest growing in the world.
The fan fare around African growth is not limited to sporadic shout outs from The Economist. Recently, Johnathon Kalan of the Huffington Post published an article that describes the fusion of “Potential, Poverty, Politics and Parties” that draws American college graduates to social enterprise start-ups in Nairobi. More important, however, is the current generation of young, educated Kenyans who are tired of the status quo. They feel entitled to jobs and livelihoods that are fulfilling and afford them some degree of social mobility. They are joined by Kenyans abroad, some of whom have been away for a decade at least, pursuing degrees and jobs, who are now choosing to return to Kenya for opportunities that did not exist when they emigrated. Together, these young professionals understand the role Kenya can play in spearheading growth for the entire continent. They are prepared to role back their sleeves and play a role.
As much chatter as there is surrounding Kenya’s burgeoning technology scene, most articles stop short of explaining why it’s happening in Kenya and why it’s happening now. This week, I’m digging a little deeper into the context behind the phenomenon.
Until rapid urbanization began after independence, Kenya’s population was predominantly rural. In 1963, only 8% of the population lived in ‘towns’ or cities. Nairobi’s population was 267,000 and Mombasa’s was 180,000. Of those ‘townspeople,’ most were Arab, Indians and Europeans; not Africans, who typically worked in town for short or long periods, then returned to their rural homesteads where their families remained. Today, Nairobi’s population has grown to approximately 3 million people.
Although people are flocking to cities, their ties to the countryside are still strong. Often, one or a few family members migrate to cities and the rest of the family stays behind. A taxi driver I’ve used frequently is from the Naivasha area in Rift Valley. His wife and children remain in the country side, where he farms fruits and vegetables to sell at Nairobi bound markets. During the week, he leaves his family behind and comes to Nairobi to drive a taxi. This is a common arrangement in Kenya; city work during the week and village life on the weekends.
The movement from rural to urban by one or a few family members created the need for domestic remittance transfers. Family members are making money in the cities and need a way to send it back home. In other countries, like Mexico, where many family members work abroad, the opposite is true, the demand for external remittance flows are greater. Hence, Kenya’s unique rural-urban dichotomy set the stage for the internal funds transfer explosion that we’re amidst now. Once cheap mobile phones flooded the market, Safaricom filled the need with its SMS based money transfer platform, M-PESA, making Kenya the global leader in mobile banking technology. All of the subsequent innovations here have been inspired and made possible by the widespread use of cell phones and M-PESA.
Government and Infrastructure
The government is promoting the use of mobile money and technology development in Kenya. Bitenge Ndemo, who became minister of Information and Communication in 2005, is credited for spearheading the initiative. He bypassed ceaseless discussions between 23 African countries about launching a joint fiber optic cable, by linking right into a cable from the United Arab Emirates instead. It’s been his priority to lay down additional cables ever since. “When the cable was switched on in 2009, Ndemo made sure universities got unlimited internet capacity.” said Robin Dixon of the Los Angeles Times.
Bitenge Ndemo’s push for Kenya to become a regional technology hub does not end there. Most recently, he’s spearheaded the Konza Technology
City project, which broke ground on January 23rd. Fifteen kilometers outside of Nairobi, the $10 billion investment will be a public-private venture that includes a business district, science and technology parks, a university, conference facilities and residential areas. The government of Kenya anticipates that the project could yield 200,000 jobs in 20 years, along with sizeable investments in other sectors like health, education, manufacturing, financial services etc. Executives behind the project have already received 250 applications from local and international firms who would like to invest in Konza. Some of the multinational corporations seeking a piece of the pie include Samsung, Google and China’s Huawei Technologies.
Critics of the project have serious reservations about the government’s ability to bring such a large-scale project into fruition, when it has not yet managed to gain hold of municipal issues in the capital like traffic, electricity, water and drainage that fester under expansion. Nonetheless, the proposition and ground breaking of Konza represents a clear vision that policy makers and business executives have for Kenya as an ICT hub in the region.
Research Labs and Business Incubation
M: Lab East Africa at the University of Nairobi: Key to Kenya’s growing role in IT and mobile application development are its research labs and business incubation centers, where techies and entrepreneurs gather to collaborate, network and implement projects. In 2011, the University of Nairobi established M:Lab East Africa with the help of iHub, a local technology center. First funded by the World Bank InfoDev grant, the lab was founded to facilitate the innovation of low-cost, high value mobile applications.
iLab Africa at Strathmore University: Just on the other side of town, Strathmore University, Kenya’s premier private institution for business education, has its own research and incubation center called iLab Africa. At iLab, faculty and students have teamed up to develop mobile applications that overcome development challenges in health and education. ILab boasts a few high profile partnerships. For example, Strathmore and Safaricom offer a masters degree in mobile application development. Samsung has established an innovation lab there and Google funds IT education for girls in rural schools, in addition to sponsoring mobile application boot camps at Strathmore and elsewhere in the region.
With support from the Clinton Foundation and Ministry of Health, iLab has generated an application that tracks pre and post natal care of mothers and their babies in rural areas. They’ve also created one that sends the HIV status of newborns to doctors and clinics for treatment. On the education front, they’re mobile application development is centered around digital rights management and the provision of learning materials.
Climate Innovation Center (CIC) at Strathmore University: In addition to ilab Africa, Stathmore University hosts Kenya’s Climate Innovation Center, a climate technology innovation hub, established with the World Bank’s infoDev program. The center is poised to accelerate growth and innovation in renewable energy, agriculture and clean water by providing entrepreneurs with the funding, mentorship and facilities needed to innovate.
iHub: iHub is a physical nexus for the tech community in Nairobi. Established in 2010, it is an open facility for young entrepreneurs, programmers, designers and researchers. Free membership is offered to anyone with a demonstrated involvement in technology. Ihub provides access to facilities, networks for funding and opportunities to collaborate. You can become a member of its online community remotely, have physical access to the work space or pay a monthly fee for a semi-permanent desk.
