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Testing BRCK’s Digital Education in Northern Kenya

Made in Kenya, the BRCK 2015 expedition to Samburu, Kenya

Northern Kenya has always felt like it’s a different country, most Kenyans don’t seem to get north of Isiolo and it really is a forgotten place. This was made clear two years ago when we were on our Turkana Eclipse expedition and a man told us, “when you get to Kenya, tell them…

This week finds us up in Northern Kenya again with our education solution from BRCK, called the Kio Kit (video). We figured that if we were going to get some real value out of seeing how people use it, let’s go to somewhere far away that has a great deal of challenges, but also never gets anything tested there. Our “Made in Kenya” expedition takes us up to Samburu and Marsabit counties.

I’m no Jon Shuler, but I put together some of the images and short videos from our trip thus far since we had some dead-time yesterday evening.

BRCK: Made in Kenya Expedition 2015 from BRCK on Vimeo.

You can find stories from our trip on the BRCK blog below:

Day 1 – Samburu women and digital education
Day 2 – Digital Literacy on Kenya’s Frontier
Day 3 – Some things are different, but mostly we’re the same
Day 4 – Designing at the edge of the grid

Find more on Twitter @BRCKnet or find some of our images on Instagram @BRCKnet, you can also find more on my feed @White_African

Some shots from the trip thus far:

Taking a break on the road

Using the Kio Kit in a Samburu classroom

Using the Kio Kit in a Samburu classroom

Janet helping some Samburu women use the Kio

Janet helping some Samburu women use the Kio

Philip fording a sand river in Marsabit county

IMG_5166

A busy week for tech entrepreneurs in Kenya

A photo posted by Ciril Jazbec (@ciriljazbec) on


National Geographic photographer Ciril Jazbec was in town capturing the tech entrepreneur feel of Nairobi and surrounds.

I’m about a week late on my post, but thought I’d round up some of the news from the crazy week that ended with the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi. With US President Barrack Obama in town, bringing some of the biggest names in tech and business with him, it was bound to be a circus.

We embraced the madness at the iHub and there were a great many events.

One of the highlights for the week was seeing our very own Judith Owigar, co-founder of Akirachix and long-time iHub member, up on stage seated between President's Uhuru and Obama on the main GES stage.

One of the highlights for the week was seeing our very own Judith Owigar, co-founder of Akirachix and long-time iHub member, up on stage seated between President’s Uhuru and Obama on the main GES stage.

Big things that happened:

Bloomberg came by and did a photo walkthrough of the iHub, featuring Ushahidi and BRCK as well.

There was a good piece in TIME magazine about Obama’s visit and BRCK’s work around education, titled, “Obama Sees Kenya as a Hotbed of Innovation — Not Terror

A timely piece on TechCrunch titled, “The Rise Of Silicon Savannah And Africa’s Tech Movement” came out.

VC funding in African Tech Startups chart

The Next Africa bookThe Next Africa book launched, written by Aubrey Hruby and Jake Bright, we had a session at the iHub to talk through it with some of the subjects, like Just A Band, Dr. Bitange Ndemo and IBM.

We did a Fireside Chat with Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of AirBnB, that was one of the best we’ve had.

A piece in Forbes, “Why Kenyan Tech Entrepreneurs Deserve All Obama’s Praise“.

IBM partnered with the iHub to launch the innovation @ iHub space, so we’ll be working a lot closer with them going forward and that means members of the iHub community will get a lot more access to IBM, its partners and its resources.

Jean and Steve Case at the iHub
Jean and Steve Case, AOL Founders and investors, came to the iHub and ran a social impact tech pitching competition. They brought with them other investors, including Jim Sorenson, and Nina Tellegen CEO of the DOEN Foundation. Here’s Jean’s writeup on the week.

Finally, the US Gov’t made a lot of commitments to African entrepreneurs.

While it was a big week, and it served to remind us how far we’ve come and a chance to celebrate it with the world, we still have a long way to go.

BRCK: Also designed in Kenya and made in the USA. We had a little fun at BRCK with the Obama activity... :)

BRCK: Also designed in Kenya and made in the USA. We had a little fun at BRCK with the Obama activity… 🙂

Kenya: Who Got Funded in 2014?

