Using technology to engage in international development is difficult in a region of the world where the Internet has not reached every sector of the population. However, Kenya is leading the way in transforming information technology usage in Africa. Creative talent, curiosity, and innovative entrepreneurial spirit have helped shape the Kenyan technology community.
Kenya’s information technology project provides a platform for the African community to establish technological connectivity by harnessing the power of community organizing and IT (information technology). Two well-known technology aid organizations, iHub and Ushahidi, are at the forefront of technology-led community engagement in Kenya.
One of the first African information technology systems began with the launching of Ushahidi (Swahili word for “testimony”) in 2008. Based in Kenya, Ushahidi is essentially a software development team organized by volunteers, journalists, software designers, and development community supporters who are dedicated to increasing information transparency with the help of innovative software applications. One of the first data systems created by Ushahidi to keep Kenyan informed was an interactive map that pinpoints locations where violent uprisings occurred.
Later, Ushahidi created three different platforms–-Ushahidi Platform, SwiftRiver Platform, and the Crowdmap—to managed multiple programs that can analyze, create, and consolidate social media, news, interactive digital maps, open date streams, digital graphs, timelines, and statistical information. International development community access the information gathered and analyzed by the software to track human rights issues in Kenya and neighboring regions. Aside from engineering software programs to assist in development, Ushahidi also believes in community building through helping to fund and mentor similar technology-aid projects such as iHub.
With the help of Ushahidi and private sector technology companies, the tech-savvy of Nairobi have a new home: iHub. Started as a coffee house in 2008, iHub features a discussion space where people can log-on to the Internet and exchange ideas with fellow community members.
The launching of iHub began as a grassroots project to build and maintain networks amongst the Kenyan IT community’s “young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers.” Conceptually, iHub’s five key principles–innovation, community, entrepreneurship, business mentoring, and research—create a virtual and physical space for skilled technology users and the private sector to exchange ideas about technological development. By 2010, iHub built an open physical space for everyone in the technology community of Nairobi—connecting private funders and IT developers.
Additionally, Ushahidi and iHub understand the importance of corporate partners. Both organizations have actively recruited private sector companies such as Nokia, Pesapal, Microsoft, Google, Wananchi, InMobi, and Zuku to guide them in their efforts to inform the public about IT through speaker series and events. In return, these corporate IT giants are also reaping the benefits of expanding their influence in the developing world. Increasingly, information technology firms are realizing that the technology development projects in the developing world present an important opportunity to grant their software the much-needed trial-run: testing how popular and efficient their new programs are. In return, individuals in the developing world are benefiting in remarkable ways from innovative and community-targeted software in the market. The relationship between information technology firms and the developing world becomes mutually beneficial.
With the help of Ushahidi, iHub, and similar organizations, the developing world is increasingly harnessing the power of the Internet. These organizations have become middlemen creating stepping stones to development and transparency for local communities by teaching these community how to utilize local, regional, and global information, thus making them more competitive and better-informed.