Ihub’s very own research team is engaged in projects like their collaboration with Refugees United, an organization that helps refugees track missing family members. The team has upgraded the organization’s paper based sign up form to a WAP enabled sign up on mobile phones. They’ve generated easy to consume info-graphics about trends in East Africa and launched Spider M-Governance in 2011 to identify gaps in water governance transparency in Kenya.
By Kiva Fellows | KF19 | All Over the World
With January 2013 coming to an end, KF19 fellows are either continuing on with KF20 or returning home to various responsibilities and careers. Regardless of the next adventure or destination, one thing is common among all: KF19 fellows have been permanently changed by their placements.
What began as a joint blog post about any person, place, or event during the course of the fellowship that affected our lives, of itself turned into simply the one person who left the most impact. Afterall, Kiva’s mission is to alleviate poverty through connecting people. The fellows of KF19 have witnessed this connection over the course of the last three to four months, and nothing could have prepared us for meeting the people who would touch our lives in various ways.
KF19 presents to you Kiva One, a small collection of stories about human connections, hope, and inspiration.
Why should you fund a Kick Trading loan?
Kick trading, Kisumu Innovation Centre Kenya, was one of our favourite groups because the borrowers were enthusiastic and their workspace was bright. We entered to see some artisans painting, others selling items in the colourful stalls, as we ducked under hundreds of mini wire bicycles and Santa Clauses in the outdoor workspace.
Kick trading provides training opportunities to young artisans and allows them to earn a fair wage. They are encouraged to be creative by hand making products using hyacinth and papyrus from Lake Victoria.
Log on to Kiva Zip today https://zip.kiva.org/
As you might have heard many times before, meeting with the borrowers is the most rewarding part of the fellowship. It’s always such a great feeling to meet the Kiva borrowers in person and see that the loans are actually making a big difference in their lives. When you work with Kiva Zip you also get the opportunity to meet our trustees, which are fantastic organizations and individuals that all have in common that they want to help low-income entrepreneurs to create a better life for themselves and their families.
During last week’s field visit, me and my colleagues Shy and Alyza visited the trustee CTC International. CTC is based in Maai Mahiu in the Rift Valley, Kenya. Maai Mahiu is a small town located on a major trade route that runs through several countries in Africa, commonly known as the HIV Highway. According to CTC around 1.6-1.9 million people live with HIV in Kenya, and the spread of the disease is particularly high in this area of the country. Prostitution is very common and with thousands of truck drivers stopping by in the small “hotels” that are lining the streets of Maai Mahiu, the spread of HIV has run rampant.
CTC International is an amazing organization that works with a variety of projects to fight poverty. One of the projects is called GAPA (Grandparents Against Poverty and HIV / AIDS), where all members have in common that their child has died of HIV / AIDS. These grandparents are all raising their grandchildren, with little or basically non-existent financial resources. CTC is supporting these grandparents through income-generating activities, training and support groups.
CTC also helps the grandparents to get access to microloans, and the reason for our visit was to train one group of borrowers on the Kiva Zip model. All borrowers are working with different income generating projects, ranging from soap making to poultry keeping.
It was so rewarding meeting these women. Even though they all have suffered terrible losses of their children, they didn’t give up on their grandchildren, and they do everything they can to support them. And the best thing is that you can help them too, shortly we will post their loans on our Kiva Zip website and you can help fund their businesses. Click here to get to the Kiva Zip website.
Read more about GAPA here
On my second day in Nairobi, I had dinner with family friends, during which a 9-year old boy jokingly told me not to forget my umbrella when traveling to Kibera. I looked at him confused and he said ‘flying toilets’. My roommates and I assumed ‘the flying toilet’ would be as enthralling as the name sounds. Simply put, it is a plastic bag used as a toilet which is then thrown on to the road.
About 10 million Kenyans live in slums, and this number is growing at a rate of 7% per year. About 80% of these residents lack adequate sanitation facilities. On average, 150 people share one toilet and 70% of slum residents are not connected to sewers. 90% of defecation is placed in water sources contributing to the contamination of water and the food supply.
The average toilet in the Mukuru slums (photo credit Marielle Schweickart)
Sanergy is building a network of low cost sanitation centers in the Mukuru slums, distributing them through a franchise of local entrepreneurs called Fresh Life Operators. Fresh Life Operators are able to make a profit by charging a small fee for the use of toilets. The waste is then collected and processed into fertilizer and electricity.
Meet some of the Fresh Life Operators
This is where the magic happens: compost is turned in to organic fertilizer
What stands out about Sanergy is
- local materials are used to build the toilets
- toilets are clean and environmentally friendly (no septic tanks)
- they are affordable, 5 Kenya shillings per use (.05 cents)
- children are often 30% of customers and charged 1 shilling!
- the support provided by the Sanergy team- opening ceremonies of toilets where the home is painted the blue colors of fresh life or a theatre group performs a skit showing how to use the toilet
- jobs are created through Sanergy in Mukuru where the unemployment rate is higher than 40%
- diarrheal disease is lessened in children
- the risk of rape is lowered for women trying to reach distant toilets at night by increasing the volume of toilets
The Kiva partnership with Sanergy allows local entrepreneurs without enough capital to purchase a toilet and pay back in monthly installments.
Our interview with Mary and her youngest son John for a Kiva loan with Marielle Schweickart