Which tech companies were funded in Kenya in 2014? I thought I’d compile a list of the ones I know of.

Send me any that I might have missed.

Early stage capital

Angani – Public cloud computing provider
BRCK – Rugged, wireless WiFi device
CardPlanet – Mobile money payment system aimed at business and NGOs
iProcure – Software for optimizing rural supply chains
OkHi – Physical addressing system for logistics solutions
Sendy – Motorcycle delivery service
Tumakaro – Diaspora driven education funding
Umati Capital – Factoring for farmer cooperatives, traders and processors
GoFinance – Working capital finance to distributors of FMCGs
BuyMore – Electronic student discount card
TotoHealth – SMS technology for children’s health
BitPesa – Bitcoin for African remittances
Sokonect – Mobile agriculture tool to eliminate brokers
BookNow – Buy bus tickets online in East Africa
Mdundo – African music on your phone
Futaa – Source for football news in Kenya
Movas – Global provider of B2B/B2C m-Commerce solutions
Hivisasa – A free, county-level online newspaper
Yum – Online ordering and food delivery service in Kenya
Akengo – Learning management system
EcoZoom – Hardware. Clean burning, portable wood and charcoal powered cookstoves
Jooist – A gaming network for mobile phones
Globa.li – A platform to connect hotels and distributors for bookings

Growth capital

MKopa – solar power financing using mobile money
BuyRentKenya – Real estate classifieds
Wave – US-to-Kenya remittance provider
Eneza Education – Mobile tutor and teacher’s assistant
Sanergy – hardware tech, building solutions for urban toilets and composting
Bridge International – Education in low-income environments, uses tech to send teaching content
Soko – Handmade jewelry and accessories shopping from East Africa
EatOut – Find and book seats in East African restaurants

Exited/Acquired

M-Ledger (by Safaricom) – Monitor your Mpesa transactions
Wezatele – Mobility solutions in commerce, supply chain, distribution and mobile payment integration

A special thanks to John Kieti, Rebecca Wanjiku, Nikolai Barnwell, and Ben Lyon for refreshing my memory!

A Kenyan Tech Ecosystem Report 2014

The Emergence, Challenges and Potential of the Kenyan Tech Ecosystem” is a Report by Julia Manske published by the Vodafone Institute. Follow the link above for an overview and a podcast on the topic.

[PDF Download of the “The Emergence, Challenges and Potential of the Kenyan Tech Ecosystem” Report.]

A tech ecosystem map of Nairobi

There are a lot of reports that touch on the tech developments in Kenya over the years, but few do as good of a job painting the background picture and how it has taken a few years to develop. Here’s a rather long excerpt, which gives a pretty good 10,000 foot view of the last 4-6 years in the Nairobi tech space:

With the success of M-Pesa Kenya advanced to the position of a global pioneer and international point of reference for mobile payment systems. For the first time Kenya was associated with technology-driven innovation. International media and large companies took notice of the African country. This had an effect on the Kenyans’ self-image. M-Pesa’s success became an identity-forming narrative; the idea that an innovation can come out of Kenya crystallised in the collective memory of the younger generation in particular.

Similar to the butterfly effect,16 M-Pesa became the trigger and driver of a new ecosystem of mobile technological innovations. It created a mood in which resources were pooled and key thinkers from the Kenyan tech and start-up scene got together. This development was accelerated by the foundation of the Ushahidi platform that was set up at the start of 2008 following the uprisings in the context of the Kenyan presidential elec- tions. As a reaction to the violence, an ad hoc team of developers and bloggers came together to collect witness statements via SMS and plot them on a Google map, thereby initiating what is termed “activist mapping”. The free open source service is now used by bloggers and activists across the world, for example for the earthquake at Christchurch or the Gaza war in 2008. The company that came out of this process enjoys high levels of familiarity in Kenya and its founders have become leading digital opinion makers.

One of the Ushahidi founders, the blogger Erik Hersman, was struck by the absence of places to exchange ideas in Kenya and so in 2010 he set up the iHub, one of the first co-working spaces for companies from the tech scene in Africa.

This was followed by a whole host of further technology spaces, incubators and accelerators. The Bishop Magua Centre, the fourth floor of which is occupied by the iHub, is also home to the spin-offs iHub Research, the iHub UX Lab, the start-ups Ushahidi, mFarm, Frontline SMS, mLab, the accelerator Nailab, Kopo Kopo, Preakelt and the Africa office of GSMA. The Who’s Who of the Kenyan tech scene is housed in a single building. Other actors such as the accelerators 88mph and The Growth Hub have set up shop in the immediate vicinity. Large multinational companies such as Google, Microsoft, GSMA, Nokia and IBM have opened branches and research centres. This development is facilitated by a liberal economic system with a dynamic and strong private sector that promotes efficiency, competition and overseas investments. Within seven years Nairobi has developed into an African centre of technological innovations – journalists dub it “Silicon Savannah”.

The success story of Kenya also radiated to other African countries. Technology experts, developers and designers started cooperating and by doing so gave rise to the technological ecosystem that they had been missing until that point. Especially Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Ethiopia and South Africa saw similar developments as in Kenya. Large development organisations, such as InfoDev which is associated with the World Bank, setup co-working spaces and accelerators. Microsoft, Google and individual investors financed the expansion of a range of start-up centres in the African metropolises. Spread across the continent there are now over 35 locations for tech innovations in 13 African countries – of which many are members of the AfriLabs [www.afrilabs.com] alliance. These generate new inventions and mobile and digital business ideas every year.

It’s a good report, worth a read and it covers a lot besides this, including a recipe for creating a tech ecosystem:

  1. Create access to funding capital
  2. Promote lasting structures
  3. Establish competences
  4. Set up stable real and virtual networks

Tech Talent and Expat Bubbles – Kenya Edition

(Note: cathartic, bloated essay forthcoming, read at your peril)

Say you are a Kenyan web designer living in Seattle, do you think anyone cares that you came from Kenya? No, they only care that you are a great web designer.

If you’re an American programmer working in Nairobi, does anyone care that you come from the US? Yes, for some reason that matters. You’re judged on where you come from as well as your skill set.

It’s not apples-to-apples, though it should be.

kenya-usa

This is at the heart of an issue that I’ve seen played out many times over the years in Kenya. My position in the community, my background in Kenya and the US, and the organizations I’ve built locally give me a unique perspective on what’s going on here culturally, that sometimes is hard for others to see.

Americans, Europeans, etc want to work in Kenya and be part of a growing melting pot of engineers, web designer and entrepreneurs trying to build out the next great tech economy. It’s a grand dream, and one that we should all support if we want Kenya to be on the global map.

Kenyans are madly building companies, growing a new breed of programmers, designers and entrepreneurs that are waking up to the reality of a global market. It embodies all of the energetic vibrancy that makes Kenya a regional economic powerhouse.

Both are needed. However, all things are not created equal, which leads to tension.

Kenyan tech has global competition, so act like it

I often talk about the Kenyan tech scene as highly active, yet nascent. There is a great deal happening in our space, but it’s not nearly as big as other larger and older tech communities found in the Bay Area, London, Berlin, Israel, Moscow, Bangalore or New York City. We’re growing, we’re half-way up the mountain, and there’s still some climbing to do.

There is likely the same percentage of top level engineers and designers in Nairobi as anywhere else, but the pool is still small. I’d guess the total pool of engineers is somewhere in the 3,000-5,000 range, and designers are only about 100-200. It’s not a deep pool to pick from, and there are many who linger around the edges claiming that they have skills, but who aren’t qualified to do more than create a “hello world” website.

In the startup world, Kenyan-led companies tend to be under-resourced and without the same networks that make it so much easier for expats to get started. While we’ve been building up more and more base resources locally for seed capital, and the business acumen of the founders is improving due to them being in town, it’s still not enough. And, while the $25k accelerator level is very much present in the community, there’s a huge gap in the $100-500k investment levels.

So, with local entrepreneurs, this leads to a protectionist mentality about how many mzungu’s are around and how they are sucking up resources. It’s not a good place to be. What we need to realize locally is that in the tech world there are very few borders, that we’re automatically in a global playing field. There needs to be lighter rules for immigration of expats (from anywhere) who are willing to bring investment and talent into the country, and keep it here.

If anything, Kenyan lawmakers should be finding ways to reduce the ludicrous tax rates on software companies, which would incentivize local ownership, encourage local investment so that the companies that do well have their profits stay in-country, and try to attract international talent and grow local talent. It’s a long-term game, and will pay off in the years ahead.

US/EU immigrants need to understand where they are

On the other side of the fence are the international expats who enter into Kenya. They are often well-meaning folks with a desire to build a company, or be part of a company in this vibrant country brimming with opportunity. This should be encouraged.

What I’ve observed over the years however, is something that shouldn’t be encouraged. These immigrants who come into Kenya tend to hang out with each other. This isn’t strange at all, Kenyans tend to do the same when they’re in the US. What’s not healthy is when you spend most of the time around people who look and sound like you, then when you want something from the rest of the greater community, act like it’s not there because it’s not directly in front of you.

There are some amazing programmers in Kenya, some ridiculously good web designers, some top-notch entrepreneurs. You will not find them by throwing a dart in a room and hoping to hit one.

Complain all you like about immigration policy, the need for more high-level talent being brought into the country, business taxes, etc – and I’ll be right with you. You complain about there not being any local high-level talent and I’ll call BS.

Instead, get out and get to know people. Get outside of your expat bubble and be a part of the community. This isn’t just meetups, this is who you go grab a drink with, who’s wedding and hospitalization you attend, who you watch rugby with and who you help (and are helped by) when in a bind. This is Kenya, where relationships matter, and where they are earned over time. Friendships here aren’t given lightly, and when they’re given, then they mean something.

To many in Kenya, the expats come and go, so why should they be invested in? Sure, make “friends”, and see what can come out of it, but the problem is that we all know the expat will be gone in 2 or 4 years. The deep investment we expect out of our relationships in Kenya isn’t found in that kind of transient immigrant mentality.

A personal final recap

Back to the talent issue. I’ve had the honor to work with some amazing Kenyan programmers, designers and engineers. How was I able to find them? It turns out that the relationships that I started building back in 2006 (8 years ago), then continued throughout the years, opened my world up to the people who really know what they’re doing. I courted some for 3+ years before they finally joined my team(s), others that I’d like to join my team still won’t budge from their old positions.

Right now I’m looking high and low for an electrical engineer for BRCK, senior-level EEs who have telcoms and/or consumer electronics backgrounds aren’t in deep supply in Kenya. However, I know they’re here, I just have to look harder and keep pushing out beyond my normal network.

They’re here. They’re not easy to find and they might already have a great job. Your lack of being able to find them doesn’t mean they’re not here. Your inability to attract them to your organization isn’t their problem, it’s yours.

Thinking about Blogging at WordCamp Kenya 2013

WordCamp Kenya 2013, Nanyuki

WordCamp Kenya 2013, Nanyuki

Today finds me in Nanyuki, Kenya at WordCamp Kenya 2013. The past couple years, I’ve been traveling during the event, but this year I get to come hang out with my blogging brothers and sisters.

As I was thinking about what to talk about, I thought I’d cover four areas:

  1. Why we blog
  2. My rules for blogging
  3. 3 things that are bothering me in the Kenyan blogosphere
  4. Using blogging as a tool

Why We Blog

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
– Lewis Carroll

The best bloggers are storytellers, they take you on a journey. They tell you why you should care about things, they’re opinionated and informative, and they understand what makes things interesting to their readers.

My rules for blogging

My rules for blogging

Commitment: to be a really good blogger, you have to commit to it for a long time. Success doesn’t happen over night, and if you take it seriously and really put your mind to it, you can leverage that for much greater things in the years ahead.

Quality: take the time to write well. Sometimes I’ll write a 4 paragraph blog post and it’ll take me more than 2 hours. That sounds ludicrous, but it’s because I’m trying to find the right phrase, link to the right places and put the right images in that make this worth someone’s time to read.

Consistency: this is where I’ve been falling down over the last year or so. If you consistently publish quality blog posts, you’ll gather a following and generate a community around what you do. I blogged consistently, 3-4 times per week for two years before I really got noticed. It’s important to remember that blogging is a long-game, and that if you stick with it, it will pay off.

3 things that are bothering me in the Kenyan blogosphere

1. The Kenyan elections
Back in March of this year we had the prolonged (5-day) Kenyan elections, where there was a lot of tension. Where I believe we traded “peace” for truth. I wasn’t surprised that the media didn’t do their job. I was surprised that there were so few bloggers who did theirs. I took a lot of heat for creating the IEBC Tech Kenya blog on Tumblr to track the facts around the IEBC technology failures, but I kept wondering where the other bloggers were.

Quote by @Gathara

One person who did blog was @Gathara, and boy did he blog well!

Our job as bloggers is to be independent voices, and we’re most powerful when mainstream media isn’t doing their job. When we do this blogging in a timely manner and get that information out there quickly and in a well-researched and circumspect way. We need to get back to our Kenyan blogging roots, which were just like this back 4-7 years ago.

2. Corporate sponsored bloggers
Making money off of blogging is fine, nothing wrong with that. I’m tired of cut and paste blogging though, where people take press releases from a corporate and get paid to just paste it with no changes. I want to know why what that company is doing is interesting, why I should care. I want to know what your opinion is.

Don’t sell out and lose your identity.

3. Kenya’s new media laws

Kenyan MPs have approved a contentious media bill that journalists say amounts to government censorship

I see articles on the East African, the Telegraph, the Nation, but only a couple blogs show up in Google search results.

Why? Already we have loose set of laws around media and information, it’s a slippery censorship slope that hurts all but the powerful in Kenya. This new law makes it even worse, it smacks of Moi-era censorship.

Where are the bloggers using this opportunity to push back? Don’t we realize that this law applies to us too?

Blogging as a tool

My final discussion points were about how even if you have very little, you can still use WordPress, Twitter and Instagram to build a brand. I talked briefly about where we’d come from with Ushahidi and the iHub, just using blogging and social media to get on the map. Now, we’re doing the same thing for BRCK.

The BRCK Eclipse Expedition

The BRCK Eclipse Expedition

I used the example and ran through the story of the BRCK expedition to Lake Turkana to catch the Solar Eclipse. I used my blog, as well as the BRCK blog to create the narrative, amplified by Instagram, Twitter and Vimeo.

Tools used to blog the BRCK Eclipse expedition

Tools used to blog the BRCK Eclipse expedition

When you’re building a new brand, what you write and the images you use, help people understand what the narrative and brand is about. For us, it was important to put a stake in the sand (literally too, I guess), about the BRCK being a rugged connectivity device. Nothing said that quite like the team behind it out and thrashing it themselves (and also thrashing themselves…).

The results of this were that by the time we got back a week later, there were many more people interested in buying a BRCK themselves, but also people who now wanted to partner with us and even invest.

Telling the story, creating the brand narrative

Telling the story, creating the brand narrative

Blogging is a long-term strategy. The Ushahidi blog has been a big part of our identity for almost 6 years. The team who built Ushahidi were all bloggers, so it makes sense that it’s part of our DNA. For the iHub the same. For BRCK the same. I don’t believe in press releases, I believe in blogging the story and if you’re doing interesting things and telling the story about them well, then the right parties will find you.

“When You Get to Kenya”

Because the falam is flooded, you can drive back through South Horr, then to Baragoi then to Maralal, alafu utafika Kenya (then you’ll be in Kenya)” Said a Samburu man to us in Northern Kenya.

There and Back from BRCK on Vimeo.

It seems that Northern Kenya likes me so much that it doesn’t want to let me go… This time, we only got back a day and a half later than expected. It took us 7 days, and we had an amazing adventure with a host of challenges thrown our way, overcome by teamwork, courage and tenacity, with the help of old and new friends met along the way.

I wrote about our adventure along the way on the BRCK Blog, you can find the posts here:

Day 1 – A change of vehicles was in order
Day 2 – Dust and Mud
Day 3 – Night Riders
Day 4 – Setting up for the solar eclipse
Day 4 – The Hybrid Solar Eclipse
Day 5 & 6 – Many roads and no progress
Day 7 – Home again!

Instagram pictures #BRCKeclipse
Flickr pictures
Crowdmap (pictures on a map)

It used to be called the NFD

20131107-164628.jpg

Back in colonial times, the the areas north of Isiolo were called the Northern Frontier District (NFD), a land that was part of Kenya but far enough removed to be considered the “wild west” of the country. It still is today. When you talk to people who live there, they talk about going to visit Kenya, which means that they come down country to the big population centers.

I was 17 years old when I first traveled up north, it was on a motorcycle with 8 others from my school and a backup Landcruiser. We were on our way back home when we stopped in a dusty old town called Maralal for a cup of chai and a samosa break. In walks a tall, rangy old Brit, who promptly sat down with us and started regaling us with his tales of travels. This was none other than the last of the great African explorers, Wilfred Thesiger, in his final years. He had made all of his travels via horse and camel, and thought that the combustion engine was the devil’s handiwork. A few awkward moments later, us boys sidled over to our 2-wheeled combustion engines and rode off to the south.

The North of Kenya is still a land apart. It’s arid and dry most of the time, while people and towns are far apart and hard to get to. Fuel and water are in short supply and high demand, and there is unrest between the different ethnic groups, as well as visiting shifta (bandits) from Ethiopia and Somalia who stir things up a bit more. There is beauty and freedom in it, but also hostility and danger.

Our trip to see the eclipse

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
– Ernest Hemingway

As I mentioned in my last post, the BRCK team decided to test out our device in this environment, with the excuse of the hybrid solar eclipse as our focal event. We took 3 motorcycles and a Land Rover for this excursion on a 1900 kilometer round trip, 7-day trek to Sibiloi National Park, and back. Here’s the basic route we took:

20131107-164231.jpg

This trip was a real test for all of us. From a broken down Land Rover on day one, to night drives and dust storms that meant we couldn’t see the actual eclipse, to limping into Nairobi with a flashlight replacing a headlamp and a dead alternator on the Land Rover to cap it all off.

Three Lessons I Learned

Work together. Helping each other selflessly makes for a happy bunch who can overcome almost any problem. Not just helping for one’s own well-being, but simply because something needs to be done and it’s good for the group as a whole.

It took all of us to unstick the Land Rover

It took all of us to unstick the Land Rover

When hands were needed to dig out the Land Rover, people stripped down to shorts and dug – for hours. I remember how hard Reg and Jon worked to unstick our vehicle, buried to the waste in mud and muck, trying to get the high-lift jack to find purchase. I remember Fady jumping on a motorcycle and learning to ride it in 5 minutes, so that he could ride the next 4 hours in the bush, in the dark, to get us all to Sibiloi. I remember Emmanuel packing, unpacking and repacking the vehicle so many times that only he knew where things were. I remember having to tell Philip to step away from the heavy equipment so that he didn’t damage his hand more as he tried to assist.

Think creatively. Push harder. When you meet friction and resistance to your mission, it’s easy to give up. Instead, think creatively and persevere. There’s a great deal of friction in everything up north, from bogged down vehicles, to broken clutch plates, to making a special solar eclipse camera out of odd parts, to dust storms that darken out the sun.

Untitled

Last night on the ride home, we had already been traveling for over 12 hours, and the headlight on my motorcycle went out. The last place that you want to be driving at night is the Naivasha to Nairobi road without a light. We pulled apart the headlight, tested all the electronics, only to find the bulb was burnt out. Instead of giving up, we found a super intensity flashlight in Fady’s kit, and put it inside the bulb housing. It was like driving with your brights on at all times. This became my light, and I closely followed our car into Nairobi. You can’t give up and you have to be creative.

Always get back up. Life throws some punches, everyone has them and it’s a test of your character whether you let that stop you or you find a way.

Untitled

Falling off a motorcycle is hard. Getting up and riding again is harder. Philip took a few tumbles this trip, especially on day two as we did a 3 hour night ride through soft sand – which is some of the most difficult stuff to deal with even in daylight. I knew we had a good leader on our team when he kept getting back up. I knew we would make it when I saw his resolve settle visibly, he relaxed his shoulders and rode on and fell no more.

20131107-161445.jpg
The BRCK team of Philip, Reg, Erik, Emmanuel and Jon.

Everyone has different strengths on this team, and while there are experts in specific things, when we worked together it was amazing to see the results.

Launching Gearbox, A Kenyan Makerspace

Gearbox: Kenya's Makerspace for tinkerers and makers of things

Gearbox: Kenya’s Makerspace for tinkerers and makers of things

We’ve been talking (and talking, and talking) about a rapid prototyping space here in Nairobi for ages. Without the resources to do it, the community got things started on their own with the iHub Robotics Group, who does all kinds of cool meetings; from training newbies like me and my daughters on Arduino and Raspberry Pi, to events where they showcase locally made solar tracking systems and help to run kids hacker camps.

This week we’re announcing Gearbox – our makerspace in Nairobi.

What is a Makerspace?

A makerspace (or hackerspace) is where a community of people who like to make physical products, who enjoy tinkering, and who design everything from electronics gadgets to plastic toys meet and work. To us, it’s a place where the worlds of high-tech software geeks meet jua kali artisans. This is why our space covers to flavors; what we call “Gearbox: Light” (electronics and plastics) and “Gearbox: Heavy” (wood and metal). Keep in mind, this isn’t a manufacturing facility for many items, instead it’s a place where you rapidly prototype out your idea to see if it will work – once you figure it out, then you have to find another facility for real production.

This is a place that is very community oriented, where there are advanced users and experienced fabricators around who are part of the community as well. It’s not enough just to be a member, but you also must give back by helping the newbies and running a few trainings to get people up to speed on the equipment.

Gearbox: Heavy
This is where we have heavy duty equipment, the metal working and wood working equipment and tools that allow you to build and prototype large things. Our friends at Re:Char built a “shop in a box” – basically a container with a bunch of amazing equipment. They’ve donated that to the iHub, and we’re finding a home for it now, so that everyone in our community can start building big things.

re:char factory is 20' container

Examples of the equipment:

  • CNC table w/ backup supplies
  • Diesel Generator
  • Welding equipment
  • Band saw, full + handheld
  • Compressor, full + portable
  • Power supply scrubber
  • Oxyacetylene torches
  • Saws, table + chop
  • Soldering iron
  • Drill press, hand drill, corded + cordless
  • Grinders
  • Forge

Gearbox: Light
When we were building out the BRCK, we found that we needed a polished space where we had access to some of the tools and equipment needed for higher-level electronics, while at the same time a place where we could mill out, or 3d print, early versions of the case. We soon found out that there were others creating robots, drones, TV devices and point of sale systems that also needed a place to do rapid testing of their ideas, but who didn’t have the tools themselves.

Solar Kits at Maker Faire Africa in Kenya

Our plan is to have this part of the electronics and plastics part of Gearbox on the 2nd floor of the iHub building. Where you’ll be able to come in and use a 3D printer, laser cutter, smaller CNC machines and soldering equipment. Again, the idea that there are experts around who you can talk to about the right materials, or a more efficient process for building your gadget, is here.

What we need

  • Makers – you want to build something, here’s your chance. Jump on the website and register for a membership, come in and build stuff.
  • Experts – if you’re beyond novice, have built products, please get in touch. We need you to help train and build up the next generation of makers.
  • Interns – a number of you have already been in touch, but we’re looking for 2-4 paid interns who will help manage the space and build the community.

On capital
It costs some money to get started with Gearbox, and a lot of groups are stepping up to help, and we could use some more. The partners for Gearbox are Sanergy, Ushahidi, BRCK, Knowable and Mobius Motors, and we’re looking for more. Academic partners are MIT thus far, and we’d like to get a few more signed up here too. If your company needs access to this kind of equipment from time-to-time, get in touch.

Right now we could use about $50,000 for some equipment purchases, as it’s expensive to buy and ship some items to Kenya. If you can help on that, please get in touch.

Long-term we have other plans for keeping Gearbox sustainable in 3 ways:

  1. Membership: There will be monthly membership fees, the rates are still being determined, but it will be affordable.
  2. Gearshop: There will be a store, where you can buy the small components and resources you need, as well as a place where we sell on consignment, things made by the community.
  3. Partners: Corporate partners who want to be a part of this community can do take part showcasing their products and doing events.

I’ve said for a long time that I think we in Africa have an advantage in making things. It’s a culture that’s never been lost, and we’re used to improvising, adapting and overcoming challenges that come our way. This is our first foray into that meeting of the worlds between high-tech and low-tech making, and I’ve not been this excited about something for a long time.

Join us!

Mobile Money Infographic for Kenya (2013)

The GSMA Mobile Money for the Unbanked unit has just released a new infographic on the history and metrics for Kenya’s mobile money giant Mpesa, from Safaricom. It’s an extensive and incredible chart. Download and save this one for later, it has all the information that you need.

A Kenya mobile money infographic (2013) by the GSMA

A Kenya mobile money infographic (2013) by the GSMA

Interesting figures for 2013:

Average value per transaction: $29
Percentage of GDP transacted: 31%

By April 2013 Mpesa:

  • Averages 142bn Ksh transacted per month. ($1.67 billion)
  • Has a total of 56 million transactions per month
  • Has 23 million customers
  • Has 96,000 agents around the country

Also in 2013, the Kenya government levies a flat tax of 10% on all Mpesa transactions. Safaricom also raises charges to counter this. All users now pay more, but it’s hidden so that you don’t see the charge, unless you do the math on the balance remaining after you send funds.

Means of money transfer before and after Mpesa

Means of money transfer before and after Mpesa

2013 Kenya Tech Community Survey Results

It’s interesting to see where the Kenyan tech community went to school, what years we graduated, where we work and what age we first started using computers regularly. As I did in 2010, here are the survey results for 2013, with 627 responses.

The live survey link.

[Kenya Tech Community 2013 Survey Base Excel File]

What age did you first start using a computer regularly?

2013 survey - Age Kenyan tech community started to use computers regularly

2013 survey – Age Kenyan tech community started to use computers regularly

You can see that we tend to get on computers when we are older, at 17+ (that’s 42% of us). There’s a definite need to get more computers into classroom settings, or homes, at a younger age.

Another view of the same age chart:
2013-Kenyan-age-on-computers-pie-chart

  • 32 People got onto computers at 8 years or younger
  • 51 People got onto computers at 9-10 years old
  • 62 People got onto computers at 11-12 years old
  • 89 People got onto computers at 13-14 years old
  • 128 People got onto computers at 15-16 years old
  • 264 People got onto computers at 17 years or older

Years that the Kenyan tech community graduated from secondary school

Year Kenyan techies graduated from secondary school

Year Kenyan techies graduated from secondary school

Which schools did we graduate from?

The schools were across the spectrum. I don’t have the locations of each one, but it would be interesting for someone with the ability to pinpoint them, to do a heatmap of the country based on the school graduates from each location.

1980 – 1
1981 – 0
1982 – 0
1983 – 0
1984 – 1
1985 – 0
1986 – 0
1987 – 6
1988 – 2
1989 – 1
1990 – 4
1991 – 6
1992 – 6
1993 – 7
1994 – 11
1995 – 8
1996 – 17
1997 – 14
1998 – 18
1999 – 21
2000 – 27
2001 – 31
2002 – 34
2003 – 44
2004 – 54
2005 – 46
2006 – 66
2007 – 56
2008 – 67
2009 – 42
2010 – 23
2011 – 8
2012 – 4
2013 – 1

Here are the top 6 girls schools (I had a hard time knowing which were strictly girls schools):

  1. 9 Moi Girls Nairobi
  2. 6 Kianda Girls
  3. 4 Pangani Grils HS
  4. 4 St. George’s Girls HS
  5. 3 Alliance Girls HS
  6. 3 Limuru Girls

Here are the top 12 boys schools (I think some might be mixed, like Kabarak):

  1. 29 Starehe Boys
  2. 19 Alliance HS
  3. 17 Nairobi School
  4. 16 Mang’u HS
  5. 14 Lenana
  6. 12 Strathmore
  7. 10 Moi Forces Academy
  8. 10 Moi HS Kabarak
  9. 9 Friends School Kamusinga
  10. 9 Highway Secondary School
  11. 9 Kagumo HS
  12. 9 Upper Hill HS

Where do we work?

The short answer, is all over the Kenyan tech sector, plus many other areas of government, NGOs and private companies. By far and away, most of the people on the list were either students or freelancer/self-employed. Some of the companies that stood out were; Kenya Power, Cellulant, FrontlineSMS, MobiDev, Safaricom, IBM, Kopo Kopo, Ushahidi, Stripe and Google.

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